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Howstrake Park - 1895


The following report is taken from the Mona's Herald of 15th. May 1895 -

"For many months past, the Electric Tramway Company have employed Mr. J. McLean, landscape gardener, in superintending the laying-out as a marine park the whole of the turf slopes of Howstrake stretching below the line, from the awe inspiring crags of Lagh-a-Birrag, round by the bold sea cliffs, to a junction with the charming glen of Groudle. The work of planting trees and making paths is almost complete, and the park, which will be unrivalled of its kind in the Kingdom, will be open to the public by the 1st July next. In addition to revelling in the extensive seascape commanded, with magnificent coast and inland views, and inhaling the undiluted ozone as it sweeps up the soft turf from the open sea, leaving the base of the rocky ramparts, frequenters of the park will have the additional pleasures of drinking in the music of a first-class band, which the directors have arranged to give promenade concerts throughout the season. Mr. Edwin Race, whose previous musical catering at public resorts in the Island has earned him a good name, has been entrusted with the forming and direction of the band. The park will be a great acquisition to Douglas, and should attract thousands of visitors in search of a recuperated health, and who wish for a select place where they can obtain all the advantages of our sea breezes, out of the way of the madding crowd, and yet within a few minutes easy travel, by horse or electric car, from Douglas."

Another report appeared in The Isle of Man Times of 20th July and under the headine of "Howstrake Park. Lagebury.", supplied fuller details of the park -

"On and after Monday, the 21st. July, this magnificent park, the property of The Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Co. will be open to the public for a nominal charge. Under the able supervision of Mr J.M. Mclean, of Kegworth, Derby, the well-known and eminent landscape gardener, this Park promises to be a great attraction. The Park which is divided into two parts by the Electric Railway (an upper and a lower) is distant about two miles from Douglas. A boundary wall separates the Higher Park from the Howstrake Golf Links, while the Lower Park adjoins the Groudle Glen. The entrance to Howstrake Park is right opposite Lagebury, [Lag Birragh], a great chasm seaward. The highest point of the Upper Park is about 400 feet above the sea, and from this point very charming and grand views of sea and land are obtained. A fine subway leading under the Electric Railway connects Upper and Lower Parks. The grounds are very extensive and are intersected with gravel walks for a distance of three and a half miles. The entrance to and exit from the Lower Park is close to Groudle Hotel. Garden chairs and rustic seats will be found everywhere; and marquees to shelter from heat or rain. In the Park is a beautiful pavilion, tastefully decorated by a well-known London firm. The restaurant, where refreshments of every description are provided, is under the charge of a most experienced manageress. An excellent string band under the leadership of Mr J. Race plays morning and evening. The Electric Cars stop at the gates both going and returning."

The opening of Howstrake Park would appear to have been in direct competition to the Groudle glen and hotel which had opened in late Summer of 1893. Mr Broadbent, who had previously leased the glen, had purchased it from the estate company in April 1895, just a few months before Howstrake Park had opened. He might well have felt some resentment concerning the threat that the new scenic park might have been to his glen. Not only had his hotel and glen provided, at least until the Laxey line was opened, a reason for the existence of the tramway, but he paid part of his entrance charges, three farthings per visitor, (almost one third of a decimal penny), to the tramway company.

A deed plan on a conveyance dated 30th June 1896 confirms the layout of the park as described in the newspapers of the time. The Main Entrance is marked near Lag Birragh, together with the bungalow and entrance kiosk. The tunnel under the road and tram line, and the Pavilion on the seaward side of the road, are both shown. Near the junction of the main road and the track down to Groudle beach, what is described as the North Entrance is marked.

Howstrake Park was sometimes referred to as Douglas Bay Park and it was advertised under this name as being open free of charge on the two days of the Douglas Bay Regatta in July 1895 as a location from which to view the racing and the Band of the Isle of Man Volunteers was in attendance. The sailing regattas of this period were promoted by the original Douglas Bay Yacht Club, sponsored by public subscriptions, and were supported by top class entrants from the United Kingdom. The park was also known as Lag Birragh Park.

In the event, by June 1896 Broadbent had sold his hotel, glen, railway and the headland zoo with its sealions, back to the estate company for £25,000. Having acquired the Groudle glen, which had infinitely greater and proven potential, the estate company appear to have abandoned their Howstrake Park in only its second Summer season.

Joseph Cunningham, who had used the lower portion of the park for a week-long Summer camp for his working lads' institute in 1894, then rented the site from 1897 and established there the first holiday camp in the British Isles.

The once imposing entrance gates to the park still stand opposite the tram stop shelter, or the "Howstrake Holiday Camp Station" as the faded paintwork above its arches proclaims. Above and below the tramline can be found many escalonia and other garden shrubs, descendants of those planted by McLean. Above the road and seaward of an impenetrable copse of trees and bushes is the park's ornamental pool, now badly silted and overgrown by reeds and willows. The remarkable subway tunnel under the tramline and road still exists, in sound condition, a short distance past the entrance gates.