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Balnahowe Or Howstrake Farm


Although the Manx system of land tenure in its earliest forms is not known with certainty, it appears that before the Norse period it was "Udal" and land was held in hereditary right, and not from a king or lord. During the Norse period, until 1405, this system fell into disregard. It is thought that from the beginning of the Stanley family's Lordship of the Island the land was the property of the Lord. Land-holders held it from year to year without right of inheritance. In time, however, leases came to be renewed on an automatic basis and land was regarded as belonging to the holders and could be sold or passed on. The holders were required to pay a Lord's Rent and these payments were recorded in Manorial Rolls.

The farm of Howstrake was a large one and when it passed out of the hands of the Banks family in 1862 it covered around 650 acres. In 1802 the then owner of Howstrake, James Banks, executed a Deed of Settlement in favour of his son Robert which referred to his "..estates, Tenements and Hereditaments and Premises situate in the parish of Conchan in the Isle of Mann aforesaid and commonly called and known by the name or names of Balnehow, Ballachurry and Ballachrinck and generally called Howstraw or Howstrack..". It was noted that the estate consisted of six quarterlands and included the Growdale Mill.

The "Asylum Plan", produced by James Woods in 1862, was based on a survey by J. Parris of 1844 and was drawn in connection with proposals to provide a rateable value of land holdings to fund the building of a mental hospital. The plan showed that the estate was made up of a total of six quarterlands in the farms of Howstrake, or Balnahowe, and in Ballachrink and Ballachurry. The acreages were given as 467 in Howstrake, 89 in Ballachrink and 99 in Ballachurry, a total of 655 acres.

It might be assumed that such a large estate would have been built up over several centuries but this does not appear to have been the case. One of the earliest recorded owners was Patric Clerke who, in the Manorial Roll of 1511, is listed as paying Lord's rents totalling £2.17.4d, or £2.87 in its decimal equivalent, for " tenement and five quarters of land demised to him and assigns..", together with three cottages and what was described as "..a small mill..", all in the treen of Hawstrake (sic). The mill was not the one listed as "Growdell Miln" in the 1511 Roll. This was held by Patric Macray and he paid a Lord's rent of 4/2d for it. Normally the Manx treen was divided into smaller units of land known as quarterlands and it may have been Patric Clerke, or his predecessors, who acquired these one by one and so built up this large land holding as long ago as the 15th century. The site of the small mill is not known but the stream which ran from The Butt down to Port Jack was used to turn a mill which existed, until its demolition in the 1930s, near to the junction of what are now Royal Avenue and Furman Road and these mills were almost certainly one and the same.

A portion of an undated Manorial Roll covering a period prior to 1577 records that Howstrake was held by John Clerke, Junior, who could have been a son or, more probably, a grandson of Patric Clerke, together with Fynlo McCorren and the widow of William Skyllycorne and her son William. Their holding consisted of one tenement and four quarterlands and the Lord's rent was 53/4d.

By 1577 the estate had come together again under one owner and the Manorial Roll for that year lists John Lucas, who is described as "Demster", as being in possession. The extent of the holding and its rent remained unchanged. A succession of Rolls up to and including that of 1601 confirm Deemster Lucas as the owner of Howstrake.

The Manx Museum Library has a copy of a family tree which includes information on the Banks family and this states that a James Bancks, a younger son of the Bancks family of Winstanley, near Wigan, came to the Island in about 1580 to act for the Earl of Derby as his agent for woods and forests. The document further states that James Bancks married the only daughter of Deemster John Lucas and in due course inherited his estate of Howstrake. The Manorial Roll of 1602 records this change of ownership and lists James Bancks as the holder of the tenement and the four quarterlands of the treen of Howstrake.

It is known that James Bancks' son Thomas was the Warden of the Watch in 1627 and in the 1643 Manorial Roll, Thomas Bancks is listed as the owner of Balnahowe.

Throughout these notes, the land on which the farm once stood has generally been referred to as Howstrake. However, up to around the 1820s the farm was often known as Balnahow, a shortened form of Ballanahow. In a court action in 1825 it was referred to by both names - "..Balnehow or Howstrake..". The estate had expanded beyond the boundaries of the farm of Howstrake and had taken in land both in Ballachurry and Ballachrink.

Howstrake farm was used on occasion between 1837 and 1847 for horse racing and the earliest of these events, known as the Douglas Spring Meeting, took place on the three days 30th May to Ist June 1837. A record of July 1837 relates that "..In the Deemster's Court the Stewards of the racecourse were brought into Court for the cost of making the hurdle-race course at the last meeting on Bank's Howe..". These sporting activities were organised by the Douglas Steeplechase Race Committee who on 2nd January 1840 presented a silver mounted riding crop to John Banks, Captain of the Parish of Onchan, and owner of Howstrake. This was suitably inscribed and has survived to this day.

