The History of Castletown.


1 The physical site.

Castletown is situated on the south east coast of the Isle of Man, built on a gravel bank over limestone rock. To the east of the site the Silverburn river lies alongside a peninsula of dry land extending as far as the present day village of Ballasalla. This long spit of land was originally surrounded by bogs and lying water to the west and north which made it an ideal defensive area. The tidal river provides a sheltered harbour to the east of the town, with the open sea to the south east. Castle Rushen. The name 'Rushen' came from a land division, known as a treen, which stretched from Rushen Abbey down towards Castle Rushen. The word 'Rushen' means a peninsula (George Broderick, Place Names of the Isle of Man, Vol.6, Niemeyer, 2002.)

2. The Castle

The castle, built from local limestone, is near the seaward end of this land peninsula and commands the harbour thus providing a defended entry and exit from the Isle of Man to England. Originally there had probably been a defensive tower and gate house on that site in the twelfth century, the castle having been gradually developed into its present form. The creation of the curtain wall in the late thirteenth century (Rigby,A.., 1927, Castle Rushen: a historical and descriptive account. Victoria Press, Douglas, Isle of Man.) would have allowed storage buildings to be built up against the inner wall rendering surplus the buildings used for that purpose within the town, such as the Lord's long house. (Davey,P.J., Freke D.J.,Higgins D.A.,Excavations in Castletown, Isle of Man 1989-1992)

3. The Abbey

Of importance for administrating substantial farm lands in the parish of Malew was Rushen Abbey which lay within three kilometres of the Castle. All the land opposite Castletown on the eastern bank of the Silverburn river was abbey land, the rents from which belonged to the abbot. The Abbey provided alms for the poor as part of its religious duties, and the abbot held his Baron Court, regulating these estates, after the Lord's sheading courts. The ancient chapel of the Blessed Mary, built on the seaward side of the castle was the property of Rushen Abbey and it was the abbey that financed a priest for that establishment. For a chapel to have been built on that site implies that there were sufficient people living in the immediate vicinity of the castle to warrant the expense of building and as it has internal arches which can be dated by the style of architecture to approximately 1198.

4. The Town

The castle and its associated settlement are assumed to have been in existence prior to that date. The castle was the administrative centre for the Isle of Man and the officers and soldiers employed there, together with their families, accounted for the growing population of residents living round the castle. The substantial effect of the castle employees on the town's economy can be indicated by the list of fees and wages for 1575.

The Book of Fees and Wages for the year ending at the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, 1575.

(MMMs.242, Ellesmere papers.)

The Captain 11- 0s- 0d.The Receiver 6-13s- 4d. The Comptroller 4- 0s- 0d. Wm.Lucas, constable 2- 0s- 0d. The Stewards 2- 0s- 0d. Rich.Gladwin, gunner 3- 6s- 8d. Bryan Bradshaw, cook 1- 0s- 0d. John Shymen, butcher boy 3s- 4d. Wm.Curlett, brewer 1- 0s- 0d. Rch.Quaille, maltman 12s- 0d. Dan.Keman,foreman 7s- 8d. Wife J.Kyghlei, laundress 13s- 4d. Jn.Laccell, gardener 6s- 8d. L.Cliderowe, swineherd 4s- 0d. The porters 3s- 4d. J.Whitstans, keeper of the artillery 3s- 4d. Wm.Kenaig, almsman 6s- 8d. Clarke of the garner 13s- 4d. Tom.Stolle, smith 1-13s-4d. Rich.Ffergher, miller 1- 0s- 0d. Mill hand 6s- 8d. The hooper 13s- 4d. Geo.Mc Cliffe, baker 6s- 8d. Rob.More, feather gatherer 5s- 0d. Jn.Clewing, falconer 1- 6s- 8d. Pat.Cowne, slater 13s- 4d. Chas.Benson, butler 6s- 8d. Soldiers of the Garrison at 1- 0s- 0d per year, John Kyghley, Richard Wainwryght, John Worsley, Charles Thomson, John Ryshton, Charles Benson, John Whitstons, Richard Shawe, Nicholas Ratchdayll part year 6s-10 ob, Thomas Lucas, John Norris, John Jones, Wm.Wattelworthe, Robert More, Henry Tetlowe, Thomas Wainwright, John More,Thomas Copelande, Lawrence Clidrowe, Robert Laccell, John Wainwright, John Barrow part year 10s- 0d. Thomas Norrys, Gilbert Waterson, William Lucas junior, James Fferyman, Robert Hindley, Thomas Smythe, Peter Fferrande part year 5s-10d ob, Percevell Deane, Thomas Tubman junior, James Perker part year 5s- 0d, John Clarke, William Haworthe, George Halsall for half a year, John Stockley for half a year, Thomas Tubman senior for half a year, Ranald Lucas 1- 0s- 0d, Six soldiers for the (night) watche 10- 0s- 0d, William Ffowler sergeant 1- 6s- 8d, Edward Mason for 8 weeks at 9d, Robert Christen Deemster 1-10s- 0d, John Calcott attorney 6s- 8d, Sir William Tubman for 1 quarter and 5 weeks 4s-8d, The Scolle Master 4- 0s- 0d.


