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Howstrake
Dumbell's Bank - 1900

 

The inclusion of a mention of Dumbell's Bank in these notes has some relevance. It was because of the Bank's financial involvement that Howstrake was opened up for development and partly because of this involvement that the Bank collapsed on "Black Saturday", 3rd. February 1900. The events leading up to the crash and the trial which followed were recorded in "The Manx Sun History of Dumbell's Bank" in which it was noted that "..Dumbell's Bank, virtually the Manx National Bank, tottered to its fall, and in its fall, spread ruin and misery far and wide."

The story may be told in excerpts from the Manx Sun History - "..We have referred to the pre-eminence of Dumbell's Bank among Company promoters, and this position it year by year increased. Among these ventures were...The Palace and Derby Castle Company Limited, The Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company Limited, and The Isle of Man Breweries Limited."

The "History" listed places of public amusement in 1892, namely, The Palace, Derby Castle, Falcon Cliff, Olympia, Belle Vue and The Marina, and commented that "..it will readily be seen that the thing was overdone..". The latter four succumbed "...and a syndicate then became the purchasers of The Marina, Falcon Cliff, Derby Castle and The Palace..". (The Marina was transformed into The Pavilion and then became the Gaiety Theatre). "... Dumbell's financed the speculators, and though we do not wish it understood that we attribute the failure of the Bank to any particular concern...the Bank departed from sound banking and financial principles in encouraging this class of speculative business".

The Breweries venture stemmed from the previous acquisitions of grocery stores, public houses, hotels and breweries by various syndicates. There followed an attempt to amalgamate these subsyndicates into one syndicate, "The Great Combine", and to float a company for this purpose. A prospectus was issued to raise £550,000 in shares and debentures to acquire the three breweries, the forty-six licensed houses, the hotels and other properties involved. The issue was not a success and nearly half the stock remained with the promoters. The "History", listed the directors, and recorded that "...Mr. Bruce [the Bank's General Manager] and Mr. Nelson [a director of the Bank] were members of this syndicate, although their names did not appear".

It was the Tramways which directly involved the Howstrake estate as "..in the height of the speculating mania an opportunity for a grand coup was seen. Mr. F.G. Callow, of Onchan, the owner of the Howstrake Estate, was captured by the fascinating personality of Mr. Bruce, the trusts and directions of his father's will were nullified; a grand drive was laid out through his estate, which was put on the market as building land; an electric tramway was constructed along it to Laxey; the old Tramway Company was bought out, and a new company...was floated and the shares were greedily taken up".

"..Soon a group of directors of the Tramway Company, with a few particular friends, made a little syndicate...for constructing a tramway to Snaefell...They...built their line, and sold it at a handsome profit [in excess of 85%] to their fellow-shareholders in the Isle of Man Tramways Limited, to whom it became a "white elephant". Mr Bruce, for his share in this reputable transaction was presented with a magnificent service of solid silver....Similarly the extension to Ramsey was carried out...and the venture was again palmed off on the shareholders of the Isle of Man Tramways..".

A further presentation to Mr Bruce was an 18ct. gold pocket chronometer inscribed - "Presented to Alexander Bruce Esq. J.P. by his fellow promoters and founders of the Snaefell Mountain Railway in hearty recognition of services rendered in connection with the construction of the first Mountain Railway in the United Kingdom 1896".

"..Ostensibly, the Tramway Company was a success; it issued an interim and supplementary dividend each year. On the face of the balance sheet...it was a flourishing success; but events have proved that it was a constant drain on the financial resources of its foster-mother the Bank...The Breweries may also have been a sound financial undertaking...but...the properties the syndicates had purchased had to be paid for; so that at the end of 1899 hundreds of thousands of the Bank's funds were locked up in the advances made by the Bank to the directors of the one and the promoters of the other...."

The liquidation of the bank was a gargantuan task and a question about progress was asked in Tynwald in December 1920, over twenty years after the bank collapsed. In February 1921 a motion was put to Tynwald that the liquidation be compulsorily completed. In explanation of the delay, it was stated, as an example, that "...the Douglas Bay Hotel had been offered for sale three or four times and had not realised the amount of the mortgage...". The motion was withdrawn when Tynwald was advised that the hotel had at last been sold.