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The Douglas Bay Estate Development Plan


Following the sale of the Howstrake estate, after the passing of the Howstrake Estate Act in 1892, Frederick Saunderson had wasted no time in the completion of the rail and road routes along the coast to Groudle. These opened up Howstrake for development and Saunderson produced at least two major proposals, the Douglas Bay Estate plan, and later, the Cliftonville scheme, but neither came to fruition.

Whilst Saunderson's Cliftonville scheme, which dates from 1903 or later, might have been visually pleasing in its day, considered in isolation and ignoring the scenic despoliation involved, his earlier proposals, set out in the plan for the Douglas Bay Estate published in 1891, would have been a disaster. The area covered was virtually the whole of the present Onchan Village, seaward of the Main and Whitebridge Roads, and extending as far as Groudle. Its boundaries ran from a point just to the West of Port Jack to about the top of Alberta Drive and along the Main and Whitebridge Roads to Mollie Quirk's Glen, and then followed the Groudle River to Groudle beach and returned by way of the coast to Port Jack.

Onchan was incorporated as a Village District in 1895. There are no records of its population at that time but in 1899 it was estimated to be about 1,100. The heart of the village consisted of a few terraces of houses on, and in the vicinity of, the Main Road, and some cottages at the Butt. The latter, and the Parish Church and vicarage, the nearby Village School, the Infants' School, and the Howstrake farm house and buildings were the only buildings on Howstrake towards the sea in 1891 when Saunderson drew his plans.  The Douglas Bay Estate proposal amounted to the creation of a new town.

Roads named or identifiable on the plan include Strathallan Crescent, "Burnt Mill Hill", (now Summerhill), "High Road Douglas to Laxey", (now Summerhill Road itself, Main Road, and Whitebridge Road), Harbour Road and the Groudle Road from St. Peter's Church to Groudle. A whole network of new roads and backlanes was proposed. In general, the development was of low density housing and included seven houses on what was to be the Howstrake Holiday Camp. However, the South West corner of the estate, roughly enclosed in the area from what is now the top of Sunningdale Drive across to Summerhill Road, and including what was to become the White City and is now the King Edward Bay Apartments complex, was to be given over to high density terraced housing with frontages, typically, of about twenty feet, and with narrow back lanes, and would have constituted an unbelievable eyesore especially as some of the terraces presented their rear aspect to the sea.

The Clifton Castle of the later Cliftonville scheme, although not named as such, is also shown on the Douglas Bay Estate plans, together with the bridge to the rocky islet at Brither Clip Gut. The area of headland overlooking Onchan Harbour, which John Smith McAndrew purchased in January 1893 on which to build his Mansion House, was designated on the plan for seventeen dwellings, eight pairs of semi-detached houses and one detached.

The summit of Bank's Howe, given as 426.9 feet above sea level, was to be surmounted by what appeared to be an ornamental building, shown in the artist's impression on the later Cliftonville plan, and approached by formally laid out drives. Prof. Kornwolf suggests in his book on Baillie Scott that the structure may have been a proposed club-house for the Golf links. However, this is improbable, for although some parts of Banks Howe were to be left unbuilt on, possibly due to the difficulty and cost of site work on the underlying bedrock, these plots of land were isolated from each other and bisected by roads and could not have been used as a Golf course. Besides, there appeared to have been no plans at that time for a links on the Eastern sector of the estate. In the event, a course was constructed, in 1892 or early 1893, but began at what was to become, in June 1894, the site of the Douglas Bay Hotel.

It has been suggested that the formally laid out and interlinking driveways by which the summit of Bank's Howe was to be approached from the Eastern or Groudle side, may have been the design of the young architect Baillie Scott who was employed by Saunderson when the plan was drawn. Scott had studied under Archibald Knox at the School of Art in Douglas and the pattern formed by these roads is reminiscent of Knox's designs on his Tudric pewter ware.

The headland site which McAndrew bought in January 1893 for his View Park Mansion, was marked by Saunderson as being designated as seventeen individual plots. This might indicate that the plan was published before the sale to McAndrew. This was, in fact, the case as, although the Howstrake Estate Act, which approved the sale of the estate, was not passed by Tynwald until 22nd March 1892, the plan had been published in the previous year in anticipation of Tynwald's approval. Earlier impressions bear the legend "Clucas & Fargher. Litho. Douglas. 1891".

The plan was intended as a marketing device for distribution to those interested in acquiring a building plot on the Douglas Bay Estate. As originally issued, it was marked out with Saunderson's proposed plots. As land was sold, the plots were overprinted in yellow to indicate that they were no longer available. The date of 1891 was omitted from subsequent printings. One version of the plan of around 1903 is crudely overprinted with legends such as "Douglas Bay Hotel" where high density housing had been specified and "Mr. Prestwich's House" where View Park Mansion stood. "Holiday Camp" was printed where originally seven detached houses were envisaged, and an extension, going beyond the borders of the plan, indicated "Miniature Railway" in Groudle Glen and "Sea Lions &c". The words "Golf Links" were overprinted across the interlacing driveways on The Howe. For this later edition, old stocks of the plan with the 1891 date were re-used but Saunderson's address was shown as 8,Finch Road, Douglas, in place of 7, Athol Street.