The earliest written record of the town.

In the Derby papers there is a detailed rent list of the south of the island which includes a comprehensive list of the cottages of Castletown for 1506. (Ref. MMMs 1715-2, Derby Papers.) Tenants held their property 'at the will of the Lord' and most cottages were set in large garden spaces used for keeping hens or pigs. Beside the harbour were several chambers used as storage space. During the fifteenth century the mainstay of the majority of the Manx population was subsistence farming with families all working on the land. Since there was a shortage of people and a surplus of uncultivated land there was no pressure on coming into the towns to learn a trade, but by the sixteenth century the population had increased, the land surplus had diminished and farming families had stated to develop the system of progenitor where the eldest son or if there was no male heir, then the eldest daughter, would take over the family farm. This led to second and subsequent sons seeking a trade and this meant looking for employment within towns such as Castletown, thus increasing the pressure on housing and causing an upsurge in trades within the town, such as hatters, glovers, saddlers etc.

The dissolution of Rushen Abbey

The dissolution in 1540 meant that the Lord now had responsibility for the relief of the poor. Now that there was no lodgings available at the abbey harbingers were now responsible for finding lodgings for strangers.

Notes on other issues

List of beds available within the town. The burning of witches. Public floggings. The sun dial. The market cross & bell, The captain of the town. Probably the constable. Regulates markets, night soil, unringed pigs etc. Markets twice a week. The relation of Scarlett with the town. The restricted peninsula of dry land restricted the development of the town and the present street pattern reflects the original medieval street pattern. Originally cottages were set back in their garden plots, each divided fron its neighbour by a bank and ditch (ref Archaeology of C'T.) Eventually the rebuilt houses abutted the street line with passages through to the back yard for cows. Drapers inventory, (Episcopal Wills microfilm 4, 1629?), shows the type of goods for sale in the town. School within the town and the appointment of a well paid school master. The courts held 'between the gates'. The house of Keys. The castle opens fire on southern Irish pirate vessels in Castletown bay. Many of the male townsfolk fail to rally to the castle resulting in Courts Martial. Queen Elizabeth takes over the running of the island. Garrisons not supplied with food for two separate periods to increase the rent money. The development of the town during the civil war period. Propaganda re massacres at Colchester and Droghada. The surrender of the castle. Lord Fairfax rules the island in absentia through his officers. Sudden death of captain Woods results in his burial in the castle ditch. (plague?). Records of Kirk Malew, (St. Lupus.) Bishop Wilson,s development of the new chapel of Saint Mary. Old chapel now becomes a school for the training of new clergy for the manx church. . The building of a House of Keys and Library. Castletown the island capital. 1726 census shows development of trades. Lord has his own vessel. Trade with Dublin. Lords fiddler. The Bagnio and the Lord,s garden. Later list of the garrison. Track and road patterns. Eventual development of a coach service. Bridges across the Silverburn. Development of the east bank on abbey land and the charging of ground rent. Personalities within the town. Deemsters, the Stevensons of Balladoole. Harbour trade. Fishing and salt herrings. Boat building. Limestone. Slates. The running trade. Merchants. House rents paid by absentee landlords. Difficult to list lease holders. The development of water pumps. Diseases. Doctors, (LaMothe ex prisoner of war.) Ballasalla.