The existence of metal ores led to metalworking on a modest scale owing to the lack of indigenous fuel supplies. There is indicative evidence of this activity in the Dark Ages. Smelting was apparently carried out on a commercial scale from at least 1668 and possibly earlier. The Derbyhaven smelthouse at SC285673 dates from c.1710. These premises evidently housed a foundry and other metal-working equipment as the owner, Mr John Murray, produced the first Manx coinslater made legal tender by an Act of Tynwald. Another foundry for coining was set up later within Castle Rushen for the 1733 coin issue. From the middle of the 19th century there were several commercial foundries in Douglas, the most important being Gelling's Foundry, formed in 1803 and whose premises on South Quay produced a very wide range of builders', marine, agricultural and ornamental brass and ironwork. This included cast iron kitchen ranges and fireplaces, mining and mill gears, name plates and street furniture, even firebars for IoM Steam Packet (presumably before they set up their own foundry) and the cast rim of the Laxey Wheel. Gelling's Foundry finally closed in 1964. The firm's retail premises in Victoria Street (complete with large Statue of Queen Victoria) were acquired in 1928 and vacated, sold and demolished in 1989. The only foundry still in production in the Island is the IoM Steam Packet's Fort Street engineering works, Douglas.


The earliest examples of fired claywork consists of galena-glazed tiles from the Rushen Abbey site, evidently dating from the 16th century. A new brickworks at Castletown was recorded in 1692 and a preserved example of its products is at Castle Rushen, but the site of the brickworks itself is uncertain. In more recent times a brickfield was listed at Red Gap near Scarlett in 1826.

Whilst there were several suitable deposits of glacial clay for brick making, the shortage of local fuel and an excessive lime content severely discouraged production of high quality bricks, but by 1832 a kiln was in production at Mona Terrace, Douglas, on a site later occupied by the "House of Industry" or Poor Law Workhouse, and from 1865 a brickworks was in production at Ballanard, Onchan. A further brickworks was built at Ballacorey, Andreas (SC433988) and was in production in 1851. Work ceased at the site during World War I but resumed after major re-equipment in 1925; for reasons unknown this venture proved very short-lived and the works closed down again in 1926. Significant remains can be found on the site. Other brickfields existed at Regaby Veg, St Judes, West Craig, St John's, Ballawyllin and Peel. The Glenfaba Brick Co (1927) Ltd was responsible for brick production from the formation of its predecessors in 1866 until 1965 when the declining quality of the clayfield at the foot of Peel Hill necessitated a changeover to a form of concrete brick or building block. Similar products, together with a large range of precast concrete goods are also manufactured by Readimix (IoM) Ltd using some of the ex-RAF buildings at Jurby (SC355985) and other important manufacturers in this field include Rural Industries Ltd at Braddan, SC362773.


Lime burning on a commercial scale was first recorded at Ballahot in the early 19th century, with later kilns at Derbyhaven and Billown. A large number of purely local kilns was subsequently built and a number may still be seen in varying stages of disuse. The Scarlett kilns date from 1808; Port St Mary 1822, and Ballasalla 1829. Two kilns were in use at South Quay, Douglas prior to 1833. Amongst those surviving in recognisable form are: Monk's Bridge, Ballasalla, Cornaa (SC474877) and Groudle (SC421783).

Ochre & Umber

The Ballasalla flax mill (SC248708) was converted into an Ochre and Umber works about 1853. The source of the ochre is not known. Umber, however was found at several sites, including a pit near Billown (SC268702) but this was superceded by another outcrop at SC277712 by around 1848. This was superceded by another outcrop at SC2777712 by around 1848. The material was also mined at Maughold Head. The mill at Ballasalla which also produced "Roman Cement" and polishing powders, closed about 1898 and was converted into a private dwelling.

Salt & Chemicals

The Island's established fish processing industry consumed very large quantities of salt, all of which had to be imported at considerable cost, until substantial salt deposits were discovered in the Triassic marls of the Ayres plain by interests which were seeking coal measures.

The salt deposits were subsequently tapped, pumped and piped along a foreshore pipeline to Ramsey. There, the Manx Salt & Alkali Co set up a processing plant at the old Ramsey Shipyard about 1901. Large quantities were processed and as well as meeting local requirements, a considerable export trade developed . The firm owned and operated its own steamer "MANXONIA" for these purposes. As large-scale production got under way elsewhere, notably the Salt Union and Brunner Mond (later Imperial Chemical Industries) in the Northwich area, the Ramsey plant grew progressively less economic and closed down just prior to World War II.

