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Introduction And Geographical Scope


Howstrake forms the seaward boundary of the parish of Onchan and for most of recorded history has been farmland. More recently, on its fine bold coastline, it was to be a major tourist attraction, and with the decline of that industry, it has found a new role as a desirable place to live. The Howstrake farm and the Howstrake Hotel no longer remain but the name lives on in the golf club and in the road names of Howstrake Drive and Howstrake Heights. It is also recalled in the Howstrake Women's Institute and in the name of an electoral polling district.

The name goes back for at least a thousand years and is derived from the Scandinavian "Hofudstrokr" which means the headland track, and this track can be followed today by walking from the junction of Harbour Road with Groudle Road, past the King Edward Bay Golf and Country Club, across the tramline, down past the Groudle Glen holiday village, and finishing at Groudle beach.

However, the name was also that of a treen which was one of the earliest land divisions of the Isle of Man. The Island is sub-divided into six sheadings and the sheadings are sub-divided into three parishes, except in the case of Garff which now consists of two parishes. The parishes were based on the ancient treens. A treen was an area of land held by a Celtic tribe and the treen system of sub-division probably pre-dates the arrival of Christianity in the Island in about 447. The treen, in turn, was sub-divided into four parts, the kerroo, or quarterland. A quarterland would correspond roughly to a present day farm unit and would be occupied by a sub-section of a tribe. The Rev. Dr. John Kelly in his 18th. century Manx - English dictionary, lists Keirroo meaning a quarter, from kiare, four. Keirroo Balley he lists as meaning "a quarterland, i.e., ploughed land amounting to about 100 acres".

The parish of Onchan was made up of nine treens, Douglas, Begode, Alia Begode, Tremott, Slegaby, Horaldre, Byballo, Tremsare and Howstrake. The treens are now of interest only from an antiquarian point of view and authorities appear to differ, sometimes significantly, in their precise boundaries. It is noteworthy that, apart from Douglas, which is Celtic, the treen names of Onchan parish are of Norse origin.

The Manorial Roll of 1511 records that the treen of Howstrake was divided, not into four quarterlands, but into five, all of which were owned by the one man. Consequently, as a farm unit, it was unusually large although it contained, in its more elevated parts, and along the coastline, land that would be suitable only for grazing.

When considering Howstrake, it must be borne in mind that the name is used both for the Treen of Howstrake and also for the previous farm, or estate, now largely built over, which was known both as Howstrake and as Balnahowe.

As it is intended that these notes should confine themselves to the treen of Howstrake, it is necessary to define this area. A good choice of 19th. century plans is available. The earliest, and the best for our purpose, is the Asylum Plan produced by James Woods in 1862 and copied from a survey by J. Parriss of 1844. This is entitled "Howstrake, Ballachrink and Ballachurry, consisting of six quarterlands" and shows not only the boundaries of individual fields and plots but which fields make up the farms included on the plan. The plan depicts the estate, rather than the treen, of Howstrake and was produced for the calculation of rates payable to fund the building of the proposed mental hospital at Ballamona.

Other useful maps, which refer to the estate of Howstrake rather than to the treen, include two rather crude plans, one of 1855, the other of 1864, which exist in private hands, and the map in Wood's Atlas of 1867, all of which pre-date the Ordnance Survey map of 1869. Then there are Frederick Saunderson's Plan of Douglas Bay Estate of 1891 and his plan entitled the "Plan referred to in the Howstrake Estate Act of Tynwald of 1892", which depicts proposed roads in the Port Jack area and defines the "Boundary between Hague and Howstrake" estates. Another source is the Deed Plan on the Deed of Sale from Saunderson to Douglas Bay Estate Ltd., dated 10th September 1892.

The Asylum Plan lists the fields of the farms of Howstrake, Ballachrink and Ballachurry and gives the acreages of "Plain Land" and "Rough Land" for each. The total of plain and rough land in Howstrake is given as 466 acres, in Ballachrink as 89 acres, and in Ballachurry as 99 acres. The farm of Ballachurry was owned by the Banks family along with Howstrake and Ballachrink. However, Ballachurry is in the treen of Tremsare, or Tremissary, and may be eliminated from these notes.

