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Mining At Howstrake


Mining operations, possibly exploratory and in the form of a horizontal adit, were carried out on the slope between the track and the beach of Onchan Harbour. The Ordnance Survey of 1869 marks a disused mine on this site. However, all signs of it have vanished under the spoil tipped over the brows in 1892 / 93 during the construction of the railway and what is now known as the King Edward Road.

Near the foot of the track leading down to the beach, and a few feet above it, will be found a small square opening in the cliff. This leads into what appears to be natural cave on a fault line and is unlikely to have been a trial mining adit. It has a depth of perhaps eight feet.

A mine was marked at Port Jack but again, probably because of the construction work there in 1892, no trace remains.

The Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society Vol. 10, No. 5, 1989, records a trial adit "..600 yards east of Port Jack in the cliffs..". This was stated to have been entered in 1956 by way of a cave and was said to run under the Texas Bar of the former Douglas Bay Hotel.

Mining took place at Port e Vada, which is now occupied by the Electric Railway depot, in about 1895, with Captain Grose, formerly of the Laxey Mines, in charge of the operation. Gold was found there in what initially appeared to be commercial quantities but the mine was not viable. There were also difficulties in disposing of the spoil. It was said that the ore-bearing rocks extended as far as Onchan Harbour.

The Manx Sun newspaper of Saturday 1st June 1850 reported that  "We understand that a company has obtained a lease of the mineral rights of Ballanahow, Kirk Onchan, the property of John Bankes, Esq., C.P.  The estate was inspected this week by competent miners, and it is intended that operations in search of lead ore be commenced immediately".




Map.  Ordnance Survey 25 inch to mile of c1869. (Photocopy of part of sheet 14).
Map.  Howstrake Estate Act Rolls Office Plan of 1892.  25 inch to mile.
Map.  Deed Plan of 1896 on conveyance Douglas Bay Estate Ltd and Fergusson to Douglas Bay and
           Groudle Glen Co Ltd.  25 inch to mile.
Map.  Rough Plan and Section of DOUGLAS BAY MINES 1894 by Capt E. Grose and Ed. Spargo.
           Reproduced by Williamson 1987.

Bulletin of Peak District Mines Historical Society Vol 10 No 5 of 1989. Article by David B. Hollis.
           Photocopies of pages 294, 296, 298, 299 and of Williamson's reproduction of the Grose/Spargo

Geology of Isle of Man by G.W. Lamplugh 1903.  Page 554. (Adits in Howstrake).

Contemporary Newspapers.


This photocopy of a section of sheet 14 includes two lead mines, one at Onchan Harbour and the other at Port Jack. It was noticed that immediately to the left of the "L" of "Lead Mine", in each of these cases, there was what resembled a lower case letter  "n"  .This symbol is assumed to represent the opening of a tunnel and to indicate the location of the adit. Obviously, both these mines predate the Ordnance Survey  of 1864 - 69. (The entire Island was surveyed at 25 inches to the mile which was not the normal practise of the O.S.).


On a scale of 25 inches to the mile, this plan bears the name of F. Saunderson, C.E., who was responsible for the development of Howstrake with its electric railway and coast road. It has been redrawn from the Ordnance Survey map. It covers the whole of the Howstrake Estate and adjacent areas.

It includes the following text-

At a Tynwald Court at Douglas - 22 March 1892.  This is the plan referred to in the Howstrake Estate Bill as the deposited plan - Bill signed this day.
S. Walpole  Lt. Gvr.      J.S. Goldie Taubman   Speaker.
Lodged in Rolls Office 23rd March 1892.

The "n" symbols, thought to represent the entrance to the adits at Port Jack and at Onchan Harbour and which were observed on the Ordnance Survey map,  appear also on this plan


Again on a scale of 25" to the mile, this was the plan on a conveyance dated 30th June 1896. It covers the whole of the Howstrake Estate, then known as the Douglas Bay Estate. The lead mines at Port Jack and Onchan Harbour are marked but the "n" symbols do not appear. Of particular relevance is the demarcation of the land sold to W.H. Marsden. This area is marked "Marsden" and "Douglas Bay Hotel".
Included within the boundaries of the Douglas Bay Hotel is the legend "Lead Mine". This would indicate the adit being sited in the vicinity of the public toilets on the King Edward Road. However, by reference to a footpath which ran along to brows above Port e Vada in the west and which appears on the other two 25 inch maps, it is evident that this legend has been misplaced both to the north and to the east.


