For over one and a half centuries, the Island's tourist industry provided a very substantial proportion of the national income. From the 1830s development of facilities proceeded on an ad-hoc basis until the great development era began around 1865-70 and continued until 1900, and funded largely by Lancashire and Yorkshire finance. Indeed, the investments of this period provided the infrastructure on which much still depends. Douglas, as the Island's capital and main port, developed an extensive stock of hotels and boarding houses, not only along the Promenades but extending well into the hinterland of the town. Since the town had developed on the hilltop at the back of the shoreline, this often involved the conversion or adaptation of existing premises. Douglas had had a population of 6,000 in 1821 but this had grown to nearly 20,000 by 1899 by which time the great development phase had ended. The town had become a municipal borough in March 1896, and to a remarkable historical extent, this marked the beginning of the end of entrepreneurial and useful development. Thereafter many desirable developments were stillborn or strangled, or taken over by the Corporation and rendered moribund. Despite the lack of electric tramways, or indeed of any electric light and power, Douglas was to remain the premier resort of the Island. The extent of the accommodation and facilities offered ranged from the opulence of the Fort Anne Hotel (demolished during the 1970s) and the great Castle Mona Hotel, to the cheaper, less formal facilities offered by innumerable guest and boarding houses or by Cunningham's Young Men's Holiday Camp in Victoria Road, Douglas, and the somewhat later Howstrake Holiday Camp just beyond Onchan Head, and which was closed and demolished in 1983.

In addition to Douglas, Port Erin, Port St Mary, Castletown and Ramsey also featured substantial hotel and boarding house accommodations, often with more than adequate provision for future expansion that in most cases never happened. Unfinished terraces and blocks can be seen in Port Erin, Port St Mary and elsewhere, and perhaps most notably on the Mooragh Promenade in Ramsey, begun in 1887 and never finished. The developers blamed the lack of a direct access from the rest of Ramsey, an omission that was eventually rectified by the provision of a Swing Bridge, built and installed by Cleveland Bridge & Engineering in 1892.

By general resort standards, Manx holiday hotels and boarding houses' rates and prices progressively declined as demand diminished, which in turn meant that little or nothing was available for improvement or redevelopment. The process became more marked as the secular decline of the post-1950 seasons took its toll. Nevertheless it meant that until the later 1980s, the superficial changes to say the Douglas seafront vista, were minimal. The surfeit of demolition and destruction that has ensued has more than made up for it in terms of damage.

The existence of the tourist industry made possible a very high percentage of the Island's infrastructure that otherwise would never have existed on such a scale. Only in the past decade has it become obvious how much was at stake.

To meet the demands of tourists and holidaymakers, a series of supportive and ancillary facilities emerged, ranging from the commercial development and exploitation of natural glens and features, through ballrooms and music halls, theatres and cinemas, to the manufacture of sugar rock, souvenirs and mineral water.

The number of Island glens and other natural features developed for tourism purposes was substantial, and the developments ranged from the simple provision of footpaths and seats to far more extensive commercialisation. One of the earliest glens thus treated was Laxey, which had ornamental walks and gardens, boating lake, bandstand, dance floor and other facilities. Groudle Glen and Garwick Glen (on the MER) offered as much or more, as did the relatively remote Glen Wyllin (on the IMR). Others, including Dhoon, Glen Mona, Ballaglass Glen and Glen Helen were given improved paths and other facilities, but retained their natural originality to a greater extent. The glens were, for many years, a most important source of traffic and revenue to the railways which served them, and which, in a number of cases, actually owned or leased them. Zoological exhibits could be found not only in the semi-permanent circuses of the time in turn-of-the-century Douglas, but elsewhere. Groudle, for example, had both sea lions and polar bears, whilst Belle Vue park in Douglas (originally built for the Manx International Exhibition of 1899) featured a bear garden and a full-size replica of Nelson's HMS VICTORY to boot. The Belle Vue site, which also featured a race course, was eventually redeveloped by incorporation into the King George V Park on Peel Road, now the site of the National Sports Centre.

Many of the most popular attractions and facilities not unnaturally were centred on Douglas. Douglas Head itself became a heavily-patronised entertainment area in its own right. Served by the cross-harbour boats of the Douglas Steam Ferry Co Ltd and the "Penny Bridge" (built in 1895) and the Douglas Head Incline Railway, the area boasted many features of contemporary entertainment including an open air theatre with pierrots, innumerable side shows including a "climbing monkey game" a large photographic studio, the Warwick Tower, which featured a platform lift 200 ft high (and which, together with its pavilion and waxworks was burned out on August 28, 1900) and a Camera Obscura. This was originally sited on the Iron Pier but was removed and rebuilt on Douglas Head by a Mr Hicks about 1898; it was subsequently damaged by fire and rebuilt to its present design by the Fielding family. It subsequently remained in the hands of the Heaton family for four generations, until recently purchased by the Government. Until the First World War, open-air divine services were also held each Sunday on Douglas Head, attracting congregations of up to and even over 10,000 people. These services were quite separate from the similar open-air services held every Sunday at Kirk Braddan.