A number of plants and mills in the Island processed inorganic chemicals for local use, including the now ruinous Glen Auldyn chemical works at SC432931. A substantial and suitably isolated explosives plant was begun near Cornaa beach in 1890 for the manufacture of Bellite; following local objections to the activities of the Swedish concern work on the premises abruptly ceased, leaving the half-finished remains at SC471884. Bellite production was established elsewhere, and for over fifty years was the most popular and commonly used explosive in mines and quarries; its characteristic slow-burning meant that the material was not smashed up by the explosion but rent apart. Bellite was available as a blasting powder in four variants.

Fish Processing

From as early as the 13th century herring fishing was a vital Manx industry and the associated processes of salting, packing or smoking the fish grew from origins in the 18th century. By 1800 annual Manx production of "Red Herrings" was running at about 150,000 barrels and by 1826 the Island had a fleet of 250 trawlers. A major consumer of Manx Red Herrings was America, where vast quantities were used to feed plantation slaves.

About the middle of the 19th century a split, smoked fish known as a "kipper" was introduced and eventually replaced the red herring almost completely. By 1883 perhaps a quarter of the Island's population was engaged in fishing and fish processing. Since World War II the Island's fishing industry has seriously declined, but kippering still accounts for a significant proportion of the insular fish trade. This now also includes scallop dredging, queenies and freezing plants.

The first smoke houses for red herrings were erected in 1769; others at Port St Mary (1770) Douglas and Derbyhaven (1771) and elsewhere followed. The latterday centre for fishing and kippering is Peel.

Potato Processing

The Island's extensive potato crops resulted in a substantial surplus from the early years of the 19th century, and this was normally exported. As time went on additional uses for this surplus were found, usually consisting of starch manufacture and potato processing.

A former woollen mill was converted and operated as the Sulby Glen Starch Works (at SC381934) by a Manchester firm in 1846; this continued to thrive until it was run down and closed at the turn of the century. The mill produced the starch from local potatoes, using up to 50 tons per day. In addition the firm also manufactured cornflour from maize, with the residue being sold as pig food. An additional or perhaps associated starch manufacturer was listed in Lezayre in 1957.

Another use for surplus potatoes was found and exploited by the Douglas Patent Preserved Potato Co, in premises on South Quay, Douglas. This product was primarily intended for shipboard use on long voyages, but eventually attained a widespread general sale. In 1846 the old Howe Brewery on South Quay was converted into a plant manufacturing farina (a type of semolina) from potatoes. Preserved potatoes were sold in large quantities to the Royal Navy. The Douglas Patent Preserved Potato works ceased to trade at about the time of the First World War, and little today remains of this precursor of the present-day "instant potato" industry.


From early times local tanneries (often combined with brewing, leather working or even boat-building) provided local needs and requirements. Bark for tanning was available, particularly from two bark mills, one at Ballasalla and the other at Glen Tramman. Over twenty tanneries were at work by the early 19th century; Thomas Cain's Tannery with premises at Well Road Hill, Douglas from at least 1843 until well into the present century. The old buildings and the distinctive chimney were finally obliterated by the new "Chester Street Redevelopment" of the 1970s and the industry is now extinct.


This trade was apparently introduced from Ireland during the 18th century with the first paper mill as such being built in Malew. Further commercial development was largely in the hands of "comeovers" from Cumbria who set up new mills at Ballabeg, Braddan and at Tromode. The Isle of Man Paper Mill Co was evidently in business at Woolside Mill, Ballaoates in 1809; in 1816 a new paper mill was constructed by John Gelling at Ballamillaghyn and known as the Baldwin Vale Paper Mill. Papermaking was also an important industry in Laxey (with its abundant water power) and the Laxey Paper Mill, of substantial size, eventually became the power station of the Manx Electric Railway, and can still be seen in Glen Road, converted to other uses. The papermaking industry in the Island was extinct by 1890.


By the end of the 19th century the Island's handloom weavers relied on mechanical fulling, for which a significant number of water-powered mills existed, although a number of them were operated as part of other milling operations.