Shortly after the start of the nineteenth century the Banks family gave up actively farming Howstrake and James Banks, who was by then in his mid-sixties, leased the farm to the Honourable Thomas Bowes Lyon for twenty one years at £365 per annum, (or the equivalent of one pound per day, with, presumably, a free day every leap year.) This was a far cry from the Lord's Rent of £2.87 which Patric Clerke paid in 1511. It was a condition of the lease that Bowes Lyon would rebuild the barns and stables and the Banks family would, in return, pay him £140. when the period of the lease had expired.

However, Bowes Lyon's tenure of Howstrake was short lived. In November 1805, the Manx Advertiser announced "..To be Sold by Auction. Furniture, household effects, farming gear, stock and crops on the farm of Ballanahowe, also the Lease..". In the following month the Advertiser carried a notice of a "..Sale by Auction. Lease, crops, implements at Ballnahow and on the following day at Society Room at Douglas, furniture, plate, books, paintings, etc. of Hon. Thomas Bowes..".

Eventually, in 1808, the lease of Howstrake was assigned by Bowes Lyon for £1,500. to an Anthony Dunlop and in May 1810 a notice in the Advertiser mentioned "..the lease of Balnahow granted by Robt. Banks to Hon. Thos. Bowes and now held by Mr Anthony Dunlop..".

Dunlop was a great believer in the power of advertising and made frequent use of The Gazette and The Manx Advertiser to bring his produce to the notice of the public. However, in May 1812 he was obliged to announce in The Gazette that "..Mr Dunlop of Ballanahow gives notice that, as his servant bringing butter to Douglas Market was attacked and beaten, he will not in future send any. But those wishing to do so may be supplied, at 1/3d Br[itish] per lb. by leaving their names at Mrs Shaw's..". As there was no mention of his servant being robbed in the course of the attack, this would seem to be rather a motiveless crime. Or was Dunlop becoming too successful for his competitors' liking? A fortnight after ceasing to send his butter to Douglas, Dunlop was advertising Stilton cheeses for sale and in October 1812 he was awarded two prize cups by the Agricultural Society.

The Atholl Papers at Manx National Heritage contain a letter, (107-2), dated 12th January 1813 and written by Dunlop to the Duke of Atholl. This is addressed from "Ballanahow" and it recounts "..the following particulars of an interview which I had with the late Deemster Lace on the subject of enquiry respecting the burning of my threshing mill...The mill having been evidently set fire to by design I waited on the Honble Deemster and requested an order for a jury of enquiry, and at the same time stated that the Coroner usually selected for such juries the lowest classes of the community and such as were little calculated for investigating a matter of intricacy and importance..". Dunlop went on to write that "..the Deemster asked me if the person I suspected was a native or a stranger, a person of property or of none, because (said he) if you should ever succeed in proving the act of wilfully burning your mill against any individual, still you can only lay a civil suit for damages against him and the utmost punishment which the law can inflict on him will be the payment of fourfold the damages sustained..".

Dunlop estimated his loss as not less than £120. However, the Deemster went on to enquire - "But suppose he cannot pay these damages? I rejoined: Then Sir it will at least be a benefit to society that so ill disposed a person should be confined to a jail..". The Deemster answered that "..a native of no property cannot be confined to a jail for debt of any nature. You have offended some of the lower classes, they have resented it, you had better not irritate them more but that they should carry their resentment further. He then gave me his token for a jury but repeated, that unless I suspected someone who had property, I had better let the matter sleep..".

In March 1813 Dunlop was advertising that "..Stilton Cheeses will be made at Ballanahow for such as choose to bespeak them at 1/1d Br. per lb..". In April 1814 he announced "..To be sold at Ballanahow. Stilton Cheeses of last year's make..". Whether the cheeses became mature Stilton by design, or whether they were slow to sell is not clear!

In the meantime, Dunlop's butter appeared to have been highly regarded for, in October 1813, he was obliged to issue a warning that "..A. Dunlop of Ballanahowe gives notice that butter sold in Douglas as being from his farm is not genuine unless stamped "DUNLOP". He will prosecute any person found to be imitating this mark..".

In addition to his farming activities, Dunlop advertised, in June 1814, to arrange the import of wines and spirits from Guernsey for customers. In the following year he again had a stall in Douglas market place and, as well as butter, he supplied beef and mutton from Ballanahowe.

