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The Howstrake Holiday Camp - 1907


This camp is not to be confused with Cunningham's International Young Men's Holiday Camp which occupied the same site overlooking Groudle beach from about 1897 until 1903. A Guide advertisement of 1922 stated that the Howstrake Camp was established in 1907. The new proprietor was a Mr T.B. Carrick of Liverpool, and his niece, and in 1910 a company, The Howstrake Holiday Camp Ltd, was incorporated. A Mr R.A. Taylor married Mr Carrick's niece and the Taylor family were to have a lifelong involvement with the camp.

The camp was first mentioned in the Advertising Guides in 1913. This advertisement read - "With our unique position as to site, our beautiful sea frontage, our enlarged and improved buildings, good catering, etc. we have much confidence in saying our Camp is second to none in the Kingdom. Illustrated "Camp Mirror", giving full particulars, sent free, on receipt of postcard. Address - M.G. Carrick". One cannot help but feel that Mr. Carrick's claim as to the standing of his camp was an overstatement as, at that time, the Cunningham camp in Douglas offered a covered swimming pool, (with tepid water), and an orchestra played at meals.

However, a photograph of the camp which was used in the 1922 and subsequent advertisements of the Board's Guides showed an extended range of buildings and claimed accommodation for 450 gentlemen. As with Cunningham's earlier camp, it was for males only. As well as tents, what were described as bungalows were also offered together with spacious dining, lounge and billiard rooms and good storage for motor cycles.

Although one of the reasons that Cunningham had vacated this site was the vagaries of the weather it was often a sun trap. A camper in July 1910 sent a post card saying that "..if my face keeps on coloring (sic) I shall soon be black..". Forty years later a young lady wrote that she "..had some very nice sunny weather. I'm already like a lobster..".

Holiday Camps must have been a thorn in the side of the boarding house owners and one advertised his accommodation as being superior to, and no more expensive than, a holiday camp. Even the Vicar of Onchan tried in 1923 to jump on to the band-wagon and advertised two and a half acres of glebe opposite Onchan Church as an excellent pitch for tents, although restricting its use to Church Lads' Brigades and Scouts. Once again the fair sex was excluded from this form of holiday!

Around 1929 the camp was managed by the Taylor family and the advertisement in the 1930 Guide included an aerial view. This was an early example of this form of photography being used on the Island and gave a good impression of the camp's layout. As one approached from Douglas, on the left were the imposing gates erected in 1895 as part of the Howstrake Park project, and on the seaward side was the stone-built tram-stop shelter, both of which exist today. A small reception entrance building was sited a short distance past the tram-stop and gave access to the camp via a flight of steps. This structure was later demolished by an errant motorist. Around 60 bell tents were erected at the end of the camp access road, on level ground, and there were about a dozen roofed structures which formed the dining room and the chalet accommodation and entertainment facilities. There were tennis courts and, eventually, an open air swimming pool, and for inclement weather, indoor games and billiards were available. Improvements continued throughout the 1930s and came to include a dance floor and resident orchestra, organised games and excursions, a physical training instructor, Gala Nights, four meals per day at tables for four, and hot baths. The camp shop included in its offerings, souvenir pottery and the like, bearing the camp's name.

On 6th. February 1936 the Holiday Camp was put up for auction and the announcement of the sale described it as having accommodation for 500 guests and quarters for 44 staff and occupying 20 acres, and went on to suggest that there was space for further expansion and even that "..a portion could be utilised as a young ladies camp for which there is a demand..". In the event and "..despite earnest pleas by the auctioneer to regard the resort as a paying proposition and not as a "sinking ship" suitable offers for were not forthcoming.." and the property was withdrawn at a top bid of £9,100.

Possibly later that year, and certainly by the 1937 season, there had been a break-through in that segregated bungalow accommodation was made available for ladies, and by 1938 a new dining room building had been erected which could cater for 750 guests. There would have been little point in a dining room of that capacity if the guest accommodation had not also been enlarged from the 500 claimed in early 1936, and this in fact was the case as extensive rebuilding had taken place during 1937. The required incentive to expand the camp and to make it succeed may have been the owners' inability to dispose of it, or possibly all the camp really needed was girls. A tentative suggestion made by an auctioneer in the hope of stimulating buyers' interest had ended a forty year old tradition of a male only Howstrake Camp.

In spite of the extensive rebuilding, a post card entitled "Howstrake Ladies & Gents Holiday Camp", issued just prior to the war, still showed about twenty bell tents pitched on the seaward side of the permanent buildings. Another card, a photo montage, issued around 1950, showed a spacious billiard room with four full sized tables, an immense dining room with floor to ceiling picture windows, the two storey high married quarters and what was described as the terrace. This still remains as a concrete area above what appear to be boiler rooms.

