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Howstrake
The Bank's Howe Gun Battery - 1797

 

A gun battery was established on the coast of Banks Howe in 1797. This battery was part of a system which was designed to give cover to Douglas Bay and town and there were four other associated batteries. One was on what is now the site of the Castle Mona Hotel on Queen's Promenade. Another was near the foot of Broadway. The fort which existed from 1539 to 1818 on Pollock Rock, near what is now Peveril Square, housed a third and there was a battery at Port Skillion on Douglas Head which existed until about 1874.

The 1797 battery at Bank's Howe consisted of two eighteen pounder guns and these were part of a consignment of twenty-four supplied by the United Kingdom to the Island in 1781. The gun barrels were about eight feet four inches in length and the maximum effective range was around nine hundred yards. By 1812 all of the 1781 consignment of guns were unserviceable and in 1822 were shipped back to England.

The late Robert A Curphey, in his work on the Manx coastal gun batteries, gave the location of the Bank's Howe battery as above Brither Clip Gut. This is a rock off the coast near Majestic View, or rather, the Gut is the narrow channel of water between the rock and the cliff face. The rock itself, Brither Clip, stands out prominently when viewed from near the bottom of Harbour Road and a point above it on the brows may easily be reached by following the coastal path. A little to the East of a steep-sided inlet of the sea and opposite to the Western end of the rocky islet of Brither Clip is a small, flat-topped promontory on which the battery is reputed to have been sited. Mr Curphey stated that in the 1960s the parapet of the battery could still be seen.

However, architectural historian Peter Kelly, identifies the site of the Bank's Howe battery as Onchan Head. An estate plan of the Howstrake estate dated 1864 names one of the fields as "Battery". This field occupied an area seaward of a line from around the top of Sunningdale Drive to Port Jack.

An oval shape is marked on the Howstrake farm plan and this might have been the site of a gun battery, as indeed the field name suggests. This oval shape also occurs on the 25 inches to the mile Ordnance Survey map of 1869 on which it appears to be an isolated feature of the landscape, possibly an uncultivated area of higher land such as a rocky knoll. The extent of this feature was around 35 yards in length and the Deed Plan on a Sale in Trust by Douglas Bay Estate Ltd to Fergusson dated June 1896 gives its position relative to more recent and identifiable developments. Its centre was about midway between King Edward Road and Royal Terrace and around 30 yards from the boundary, to the north east, of the land on which the Douglas Bay Hotel was built and the adjacent terrace of three houses. This translates to a grid reference of about 4010 7738 on the modern map. An inspection of this site indicates that the oval shaped area was wholely or partly incorporated into the northern extremity of the Douglas Bay Hotel. Any physical signs of it and any remains of a gun battery which might have been constructed on it would have been obliterated during the subsequent building work. Against the oval shaped elevated feature being the site of the battery is the fact that it is about 250 yards from the coastline. This would reduce the effective range of a battery sited there to around 650 yards and it might be questionable whether its guns could be sufficiently depressed to engage a target sailing close inshore. A position seaward of the entrance steps of the former Douglas Bay Hotel, overlooking Port Jack beach, would provide better coverage of Douglas bay.

The transportation of the guns and munitions to either site would have been by way of Onchan village and Harbour Road which, although only a cart track, was the only route in that area. Access to a site in the Battery field would have been much easier than to the brows above Brither Clip. The former would involve following fairly level ground along a contour line across a field from Harbour Road. To reach the latter position above Brither Clip would require manhandling the guns across rough, and in places boggy, ground.

With a range of only 900 yards, a battery at Brither Clip would be able to target an enemy ship off Onchan Harbour but not one beyond Port Jack. A pair of guns on the Onchan Head Battery Field site might be considered to have a more useful field of fire.