The original plan has the addition of some grid references, presumably overtyped on it by Williamson. These include MER Yard Adit  3978 7738,  and,  Port Jack Mine  3995 7745. (This latter reference is the front garden of No. 17, Royal Avenue West).


This work includes the following text -

"A lead mine is marked on Figure 7 at Port Jack. It cannot now be found. Most likely the building of the coast road and conversion of Port Jack to a small glen...has obscured it."

"East of Port Jack a trial was dug. It is listed in Lamplugh's miscellaneous trials on sheet 14 of the 1876 six inch O.S. map as "600 yards (540m) east of Port Jack, in the cliffs". No other documentary evidence of it is known, but during the summer of 1956 it was found and entered via a cave by a friend of the author [who was then aged 10]. He reported it as going as far inland as the Texas Bar [part of the south-eastern section of the Douglas Bay Hotel] about 100 - 150m maximum extent. "

Hollis then lists the following grid references.

3962 7730  -  The adit found by Williamson in the railway yard. (This reference is at about the edge of the beach in front of the Summerland building).
3976 7736  -  ("Lead Mine").  Port Jack mine. (This reference is in the M.E.R. tram garage to east of entrance to M.E.R depot yard).
4500 7733  -  ("Trial adit")  Entered in 1956, no recent evidence available. (4500 is on Laxey Head).


Lamplugh notes on page 554 of his GEOLOGY OF THE ISLE OF MAN  in connection with sheet 14 of the six inch ordnance survey map -

Cliff on E. side of Onchan Harbour short adit: marked Lead Mine on 6 inch map.

Cliff on E. side of Port Jack 600 yards S.W. of last adit: obliterated: marked Lead Mine on 6 inch map.  


Whilst researching other topics the writer came across references to the Derby Castle Gold Mine and to Capt Grose but unfortunately did not record their precise sources. It is thought that they dated from about 1894 or '95.

From memory, one reference stated that the vein, or lode, extended as far as Onchan Harbour to the east and ran inland to around Government House.  Another mentioned that the Douglas Town Commissioners had given permission to Capt. Grose to dispose of the spoil from the mine on the Douglas foreshore. However, at a later date when they saw how much spoil was involved, they withdrew this consent.

Attempts have been made in August 1995, following a meeting with David Hollis, to relocate these references in the library of Manx National Heritage but so far without success.


My interest is not so much in mining, per se, but in the local history of Howstrake in which mining obviously played a little known part.

I knew, of course, of the Port Jack and Onchan Harbour lead mines from their mention on the 25" Ordnance Survey c1869. Some few years before meeting David Hollis I had come across his reference in the Peak District Mines Historical Society Bulletin to the "sea cave" adit on Onchan Head and had been more than a little puzzled by its reputed location being "600 yards east of Port Jack in the cliffs". Such a site would be virtually in Onchan Harbour and could not have been within 100 to 150 metres from the Texas Bar of the former Douglas Bay Hotel as was stated

I had previously calculated a grid reference for the Onchan Harbour mine of 4045 7768 but had not attempted one for the Port Jack mine chiefly because of the lack of reference points in that area on the 1869 O.S. map. The 1896 deed plan, Douglas Bay Estate etc to the Douglas Bay and Groudle Co., did include the legend "Lead Mine" which was located within the boundaries of the Douglas Bay Hotel on the south western part of that site. This appeared at first sight to provide a clue as to the precise whereabouts of the Port Jack mine which could be related to a known present day feature. There was no "n" symbol but, assuming the entrance to the adit to be to the immediate left of the "L" of Lead Mine, in which position it had previously been noted, then the mine would have been in the vicinity of the public toilets on the King Edward Road. However, by reference to a footpath which ran along the brows above Port e Vada to the west and which appears on the other two 25 inch maps, it is evident that this legend has been misplaced both to the north and to the east.

Assessing the relationship between the adit entrance, as indicated by the "n" symbol, and the general shape of the beach at Port Jack, which on the maps is not unlike a horseshoe, I would estimate that the adit was about one third of the way up the stone retaining wall built across the top of the beach in 1892-93. This structure would, of course, obliterate the adit, as Lamplugh was to note in 1903.