Then came the war years. Within days of the start of the war the camp was taken over and, in September 1939, was used as temporary accommodation for the 129th Battery of the Manx Regiment. It then became, by January 1940, a shore establishment for boy sailors of the Royal Navy and later, in July 1941, the Royal Naval School of Music, with its boy musicians of the Royal Marine Bands, occupied the camp until the end of the war. This commandeering of the camp could well have been what was to save it to emerge maintained and intact and to play its part in the post war tourist boom.

After the war the camp flourished and, at that time and until his death in 1957, the majority shareholder and managing director was Mr R.A. Taylor and his shares were retained by his wife until she died in 1967. Further improvements were made to the buildings and in 1969 a £50,000 modernisation project was completed, including en suite facilities in the new block, which left the camp with a capacity for 500 visitors. The dining room was claimed to be the biggest in the Island and the camp was the largest single unit of Manx tourist accommodation.

By 1973, however, the camp was on the market although the reason was not disclosed. From 1963, control of the company had passed to non-executive directors who included accountants, and they may have seen the writing on the wall for a large tourist undertaking of this nature. The camp went into voluntary liquidation, all its creditors were paid, and a surplus of £58,293 was distributed to shareholders. The camp was closed and, in spite of hopes that the site would be used for future tourist developments, it was never to re-open.

The Isle of Man Examiner reported on 28th December 1973 that the camp had been sold for £87,000 to Howstrake Holiday Village Ltd. As the name implied, the plan was to convert the chalets to self-catering holiday accommodation. This idea may have been inspired by the Groudle holiday village on which work had started in June. However it appeared that the developer was looking for an element of Government funding. This was not forthcomimg and a later plan was for a mixture of private housing and holiday units but consent for this was not granted.

In 1975 a German syndicate was reported to have shown interest in the camp and at one time The Morfa Holiday Camp (Talacre) Ltd. of Prestatyn had acquired the majority shareholding but nothing came of either of these possibilities for the camp's future.

In 1976, Mr Derrick K. Armstrong, who had purchased the Alexandra Hotel on Douglas promenade and converted it into the Continental Hotel, gave up that property and took over control of the camp at Howstrake. He saw tremendous potential in the site and proposed a scheme involving an open-air heated swimming pool and extensions of the camp to the East overlooking Groudle. The building of new tourist accommodation could, at that time, be eligible for grants of up to 40% of the cost. But before the Finance Board was prepared to recommend a grant for Howstrake, an independant feasibility study was asked for. Mr Armstrong would not expend the sum of around £20,000 for such a study. He was subsequently given planning consent for two of his three proposed development phases but claimed that complying with the 17 conditions imposed would cost millions and he abandoned his plans.

It was announced in The Examiner of 30th December 1977, under the headline of "HOLIDAY CAMP RIDDLE", that Sir Fred Pontin, of the Pontinental holiday camp group, was interested in taking over the site to add to his chain of camps. However, it later transpired that Sir Fred's interest in obtaining a coastal site was for the possible building of a private residence and the rumours concerning Howstrake Camp were denied.

On Monday, 21st July 1980, at 1.30 PM the Fire Brigade was called to attend a severe outbreak at the Howstrake Camp. Fire appliances came from Douglas, Peel and Castletown and the coast road had to be closed to traffic. The Examiner noted that it appeared that the fire had started in the main buildings where large quantities of furniture, chairs and foam-rubber mattresses had been stored. Some of the surrounding buildings escaped damage but all the main blocks of the camp were completely destroyed.

The Examiner commented that "The fire was the latest in a series of misfortunes which has reduced the Camp from the thriving site of happy holidays, remembered by many young people from the North of England, to a bleak, deserted place".

At about the time of the fire, the camp was sold to Fontenay Ltd. and, in June 1981, the company announced a £3 million development scheme. The plan was to build a holiday centre to be known as the Viking Holiday Village which would consist of 100 cottages, with accommodation for 600 guests. A second phase provided for an additional 40 cottages. Nothing came of these proposals and in June 1982 the village commissioners served a notice requiring the site to be tidied up.

A further scheme surfaced in March 1986 when The Examiner reported a "NEW PLAN FOR HOWSTRAKE" and this proposed a mixed development for the site with residential properties to the West coupled with self catering tourist units overlooking Groudle.

By the late eighties, the area was used for unauthorised tipping of rubbish and had become an eyesore. However, the site was then cleared and vehicular access prevented, which cured this problem.

The Examiner of 15th November 1994 reported that applications for outline planning approval had been refused for the construction of up to 200 houses and flats, together with a 60 bedroom hotel, on the former holiday camp site. The proposals were put forward by Whitgift Homes Ltd. of Surrey who had an option to purchase the site from Melly Investments of Jersey.

The refusal included the grounds that "..building development of the extent, density and form proposed, situated on a headland...would make an adverse visual impact...The proposed buildings would cover very much more of the site than did the holiday camp buildings; there would thus be a loss of open space which, in this location, would be regrettable..".