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Housing Developments


One of the major objectives in the purchase of the Howstrake Estate in 1892 had been to develop it for housing. The tramway and road were necessary to give access to it, but it is probable that golf links, holiday camps and scenic parks were not uppermost in the developers' original plans and came into being to make a profitable interim use of the vast area of land involved.

Frederick Saunderson's proposed plan of the Douglas Bay Estate, which he produced in 1891, indicated an intention to develop the entire estate as exclusive, low-density, housing, apart from the South-western portion which was to provide a highly populated suburb of Douglas which would have produced commuter revenue on the horse tramways owned by the Electric Tramways Company. In the event this was not to be and the Clifton Ville scheme of 1903 or later was an attempt to create interest in a small coastal portion of the estate. In the meantime, a golf course and a holiday camp occupied the Eastern part of the estate and the land was for many years to remain largely undeveloped as regards housing.

Attempts were made to stimulate interest in the Island in general as a desirable place to live and the Board of Advertising stressed the absence of Income Tax, which was not introduced until 1918, together with the environmental advantages of living in the Isle of Man. Onchan Village Commissioners advertised in the 1933 Guide that "..Onchan is highly recommended for retired people and invalids as permanent residents. Active building of small houses is in progress to meet these requirements..". The Commissioners may have been concerned with enlarging their population to fend off the predatory ambitions of Douglas to include Onchan within its own boundaries. Some pre-war building did take place in Howstrake on Sunningdale Drive and the West side of Harbour Road as well as on the Groudle Road.

The large scale expansion of Onchan Village as a whole began in the 1960s and stemmed from its advantages as a dormitory suburb of Douglas. With the introduction of punitive taxation in the United Kingdom, following the election of a Socialist government there at the end of the 1939-45 war, there was a steady influx of new residents. The pace was gentle and these new-comers were easily absorbed into the Manx scene, and, in some cases became more Manx than the Manx, especially when it came to defending the Island against further inroads of new residents! It was not until it became established Government policy actively to promote the tax advantages of the Island that immigration accelerated. In the 1980s the inflow of new-comers provided a new industry, the finance sector, which was to become a timely replacement for the ailing tourist industry. Unlike tourism, the new business employed staff on a year-round basis and this factor generated a need for even more housing. Onchan became a prime target for these new housing developments. In coastal Howstrake in particular, speculation in land was on a par with that of the 1890s and these developments resulted in Onchan becoming second only to Douglas as the largest centre of population on the Island.

There was some opposition to the encroachment of buildings on the scenically attractive Bank's Howe and Onchan Head. One early protest was a photograph of about 1937, taken by a visitor, which he entitled "The Disfigurement of Onchan Head". This depicted a part of the White City amusement park. In the foreground was a timber building on the gable of which was painted the palm of a hand and the word "Gipsy", indicating a fortune teller. The half-dozen or so houses which existed on King Edward Road formed a backdrop to the scene.

The Howstrake golf links was a tempting prize for the developers and in 1971 the first encroachment

A further protest against developments on coastal sites occurred in 1951. Bishop Stanton-Jones, at the instigation of the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside, proposed to Tynwald that regulations be made to prohibit buildings within a specified distance of the sea's edge and especially on cliff-top sites but the suggestion was not acted upon as it was thought unlikely that anyone would consider erecting a house in such exposed positions. However, cliff-top buildings were already in being. In Howstrake such buildings had existed from the 1890s when the Douglas Bay Hotel and the Mansion House were erected. The Bay Hotel, in particular, dominated the Eastern skyline of Douglas Bay. However, it must be said that the cliff-tops of coastal Onchan beyond Onchan Harbour were, in general, still in a state of nature at the period of the Bishop's protest.

The bold coastline of Bank's Howe had been a target for development from as early as 1892 when the Douglas Bay Estate Co. bought the Howstrake estate. Their proposals included around XXX houses in the area now occupied by the King Edward Bay apartments and by King Edward Park and the former Douglas Bay Hotel site, together with 49 spacious building plots to the East of Onchan Harbour and seaward of the proposed marine drive which was to become the King Edward Road. Frederick Saunderson's Cliftonville scheme of 1903 or later proposed 55 dwellings for the land bounded by Majestic Drive to the South and King Edward Road to the North. Both schemes included a "hydropathic establishment" to be known as Clifton Castle which would have occupied the land above Brither Clip Gut on the approximate sites of 32 to 36 Majestic Drive. Neither scheme came to fruition.

Although the coastline beyond the Majestic Hotel had escaped development, this was, inevitably, to change. In May 1951 the Onchan Commissioners granted building byelaw approval for the site now numbered 14, Majestic Drive. The applicant was Mr. E.C. Hamill, well-known as a motor-coach operator and garage proprietor of Douglas. Mr. Hamill did not proceed with the proposal but the way was opened for development of this part of the coast of Howstrake. Mr Frederick Hodson bought this prestigious site, overlooking Douglas Bay, in July 1954 for £1,122 10/-, a pound per square yard. By that time the steep access road running down from the King Edward Road, with Mr Hodson's private turning circle at the foot, was itself developed and named as Majestic Drive. Building work began on the site and the resulting flat-roofed dwelling house was completed by the June of the following year. The house was originally known as Bron Awelon, a Welsh expression signifying a breezy hilltop, and, on a change of ownership in the early 1970s, it was re-named as "Seaspray".

An avaricious attempt at larger scale development of land between Majestic Drive and King Edward Road occurred in 1970 with an application to erect 56 dwellings at a density of 8 houses per acre. This was an average of 605 square yards per plot as compared with a minimum plot size of 720 square yards, and an average of 1012, under the Cliftonville proposals at the turn of the century for a similarly sited development. The Village Commissioners declined approval. However, there was now no doubt that the steeply sloping Majestic Drive was to be extended East along the coast and in May 1973 planning approval was given for what was described as plot 1 Majestic Drive, now number 18, and this was followed in June with approval for "Copstones" whose pink-washed walls made it a landmark used by racing yachtsmen to locate a nearby course marker. By early 1974 land at Majestic View had been laid out and building plots there were being advertised for sale.

Some of these early residents at Majestic View incurred the wrath of the Manx Conservation  Council. Acting on the basis that the ownership of their properties included the brows down to the high water mark, they erected boundary fencing to the very edge of the headlands and effectively prevented access along the coastal footpath. The Examiner of 10th October 1975 reported that complaints about this closure of the coastal path were brought to the attention of the village commissioners and the matter was referred to the Planning Committee and to the Highway Board.

Planning approval for the Majestic View development in general, and subsequently for the individual building plots, was conditional upon the public right of way along the brows being maintained. Owners who had contravened this requirement were notified by the commissioners and by the Planning Committee that they had exceeded their rights in blocking the coastal path. Some still failed to comply and the Examiner recorded that ".. Several Onchan residents who have attempted to make their way past obstructions have met with abuse from one of the plot owners. "He told me that he owned the land right down to the high water mark", one of the walkers told the Examiner..". The Manx Conservation Council commented that "..This is one of the most beautiful bits of Manx coastline....If those responsible for blocking it continue to do so, the Footpaths Group are prepared to stage a mass walk along the path to re-open the right of way..". The coastal footpath is now incorporated into the Raad ny Foillan, the Way of the Gull, which encircles the Island.

Further along the coast, at the junction of Lag Birragh Drive and King Edward Road, St. Christopher's, or Braeside, was under construction in 1970 and by 1973, Fo Carrick, at the end of the turn to the East at the foot of the drive, had been erected below Far End House.