As to its grid reference, a position between the rear wall of the Port Jack Chippy Diner and the convenience store on the other side of the road, (the former Mount Royal), is at reference 4000 7740. My estimate of the position of the Port Jack adit lies to the east and to the south of this reference point  and would be approximately 4001 7734. However, the plan of the Douglas Bay Mines of 1894 which was reproduced by Williamson in 1987 gives a reference of 3995 7745. David Hollis gives 3976 7736.

Turning to the sea cave adit, Hollis gives a grid reference of 4500 7733. The easting of 4500 is clearly in error as this would indicate a point at sea to the south of Laxey Head. Was this a transposing of 4500 for 4050? An easting of 4050 would run near the Onchan Harbour adit and it might appear that some confusion has occurred between Onchan Harbour and the sea cave, possibly during the writing up of notes.

Hollis says that  "East of Port Jack a trial was dug. It is listed in Lamplugh's miscellaneous trials on sheet 14 of the 1876 six inch O.S. map as 600 yards (540m) east of Port Jack, in the cliffs". [Hollis was clearly writing here of the Onchan Harbour adit]. He continued directly  "No other documentary evidence of it is known, but during the summer of 1956 it was found and entered via a cave by a friend of the author. He reported it as going as far inland as the Texas Bar [part of the south-east of the Douglas Bay Hotel] about 100 - 150m maximum extent." [Here Hollis was obviously writing about the sea cave].

I then made an inspection of the coast from Sea Cliff Road. Beyond the now decommissioned White City sewer outfall, below the western part of the apartments complex, there are two gullies running parallel to the coast, one from the north east, the other from the south west. If they had extended a little further they would have joined up and formed a long, narrow, isolated rock just off the coast, very similar geologically to Brither Clip on the other side of Onchan Harbour. A cave in that section would have lead merely from the sea, through the rock and into a gully behind. So it seemed that the cave had to be further to the east or to the west.

It was then speculated that Hollis' northing of 7733 was correct and this was plotted on the map to see where it bisected the coast. This occurred at about 4035 and this position is at about the eastern extremity of the two gullies. This section of coast was then viewed from a position on the Raad ny Follian coastal path below Majestic Close looking across the bay of Onchan Harbour. What appeared to be a cave was visible at about 4035 7733. At high water it would be perhaps 10 to 15 feet above the sea level and at low water it is obviously quite high up the rocks - 30 to 35 feet? This feature is around 200 yards from the site of the former Texas Bar. My son clambered along to this spot at low water and it proved to be merely a slight depression in shadow.

On the same afternoon, (10th Sept.), two caves were located from Port Jack beach by walking along the sewer outfall. The first (marked "A" on map at about 4000 7730) was just around the corner from the beach. It is a natural fault but extends quite deeply into the cliff until it narrows into a impassible cleft. Walking further along the sewer, another cave was sighted. The opening was rectangular and fairly regular in shape, higher than it was wide. My son climbed over to it and reported it as going a similar distance into the cliff as cave "A". He was not sure whether it was an entirely natural feature. Progress into it was stopped by a build up of beach pebbles and a large metal beer keg wedged into it. This cave is marked "B" on map and is at about 4006 7726.

On 17th September the entire coast line from the Douglas side of Port Jack as far as Onchan Harbour was inspected from a boat. Neither "A" nor "B" cave could be spotted, or if they were visible we missed them. We found a prominent cave at "C" on map at around 4012 7723. It was high water and the bottom of its entrance was below the water level. It was noted that it would probably be accessible by way of the westerly gully previously mentioned. There is a prominent fall of very large rocks between the end of the gully and this cave.

Caves "A", "B" and "C" would all be roughly within the distance from the Texas Bar as reported by Dave Hollis.

Nothing further was noted until almost at Onchan Harbour. At the western side of the beach there is a channel, probably man made, in the rocks. Just around the corner from Onchan Harbour to the west, and visible only from the sea, there is a large cave with a regularly shaped oval entrance at about 4044 7756. This was above high water mark. A landing was made by dinghy and the cave, marked "D", was found to be about the size of a small garage. It was "boxlike" throughout and terminated in a wall. There was no signs that it was anything but natural. It would probably be accessible from the beach at Onchan Harbour at low water. The distance from the Texas Bar is much further than the 100 to 150 meters which Dave Hollis noted.

Cave "C" has not yet been inspected