Opposite the end of Broadway lay Douglas's Iron Pier, built in 1869; in more modest days this structure formed the demarcation line between male and female bathing on the seashore, with men to the south side only. The Iron Pier extended seaward for 1,000 ft, but was sold, dismantled and re-erected at Rhos-on-Sea about 1894.

At the northern end of Douglas Promenade, the Derby Castle entertainment complex was opened in 1877, rebuilt and enlarged in 1884 and featured a ballroom with a capacity of 5,000. The entire site was cleared in 1968-9 to make way for the extensive, if ill-fated, Summerland entertainment centre which was totally destroyed by fire in August 1973 in which 50 people died and many more injured. In its day, even the old Derby Castle ballroom was by no means the largest: the Palace Ballroom on Central Promenade claimed to be Europe's largest, with a capacity of 6,000 dancers and seating accommodation for another 5,000. It was officially opened in 1889, closing for the duration of the First World War when it latterly was used for the manufacture of airship covers, and reopened as a ballroom in 1919. It was destroyed by fire in 1920 and rebuilt the following year. Its site now forms part of the Palace Car park. The present Villa Marina, which started life as the Kursaal opened on July 19, 1913, was rebuilt to almost its present form in 1931; its Royal Hall has a seating Capacity of 2000.

The theatres, music halls and cinemas of the Island deserve a specific study. There was evidently a theatre in Douglas by the mid-18th century but its history and whereabouts are unknown. In 1788 Dennison's Theatre opened in Fort Street, Douglas, on a site now occupied by Osborne's retail premises. By the end of the 19th century a number of buildings were sporadically in use for public performances, as well as the Star Music Hall in Prospect Hill. The Music Hall, Strand Street and the Grand Music Hall in Victoria Street all seem to have established themselves during the late 1870s. About 1820 a building near the corner of Strand Street and Wellington Street was opened as the WATERLOO theatre, later becoming the THEATRE ROYAL and later still the PRINCE OF WALES. About 1873 the building was converted into a skating rink. These particular premises must not be confused with the somewhat later THEATRE ROYAL, opened in Wellington Street itself, by John Mosley in 1858. These buildings continued to be used as a theatre until 1880 when they were vacated, later becoming a Salvation Army Citadel and more recently a waxworks.

The VICTORIA HALL, opened in 1862 on Prospect Hill near Finch Road was itself later known as the PRINCE OF WALES, becoming the UNITED SERVICES theatre and finally the GAIETY theatre after reconstruction in 1881. The entire historic site was cleared in the early 1980s for redevelopment.

The GRAND theatre in Victoria Street opened in 1882; it later became the GRAND PICTUREDROME sometime after 1909. The premises were extensively rebuilt in 1934-5 before re-opening as the REGAL cinema; as such it lasted until 1983 when it was demolished to make way for a garish bank building.

The BIJOU theatre was opened in Regent Street (opposite the General Post Office) in May 1893. It subsequently became the MONA Theatre and finally the EMPIRE Theatre. In 1907 it was re-equipped and became the EMPIRE ELECTRIC Theatre. It closed in 1929; in later years the premises were used partly as a betting shop. The entire site was demolished in 1992, together with all the buildings extending from the Villiers to Regent Street.

The present GAIETY Theatre on Harris Promenade was converted from the former MARINA Ballroom, built in 1897, in 1900. It was later equipped as a cinema, but has survived to become the Island's oldest theatre. It was acquired by the IoM Tourist Board to ensure its continuation.

Other buildings specifically erected for motion picture exhibitions include the ROYALTY Cinema in Walpole Avenue, demolished entirely in 1996, but which in its day seated 1,200 patrons; it subsequently found use as a hardware supermarket. The STRAND Cinema in Strand Street, had seating for 1,100 and featured a sliding roof to the building after rebuilding in 1929. It had originally opened on August 13, 1914. The neighbouring PICTURE HOUSE in Strand Street was built in mock-Tudor style in 1924 and considerably extended in 1933 and featured a Compton theatre organ with illuminated console. The 2,000-seat CRESCENT Cinema on Central Promenade was opened in June 1930, although its projected sister theatre building was never started. The adjacent site, nowadays occupied by an amusement arcade and cafe, was originally the home of Buxton's Pierrot Village, performing in the then Crescent Pavilion, now destroyed; it was built in 1923.

