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King Edward's Road


A newspaper item on the opening of the Douglas Bay Hotel in 1895 commented that "..At present the hotel stands in solitary state; but the neighbourhood offers such tempting sites for residences that with the facilities of access afforded by the Electric Tramway it may reasonably be expected that ere long a small colony of villas and terraces will spring up on Onchan Head, extending towards Groudle..".

One such residence, View Park Mansion, did already exist at that time and Leafield and Braeside Villas followed in 1897. Adjacent to the Douglas Bay Hotel, the terrace of three houses, Parnassus, Pleasantville and Heather Cliffe were built in 1898. Opposite, on the seaward side, the semi-detached houses North Cliffe and Granville, followed in 1900. These buildings, and the hotel, stood as isolated developments for many years to come. In 1923, the appropriately named Far End House, the most Easterly dwelling on the seaward side of King Edward Road, had been completed. Opposite to the gate lodge of the Majestic Hotel, the Cafe Royale was erected in 1924. By around 1925, the semi-detached Summerville and Twiga, (or Tarnoy Kayre), in mock-Tudor style, were built next to Leafield. A flat-roofed house called Llahsram, the name being a reversal of that of the owner, followed in 1932 and occupies the plot next to Twiga. This was a far cry from the "small colony" so confidently prophesied for Onchan Head some 40 years previously.

On the landward side of the King Edward Road development had been hindered by the need for access across the tramline and this was achieved by a limited number of crossing points, linked by a road along the frontage of the plots and running parallel to the main road. Building started above the tramline in 1936 with the erection of Foxdenton, and The Haven followed in 1939. These crossing points over the tramlines were later extended and gave access to Howe Road.

The White Tower, a large and imposing, and now much altered house on the seaward side of King Edward Road two plots beyond Llahsram was built in 1950. Its owner, a Mrs J. Thorniley, described it as "A Modern Guest House" and it operated as such until around the mid 1970s, although from 1972 it was utilised as holiday flats. It provided bed, breakfast and evening dinner, had six bed-rooms and a guest's lounge and was open all year round. In 1996 its name was changed to Petmar.

The Isle of Man Times of 19th March 1927 reported that an action had been started by the Island's Attorney-General against Groudle Glen and Hotel Co. Ltd, the owners of the road, to compel them to repair the roadway between Derby Castle and Onchan Harbour. Under the Howstrake Estate Act of 1892 which gave Tynwald's approval to the development of the estate, the owners were obliged to lay out the road and to keep it in repair until taken over by the highway authority. It had not been taken over and it was claimed that the owners were responsible for its repair. The owners contended that their only obligation was " keep in repair a roadway sufficient for the traffic of 1892 and that the Legislature never contemplated that they would have to keep a road for present day traffic which involved a complete change in the character..of the road..". The Court agreed with this argument and declared that the company "..should maintain the roads as first-class main highroads as that expression was understood in or about the year 1892..".

In 1933, acting on a request from the Postmaster, the Commissioners began a scheme to allocate all Onchan properties with a house number. This had peculiar consequences for the King Edward Road. Apart from five properties near the Bay Hotel, there were no more until the Cafe Royale but allowance was made for future building. In the event, the fields just beyond the Bay Hotel on the landward side, because of the access problems across the line, became King Edward Park and had their backs to the King Edward Road. The King Edward Bay Apartments, opposite, have their frontages on Sea Cliff Road. The numbering thus jumps from 7 to 59 on one side of King Edward Road and from 4 to 48 on the other. A story is told that a visitor arriving at the Sea Terminal asked directions to 2, King Edward Road. He was instructed to follow the seafront and it would be the first house he came to on the right, after a walk of about three miles.

In 1931 Tynwald passed the Howstrake Estate Amendment Act and one of its clauses noted that the "..road from Derby Castle to Onchan Harbour is now known as King Edward Road..". One normally thinks of King Edward Road as being in Onchan, but the Derby Castle site was in Douglas and so it follows that King Edward Road begins, not at the name plate at the foot of Royal Terrace, but in Douglas. The address of the Summerland complex on the former Derby Castle site is, perhaps unexpectedly, King Edward Road and has a Douglas IM2 postcode. One of the provisions of the 1931 act was that the Highway Board adopted the road from the Douglas boundary to Onchan Harbour and became responsible for the upkeep of that section. From Onchan Harbour the road remained in private ownership. The road springs, perhaps, another surprise in that it finishes, not at the last of its built-up portion near to Far End House, but at its junction with the main Laxey Road at Baldromma. Thus, the King Edward Road passes through three local authorities, Douglas, Onchan and Lonan.