There are two versions of the boundaries of the treen of Howstrake. The first was proposed by James Woods in his Atlas of 1867, by the architect Joseph E. Teare on his plan entitled "Ancient Conchan" of about 1920, (Manx National Heritage ref. ON.2.L), and by William Cubbon, Director of the Manx Museum, drawn on a set of Ordnance Survey 6 inch maps and described by M.N.H. "as compiled in the 1920s from information in Woods Atlas".

The alternative version was first propounded by J.J. Kneen in his "Place Names" published in 1926. Around 1935, William Cubbon produced his "Treen Map of the Parish of Onchan", (M.N.H. reference ON.3.L), on which he changed from his previous version to that put forward by Kneen.

The most south westerly point of the treen is where the stream at Port Jack enters the sea. It is possible that the stream originally flowed over the shingle beach and may have been diverted to the western headland because of the trial mining adit at Port Jack. Using Port Jack as a starting point, the first version of the treen shows the following boundary sections:

From the stream at Port Jack along the coast to the beach at Groudle.

Along the course of the Groudle river inland to a point a little way upstream of the bridge at Little Mill.

A diversion away from the Groudle river and along a small watercourse to the rear of Glen Holme House and Glen Bower House.

Crossing Ashley Hill Road, the boundary runs immediately to the rear of the land on which the Dowty Aerospace factory is built and continues on the line of the now almost entirely demolished field hedges of which traces are still discernible and which were formerly to the rear of Third, Second and First Avenues, Ballachrink.

From the start of Kaighen's Lane the boundary follows the western edge of the playing field and proceeds by way of the lane to the rear of Nursery Avenue to the Main Road. From this point the line of the boundary cannot be made out as it passes through terrain which has changed utterly from country to town.

Strictly speaking, the treen did not include a small area of intack land to the west of the top portion of Church Road and below Main Road, nor the freehold land occupied by the church and churchyard and the glebe land on which the vicarage is built. Circumventing these areas and arriving at the bottom of the Butt at Church Road, the boundary meets up with the stream which formerly flowed from the Howstrake farm dam, a vestige of which remains as the Onchan wetlands. What little is left of the stream is for the most part now piped underground and not necessarily on its original line.

The course which the stream followed is not entirely clear. Plans from the 19th century show the stream leaving the Butt near the modern terrace of houses there. Once beyond the western extremity of the church yard the stream divides into two. The water course to the west flowed through Howstrake, or for part of its course, along the boundary between Howstrake and Ballachurry. The water course to the east flowed on an unnaturally direct route to the Howstrake mill on the site of what are now the houses numbered 90 and 92 Royal Avenue. It is assumed that this was a man made mill race and it was entirely in Howstrake. Some distance below the site of the Howstrake mill the two watercourses converged and flowed through Ballachurry to Port Jack glen and thence to the sea.

This first version of the treen boundaries encompasses the farm of Howstrake and what James Woods, the cartographer, described as “Ballachrink Howstrake”.

The second version has the boundary turning off to the west from the Groudle river just upstream from a wooden bridge over the river seaward of the Whitebridge at grid reference 4072 7846. From that point it follows a drainage ditch alongside a hedge and comes out at the cul-de-sac of Windermere Avenue. The boundary makes its way through the former marshy areas of Lakeside Gardens and emerges at the Onchan wetlands at the Butt. This version of the treen excludes the land immediately south of the Main Road and the part of Ballachrink which extends as far as, and a little beyond, Little Mill.

For the scope of these notes the version given in the Douglas Bay Estate sales promotional plan of 1891 will be used, that is, the boundary continued from a point to the West of Port Jack, to the rear of Belgravia Avenue, and thence by way of Onchan Park to the top of Alberta Drive. However, the coverage of the notes may at times extend beyond these bounds to put events in Howstrake into a context of the Island as a whole at a particular period.

Square Brackets, [..], within a quoted passage of text indicate a compiler's comment which does not appear in the original. Subject matter is arranged approximately in chronological order. Mention of the "Guide" refers to the annual publication of The Isle of Man Board of Advertising, the forerunner of the Publicity Board, the Tourist Board and the Department of Tourism.