The balance of the Island's other cinemas (all now closed) consists of the COSY, Castletown, which originated as a factory and subsequently reverted to that role; the PAVILION Cinema, Stanley Road, Peel, now converted into a Masonic Lodge, the STRAND Cinema, Port Erin, which was later converted into a museum or retail premises, and the CONTINENTAL (later renamed THE AVENUE) Cinema in Royal Avenue Onchan. This closed on October 31, 1954 after a relatively short life, and the building was later cleared for use as a housing site. Ramsey had two cinemas, namely the PLAZA, originally built in the early 1890s as the Palace Concert Hall and Ballroom; it was bought by the Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Co Ltd (later the MER) in 1897 but was always operated under lease and finally sold off about 1938. It first opened as a cinema in 1912 under "Manx Picturedrome" management; it was later substantially modernised and renamed the PLAZA. It closed in 1974, was reopened for a short time as a leisure centre in 1976-8 and was demolished completely in 1990. The site is now a Car park. The second, more recent picturehouse in Ramsey was known as the CINEMA HOUSE at the corner of Queens Pier Road and Brookfield Avenue. It opened on August 2 1920 and closed in the 1950s. It was acquired for use as a garage and showroom by Raymotors Ltd, who still occupy the site. A number of other premises have been used for occasional cinematograph performances from time to time. In relatively recent times, following the closure of all the cinemas in Douglas, a small cinema was opened in the rebuilt Summerland complex, whilst public motion picture performances are also held in the Palace Cinema and Villa Marina complex.

The Palace & Derby Castle Co Ltd, formed in March 1898, established an early monopoly of Island theatre and cinema entertainment; apart from owning almost all of the Island's cinemas, they also operated the Derby Castle, Falcon Cliff (formerly Cremona) Palace and Marina ballrooms.

Baths & Swimming Pools

Despite the safe beaches and sea bathing readily available, the Island boasted numerous public baths and swimming pools. Port Skillion creek, between Douglas Head lighthouse and the terrace of a long-defunct gunnery battery at the root of the Battery Pier, was converted into a gentlemen's swimming pool in 1874. Waddington's Hydropathic baths opened in Castle Street Douglas in the 1880s, later becoming an Aquarium. Another swimming pool was built at Traie Menagh in Port Erin about 1890. At about the same time, Lightfoot's Baths were opened in Victoria Street, opposite the then Villiers Hotel. These premises were later very extensively rebuilt and finally reopened as "Noble's Baths" after the Douglas benefactor, John Bloom Noble. This complex, situated next to the Grand Hotel, reopened on July 1 1908 and featured 24 slipper baths, a Russian Bath, gents and ladies' pools and continued in use until replaced by the Aquadrome at the opposite end of the promenades, in 1969. Thereafter part of the Noble's premises were used as the Galaxy amusement arcade until closed. Other modern construction comprises the baths at Peel and Ramsey, opened in 1959 and 1968 respectively. Derelict pools exist at Peel and at Port Erin (in use as a fish-farm).

Pages in this section:

Coastal Lighthouses

The earliest aid to navigation was the Derbyhaven Light, established about 1650; Castletown Harbour…

Ports & Harbours

There are no perfect natural harbours in the Island. Until 1869 the seat of Government was Castleto…

Railways and Tramways

Railway facilities in the Island were proposed in 1845, 1857, 1860, 1864 and 1870 when the Isle of…

Passenger Road Motor Services

Douglas Corporation Tramways Department introduced its first motor bus service in 1914, but this wa…


From the middle of the 18th century the Island developed a significant shipbuilding capacity, with…

Air Transport

First commercial flying operations consisted of "Pleasure Flying Trip" or "flips" from the foreshor…

Industries - Mines, Quarrying & Extraction

The Island's geological strata consists of heavily mineralised rocks of the Manx slate series, much…

Industries - Tourism

For over one and a half centuries, the Island's tourist industry provided a very substantial propor…

Other Industries

Metalworking The existence of metal ores led to metalworking on a modest scale owing to the lack of…

Utilities - Water Supply

Originally under the aegis of several private companies, the water supply finally came under the un…

Utilities - Electricity

Douglas was the last town of its size anywhere in the British Isles to be provided with a public su…

Utilities - Gas

Between 1836 and 1898 gas undertakings were formed to serve Douglas, Castletown and Port St Mary, w…

Utilities - Telegraphs & Telephones

The first submarine cable for communications between England and the Isle of Man was laid between S…


BOYD JIC, The Isle of Man Railway (3 volumes) Oakwood Press 1993-6; BROWN, J C,Story of Douglas Har…


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