In the 1930s the road was described as a cart track with innumerable pot-holes. Although the public had a right of passage over the road, a condition imposed by the Howstrake Estate Act, it was owned by the Groudle Glen and Hotel Co. Ltd. The section from the Groudle viaduct to the Baldromma tram crossing near the Liverpool Arms Hotel was also privately owned but there no right of public passage existed. The tramway company had a toll-house just before the viaduct and a charge was made to use the road. In March 1914, following an increase in the charge, said to be an attempt by the estate company to discourage traffic on the King Edward Road, the village commissioners proposed that the charge be abolished. They were, however, powerless in the matter and the toll was to continue until July 1927. The Isle of Man Times of 16th July reported its abolition under the headline - "GROUDLE TOLL FREED - THE LAST ON THE ROADS OF THE ISLAND". The paper commented that at one time there had been many toll bars, including one near the entrance of the Nunnery on the Old Castletown Road, but only the swing bridge across Douglas harbour still carried a toll - one halfpenny. The Groudle toll-house was demolished in the 1980s and replaced by a modern dwelling erected in 1991 and appropriately named the Old Toll House.

The Isle of Man Examiner of 14th. September 1934 reported, under the heading of "New Marine Road", that "..After years of agitation on the part of members of the Legislature...the Manx Government has decided to embark upon the reconstruction of the coastal road between Onchan Harbour and Howstrake, and thence on to Baldromma Crossing...". The cost of the work was put at £20,000 to be spread over two winters and £10,500 was voted for the winter of 1934-35. The project was a winter work scheme to provide unemployment relief and to take place between 1st November 1934 and the end of March 1935. Such schemes were a feature of Island life as much work was seasonal and depended on tourism. The proposal was put to Tynwald by the Highway Board and included the words "..upon the road becoming vested in the Board..", indicating that ownership of the roadway was to be transferred to the Board. This in fact came about and most title deeds in Howstrake have their root in a conveyance from the Groudle Glen Co. to Howstrake Estate (1937) Ltd. which described the estate as "..excluding the surface of King Edward Road now formed as a highway by the Highway Board..".

During the Winter of 1935-36 reconstruction work began again and was completed in time for an official opening in April 1936. The scheme employed 93 men in the first winter and 131 in the second. As well as reconstruction the road was widened and a pavement was built. Nearly 18,000 tons of stone were used and 40,000 gallons of tar. Over 10,000 tons of earth were excavated and 8,000 yards of kerbing was laid. In September 1936, Tynwald was advised that the final cost was £23,441 as compared to an original estimate of £19,624. Some £1,200 of the increase was due to wage increases to £2.40 for a 48 hour week as a result of the general strike which had taken place on the Island. It was also reported that the road was to be used only by light motor cars and as this restriction prevented chars-a-banc, or motor coaches, carrying passengers to Groudle Glen, it effectively established a monopoly for the tramways. In consequence the fare to Groudle, on a basis of distance, was reputedly higher than to stations further along the line.

Little expense was spared at the official opening. Near the start of the track leading down to Onchan Harbour, a "..gaily beflagged platform.." had been set up to accommodate the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Montagu Butler, together with Lady Butler and eight other representatives of Tynwald and of the Highway Board. The Governor recounted the recent occasion on which Lady Butler had viewed the highway from a different angle when she had overturned her motor¬car upon it, and on her return home, "..bruised but with spirits undaunted..", she commented that the road had struck her as never before. It seems to have been a jolly occasion and, after cutting a ribbon with a pair of silver gilt scissors presented to him by the Chairman of the Highway Board, the Governor lead a motorcade of cars to Baldromma and back after which afternoon tea was taken at the "Edward Restaurant" of the Majestic Hotel.

Although The Examiner report stated that the road had been opened under its new name of King Edward Road this was not strictly accurate. On 25th August 1902, Edward VII had travelled on the electric tramway to Ramsey and this event was the origin of the change of name from the Onchan or New Marine Drive by which it was formerly known. The new name was in use at least as early as 23rd September 1903 when it appeared on the plan of the Deed of Sale of Braeside by Howstrake Estate Ltd. to an Elizabeth Holt. A report of a meeting of the Onchan Commissioners on 5th January 1907 also refers to King Edward's-road when discussing the lack of street lights there. It does appear that the name was slow in coming into general use and in a notice of the auction sale of the Douglas Bay Hotel in 1919 the property was stated to be "..situate on the Douglas Bay Estate - (King Edward Road)..". Similarly, a report of an accident in 1925 described the location not as King Edward Road but "..the roadway through the Howstrake Estate..". Until the twenties the name was usually spelt as King Edward's Road, with an apostrophe.

By the mid 1960s development of the King Edward Road was nearing completion but the land adjacent to the three-house terrace next to the Douglas Bay Hotel was still unbuilt on. However, the construction of the Douglas Bay Apartments began on this site in 1991. In 1992, after seven years of building operations, the 42 apartments which form the King Edward Bay complex on the White City site on Sea Cliff Road were completed. Late Summer of 1994 saw the start of a development, consisting of two bungalows and a small apartment block, on the land to the West of the King Edward Bay apartments. The developers, Townson Properties, described the site as "..arguably the finest coastal location in the Isle of Man..".

The development of the King Edward Road, was, after more than a century, nearing completion and in the final years of the 1990s two properties were erected on the three vacant plots on the landward side, and in 2001 Clannad and its neighbour were built on the two adjacent plots on the seaward side. The Onchan portion of the King Edward Road was at last complete.