Woollen Mills

A number of mills combined all the operations involved within one mill or mill complex. Wool from hill sheep was an industry producing a significant surplus from an early date and the Island's woollen mills, which dated from the end of the 17th century, produced flannel and tweed, drugget and blankets, rugs and stockings from about that time. William Kelly's "Union Mills" at SC354778 were erected before 1807; Southward's Sulby Woollen Mills (which later became the starch works referred to above) at SC381934 were built about 1830; the same family operated another woollen mill which was in use until much later.

The St George's Mills at Laxey (SC434844) and the Tynwald Mills at St John's (SC283824) are noteworthy and are still in production. The premises at Laxey were specifically built in accordance with the economic and social philosophies of John Ruskin and William Morris, by Egbert Rydings. The Tynwald Mills consist of a group formerly under diverse but co-operative ownership; the present mill building dates from 1920.


A cotton printing mill was in existence at Port-e-Chee, Douglas before 1772; production ceased about 1780 and no trace now remains. Another early cotton mill, with water-powered spinning frames, was built at Ballasalla (SC275696) by 1780. Production ceased about 1818.

Flax and Linen

Flax and linen mills quickly developed significant production: by 1767 over 100,000 yards were being exported from the Island annually. Spinning and weaving became concentrated at Moore's Tromode Works, which produced a wide range of finished goods, from high quality sailcloth to household items, for very many years. This particular concern was unique in the Island in providing an industrial housing estate at Cronkbourne (SC372778) which has survived almost unchanged, at least superficially. The mill complex, powered by an overshot waterwheel and a 16" x 36" single cylinder stand-by steam engine was the earliest user of electric power, using a Crompton dynamo installed in 1882 and which partly superceded the firm's own gasworks. Moore's Tromode Works ceased production of linen in 1905. Part of this site later became Clucas's Laundry and a tannery; more recently it has acquired the style of a small industrial estate, with premises accommodating motor vehicle repairers, a major haulage firm and others.

Grain and Feed Milling

Apart from the very early Norse-type horizontal mills, some of which survived into relatively recent times, the Island's mills fell into two groups. The first consists of the smaller 'upland' mills, built and used primarily to serve the needs of the locality, and of which the Cornaa Mill (SC465898) was an early, important and excellent example until it was turned into a dwelling house about 1951. The second group comprised the "Town Mills" which were responsible for production on a much larger scale, and the earliest of which is probably the Meadow Mill Castletown. Dating from the 15th century and fed by twin water wheels (which were eventually superceded by 35hp electric motors in the 1930s) and restoration of what later became known as the "Golden Meadow Mill" was carried out by Tony O'Sullivan in the 1980s. There is a large range of these mills that have survived, although no longer used in their original role. The only mill in full current production is the large and impressive Laxey Glen Mills, built by Richard Rowe whose crest it still bears, and which was taken over by the IoM Government at the end of Corlett's ownership in order to maintain a milling facility in the Island.

Brewing & Mineral Waters

Commercial brewing of alcoholic beverages began with individual ale houses, each of which was individually licensed and controlled under Statute of 1576. By 1793 there were 18 breweries, and 23 by 1837. Clinch's Lake Brewery at the top of Douglas Harbour was opened in 1779; it ultimately passed into the hands of Ind Coope in 1948 and was later redeveloped into an office and shopping complex.

After the turn of the century the numbers of individual breweries sharply declined and by 1914 only five were in production, although each of these was involved on a fairly large scale. The Castle Rushen or Castletown Brewery, built in 1830 was taken over by Boddingtons in 1904; Okell's Falcon Brewery in Douglas, built in 1857 by William Okell was acquired by Heron & Brierley, formed in 1898, in 1945. Heron & Brierley was partly owned by Bass-Charrington, and all the breweries and bottling stores were closed down and replaced by a new plant operated by Isle of Man Breweries at White Hoe, near Douglas in the 1980s. One new brewery, "Bushy's" was opened independently in recent times.

The brewing of non-alcoholic ginger beer, soda and other mineral water production began on a commercial scale about 1850 with a substantial number of individual manufacturers, many of them being purely local in character and supply. By 1972 only four were still in business, namely Downward's, Irvings (Peel)' Kelly's and Qualtrough's. Of these Downward was merged with Qualtrough as part of the Smith Kline Beecham-Glaxo group and is now the only survivor of the industry.

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…


Powered by Quesmedia Sites