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Howstrake
The Coast Electric Tramway And Road

 

By 1886, Peel and Port Erin were connected by steam train to Douglas and the lines were extended, by way of St. Johns, to Ramsey and Foxdale. Because of the difficult terrain, there was no steam railway along the East coast from Douglas to Ramsey although over the years several proposals had been put forward. The most recent was by The Manx East Coast Railway Company to construct a line as far as Laxey and this was examined by a Tynwald Committee in 1891 whose report was adopted in October of that year. In the following month, when Tynwald met to consider the matter, the bill was withdrawn by the promoters of this railway, Messrs. F. Browne and C.B. Nelson, and the proposal was abandoned. None of these earlier schemes had envisaged a line starting at Derby Castle and running along the coast of Howstrake.

However, a coast railway was included in the schemes of Bruce and Saunderson for the Howstrake estate and following the production by Siemens of a reliable electric locomotive, this form of traction had become feasible for the tramway which they planned to run from Douglas to Groudle.

The section of the line from Derby Castle to Onchan Head probably presented the greatest technical difficulties of the route. There were two creeks over which the line was to run and a steep, rocky coastline. Port e Vada, the first creek, was dealt with by constructing a sea wall and filling in behind it. The reclaimed land provided for the tramway and a coast road on its seaward edge and also a location for the electric generating plant. Beyond Port e Vada a shelf had to be cut out along the line of the cliffs. The line climbed to about 80' above sea level at Port Jack and reached almost 100' as it came to Onchan Head. The gradient along this first section was 1 in 24. Port Jack Glen ran down to the beach and had to be bridged and, as at Port e Vada, this was achieved by building a massive, stone-built retaining wall, rising up from the beach, with infill behind it. The stream as it approached the beach was piped underground. The shops at Port Jack were later to be built on the land reclaimed in this operation.

Onchan Head to Groudle was more straight forward but still involved the cutting of a shelf, in parts through rock, to accommodate the line. This involved explosives as a still-visible bore hole at Lag Birragh testifies. In February 1893 The Examiner reported that a workman had lost his life in a landslip on the Howstrake Marine Drive and at that time it was noted that 230 men were employed in the work. This number was later to increase to about 400. Considering that, apart from traction engines, little mechanical aid was available and that much of the haulage was by horse and cart, it was a remarkable achievement that the line, together with the roadway, was completed by August 1893.

The Monas Herald of 13th. September 1893, commented that "....Now that the...undertaking is in full working order, and cars run to Groudle, the public are naturally very astonished that the construction of the roadway was conducted so quietly. However the policy by which the engineer, Mr W. F. Saunderson, was governed was of a character which all must commend...Let work, when completed, speak for itself. It does speak now..in praise of the good judgement that appears along every yard of the road...".

On Saturday 26th. August the first return trip was made from Douglas to Groudle in half an hour. Among the guests of honour were Saunderson, Bruce and John Shimmon both of Dumbell's Bank, and Mr R.M. Broadbent, the owner of the newly-built Groudle Glen Hotel. The Douglas and Laxey Coast Electric Tramway opened to the public on 7th September and by 28th July 1894 following another enabling Act of Tynwald, the line had been extended to Laxey and its name changed to Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Co. The Isle of Man Examiner Annual recorded for 1894 that "..during the Summer, communication between Douglas and Laxey was made easy by the completion and opening of the coast electric tramway. The tramway had turned out a big success and the Directors in the Autumn declared a handsome interim dividend..". Whilst the tramway as far as Groudle was originally intended to serve the housing developments which were planned for Howstrake, it was soon realised that the line had great potential for tourism. Following the extension to Laxey, the line began to function as a means of transport as well as being a tourist attraction and, even in the Winter months, the company ran six trams a day  the first at 8.00 A.M. and the last at 6.30 P.M. and it obviously fulfilled a year-round need in connecting Laxey to Douglas. During the Winter of 1893-94 the single line track was relaid as a double line.

The proximity of Douglas, with its seasonal hordes of tourists, provided a ready made market for this development. The Douglas Bay Tramway, (the horse cars), which had opened in 1876, had its terminus at the Derby Castle, on the site of the present Summerland building, where passengers could interconnect with the new electric railway which provided a scenic coastal route along the side of Bank's Howe and transformed Groudle, which had previously been an unspoilt natural glen, into a bustling tourist attraction. By the turn of the century over 100,000 tourists were visiting the glen annually. The existence of the line must also have influenced Cunningham in the siting of his first holiday camp just South of Groudle. By 1896, The Groudle Glen Railway had been built and ran from the Lhen Coan terminus in Groudle Glen, via Lime Kiln Halt overlooking Groudle beach, for three-quarters of a mile to the attractions of Sea Lion Rocks where pens located in a tidal inlet accommodated sea lions and polar bears.