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Howstrake
Port Jack Bathing Creek

 

Port Jack was known as a bathing creek from at least as early as 1892. The Isle of Man Times of 16th January of that year reported that evidence given at a Tynwald enquiry into the Grand Marine Drive which was being planned by Saunderson stated that "..access to Port Jack beach, now used for bathing, would be very much improved..". It was even put forward that Douglas Corporation might develop the bathing facilities there.

The creek was advertised in the Guide for 1896 which claimed that "..Port Jack on the North side of the Bay a short distance beyond the Douglas Bay Hotel, is a beautiful, secluded bathing creek.." The beach was a popular subject for postcards which the visitors could send home to envious friends. One of these by Hough of Port Jack, of around 1907, shows the tiny beach crammed with tourists. Another by the same photographer and of a similar date is titled "Mixed Bathing at Port Jack". Across the bay at Douglas Head was Port Skillion, operated by Douglas Corporation, and the Guide for 1910 mentioned that it was a bathing place for gentlemen. A contemporary observer noted, however, that of the spectators, it was the gentle sex which usually predominated. Rather daringly, mixed bathing was permitted at Port Jack and, as ever, Onchan lead the way.

Port Jack was in an unusual position in that whilst it was owned by the Douglas Corporation who had acquired it from the Howstrake estate company, it was part of the village district of Onchan and was under the administrative control of the Onchan Commissioners. This situation gave rise to a degree of rivalry and friction. As an example, in 1904 the Onchan Commissioners discussed the possibility of building a swimming pool there. This was probably meant to be a counter attraction to Port Skillion. Port Jack had a more favourable location and is a sun trap whereas Port Skillion had a chilly reputation, but the plan was thwarted by the ownership of the land being vested in the Corporation. By 1906 changing boxes had been erected at the beach and were intended for hiring out to the bathers. The matter was discussed at a Council meeting of the Corporation as their consent had not been sought. One councillor said that "..the boxes were a great convenience and that he hoped the matter could be settled without a law suit....It seemed a dog in the manger policy not to provide conveniences themselves, nor to allow others to do it..". Another, less conciliatory, opinion was that "...the erection of the huts was an infringement of the town's rights and they would go as far as they could to have them removed..(Hear, Hear)..". During the course of the debate it came to light that one of the Corporation's own members had been responsible for the erection of the changing huts at Port Jack! This Douglas councillor turned out to be Mr Alex Gill, who also served on the Onchan Commissioners, and in the following year became its Chairman. A few months later in January 1907, Douglas applied to Onchan Commissioners for consent to build a swimming pool at Port Jack. The boot was on the other foot. The Commissioners appointed a committee to look into the matter and nothing came of the plan.

The bathing creek was tremendously popular. A postcard written by a visitor in August 1907 shows a typical beach scene there. Some, in the one-piece costumes of the period, are swimming and splashing around and the rocky beach is packed with onlookers. A large proportion of the gentlemen are wearing jackets and ties and many sport straw hats. The ladies are attired in long skirts, relieved by brightly coloured blouses and hats. A little boy sails a model yacht in a rock pool. The sender of the card wrote that "..this is the place I told you about where we come everyday. In fact we very rarely go anywhere else. We are sitting there now..". On the road above the beach, passing visitors would pause and while away the time watching the activities of those below.

Some local residents were far from enthusiastic about the bathing activities at Port Jack, and in March 1907 The Examiner reported that the Commissioners were presented with "..a numerously-signed petition from rate-payers resident in the neighbourhood complaining about the indecency which was permitted at Port Jack bathing creek as a consequence of a lack of proper control over the bathers undressing in the open and wearing unsuitable costumes..". At about this period "bathing machines" were in regular use on Douglas beach and so, by the standards of the day, the lack of facilities at Port Jack might well have been considered immodest.

In 1912 the Commissioners proposed erecting a notice at Port Jack stating that - "Persons using this creek for the purpose of bathing must wear the full regulation costume. Anyone found not complying with this notice will be prosecuted". The Chief Constable advised against its erection as no regulations applied in Onchan under which he could act and he feared his force would be subject to ridicule.

The swimming pool proposals came up again in 1922 and in 1953. In April 1957 Douglas Town Council agreed to negotiate with the Commissioners regarding Port Jack Glen and brows. The Village eventally acquired the land in 1959 but by then Spain was beginning to be discovered as a mass tourist destination and the swimming bath proposals were not pursued, presumably as a result of diminishing tourist arrivals in the Island in general.