By 1815 Dunlop had completed the rebuilding of the barns and stables, as required under the terms of the lease. He had innovative ideas and the new farm buildings were built in a modern style in the shape of a quadrangle. The buildings which Dunlop erected later came to be known as the Howstrake Stables from their use as a riding school in the 1930s. Following their demolition in 1986, two large dwellings, The Old Stables and the Coach House, were built on the site.

At several periods in Manx history there was a severe shortage of small coinage. In the early nineteenth century a similar situation occurred in the United Kingdom. The position prompted local traders to issue Card Notes which typically had values of 2/6d or 5/- although some were as low as 3d and as much as 7/-. Anthony Dunlop issued his own Card Notes which were oval in shape and blue in colour. They were expressed to be "Payable in Bank Notes" and he used the spelling "Ballanahow" for the name of the estate. Dunlop's landlord, James Bancks, had also issued Card Notes when he was farming at Howstrake.

In 1818, Dunlop bought at auction the farm of Ballakilley in the Parish of Marown. As he had done at Howstrake, he made many improvements to the property, including the re-alignment of roadways and hedges, and built a model farm complex there which he re-named as Ellerslie. For a period, he still held the tenancy of Howstrake and in June 1821 he advertised in The Manx Sun, " be sold or let, the lease of Ballanahow of about 500 acres. Apply A. Dunlop Esq..".

The earlier Howstrake farmhouse had stood where the extended churchyard abuts upon the present-day car parking area of St Peter's church. (Grid Reference 401 781). Its site was in the vicinity of a spring marked on the 1869 Ordnance Survey map. The new farmhouse was erected between 1855 and 1869 and the site of this later farmhouse is now occupied by the restaurant known as Molly's Kitchen which was opened in 1992.

The Bank's family retained the ownership of Howstrake until 1862. On 23rd June of that year John Banks executed a Conveyance, or Sale, in Trust of his estates under which he appointed Robert Lewin and Edward Christian, both of Onchan, as his trustees. He died five days later and, although intestate, the trust deed provided for the disposition of his estates as effectively as a Will would have done. The trust provided for the payment of annuities to John Banks' nephew Sylvester Callow and to his wife, on whose deaths Howstrake was to pass absolutely to Sylvester's son, Samuel Shallcross Callow. In 1865, Sylvester and his wife having died, the estate was conveyed to Samuel S. Callow, Bank's great nephew by marriage.

In January 1865 the estate of Howstrake was passed in trust by Samuel Shallcross Callow to a James Kewley. The beneficiaries of this trust were Callow's wife, Hannah, his son Frederick George Callow, who was an advocate with an office in Athol Street, and his four daughters. Samuel Shallcross Callow was drowned in a boating accident in Groudle Bay in August 1871 and his trustee, Kewley, died in April 1887 and a few weeks later John Travis was appointed to succeed him as trustee. In the meantime, the land was farmed by a succession of tenants. Of these, the principal ones were Henry Cadman and John Taggart although there were others, such as Richard Maltby Broadbent, the founder of the Groudle Glen Railway, who leased smaller parts of the estate.

Two interesting estate plans exist of Howstrake Farm, one of 1855 and the other dated 1864, the year in which work commenced on the Ordnance Survey. At first sight of the 1864 plan there appears to be a proliferation of roads but then it is realised that many of these are, in fact, rivers. In the top left hand part of the plan are what are now Main Road and Whitebridge Road. The latter passes over the Groudle River which is shown along the top portion of the plan. The Church yard is marked (1) and this locates The Butt and the start of the Groudle Road which in its final section runs broadly parallel to the Groudle River. Harbour Road is shown and finishes at the beach of Onchan Harbour. A farm track runs off to the East from Harbour Road. Port Jack is identifiable at the confluence of two streams at the bottom left of the plan. One started at the dam near the Glebe (2) and flowed close to what is now Royal Avenue, powering the Howstrake Mill on its way to the sea. The other was apparently in the vicinity of Royal Terrace. Another stream flowed from the dam in an Easterly direction to join the Groudle River below the Whitebridge. Part of this may be found as a drainage ditch in the field behind Windermere Drive. A small remnant of the dam remains as the wetlands North of The Butt and this was to have been resurrected in the late 1960s to provide the lake intended for the Lakeside Gardens estate. The area came to be conserved as the Onchan Wetlands, officially opened by botanist Dr David Bellamy in June 1992. The area on the East of the plan, marked How, and occupying 145 acres, was the highest part of the farm and was to become the Golf course of 1894.

The plan marks about 29 fields and gives the old names of some of them. Big Field, Meadow, Rough Meadow and Flat might be found on almost any farm. An Onchan flavour is found in the field names of Harbour, adjacent to Harbour Road, and of Whitebridge. Some carry the names of long vanished crofts, such as Robin's, Billy Mear's, Gilbert's and Sayle's. Also marked are Saddle, Dam, North Bank, Middle and the Battery, (to be mentioned later in these notes). Not surprisingly, we note that seven names are in Manx. Creggans indicates land of a rocky or stoney nature, and Geary Moar derives from Geayr meaning sour, used to describe land of a sour, or acidic nature. Moar is Manx for big. Five hills are named. Cronk Collock, more properly Cronk Collagh, is the Hill of the Stallion and Cronk Beg is the Little Hill. Cronk Ashen approximates to the Manx pronunciation of Cronk Aittin which means Gorse Hill. Half Cronk seems meaningless. Or does it read Half Crown, two shillings and sixpence, and was this named after the Lord's Rent payable on it? Cronk Verk is Mark's Hill. Finally, there is Biilnedin. This is probably a version of Balla yn Eddan, or the Farm of the Stream, and this field was located in what is now known as Manor Park. A plan on a deed of sale of 1893 marks what is described as a "burn" along the Eastern boundary of the Majestic Hotel and this little brook, which still exists there, might well have had its source at Biilnedin and have been the origin of this name.

When the plan was drawn, Henry Cadman was the tenant of a large portion of Howstrake and the plan noted that the "..Total Available Land At Mr. Cadman.." amounted to 405 acres. Mr Cadman was born at Handsworth near Sheffield in 1813 and his tombstone in Onchan churchyard records that he "..died at Howstrake in this parish 10 April 1879..". As well as farming at Howstrake, Henry Cadman played an active part in the life of Onchan and served as a trustee of the Parochial School, and later, following the passing of the Elementary Education Act of 1872, was elected a member of the Onchan School Committee. Into the 1880s the estate continued to be farmed by the Cadman family in the person of Henry Cadman's son Walter who also found the time to serve on the committee of the Onchan Board School.

At the time of the sale of Howstrake farm in 1892 to the Douglas Bay Estate company the tenant was John Taggart who had previously farmed at Ballanard. Taggart appears to have been a strict disciplinarian who insisted that his men and his seven pairs of horses were at work on the land by 7.30 each morning in both Summer and Winter alike. In October 1892 he did not hesitate to prosecute an employee over the theft of a few pounds of horse-hair, although in fairness to Taggart it must be said that this farm hand had also taken a horse and trap without leave and had gone joy-riding through the night! A further case to go through the courts concerned the shooting at Howstrake of a dog which had strayed on to Taggart's land, although no suggestion was made that livestock had been attacked.

To increase the supply of water to the farm, Taggart dredged the lake on what are now the Onchan wetlands. In February 1895 the Island had exceptionally cold weather and was struck by severe blizzards which came to be known as "The Great Snow". Rivers froze and the gentry attended skating parties on the Kirby estate and in other parts of the Island including Onchan. In early March of that year a lad called Herbert Popplewell fell through the ice on the dam at Howstrake and a Mr Callister carried out a brave rescue. During the course of this, unaware that the lake had been deepened, Mr Callister got out of his depth and plunged in over his head in the icy water!

John Taggart was a member of the original Board of Onchan Commissioners, formed in 1894, and for a time was the Treasurer of both the Parish and of the Village Commissioners. One of the earliest meetings of the first board was held in the kitchen of the Howstrake farmhouse. His good husbandry of the estate was evident in the high quality of the butter and cheese supplied to and highly esteemed by the Douglas market. The purchase of the farm by the Douglas Bay company had little effect on Howstrake as a working farm. Apart from the loss of the unproductive high ground above Groudle, on which in May 1894 a golf course was constructed, Howstrake remained as a farm.

By 1920 the estate was owned by the Howstrake Estate Company and it was their intention to develop the farmhouse into an hotel and to enlarge the golf course to 18 holes, covering virtually all of Bank's Howe. It would seem that John Taggart's lease had come to an end as, in November 1920, individual field's were offered on a short lease of a year for cropping or grazing. By 1923 Howstrake no longer existed as a farm. The Isle of Man Examiner Annual, for 11th June 1925, recorded "..the death of Mr John Taggart, formerly of Howstrake, Onchan, one of the best-known farmers in the Island".