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Howstrake
Port Jack Shops - c. 1907

 

Tourism came to the Port Jack area in 1894 with the opening of Mr Marden's Douglas Bay Hotel. The houses in Imperial Terrace and in Belgravia Road were built in 1899. These were followed in 1901 by Royal Drive and Carlton Terrace at the lower end of Royal Avenue. Many of these houses functioned as boarding houses and so, within about eight years of the construction of the coast road from the railway terminus at Derby Castle, the Port Jack area was catering to appreciable numbers of visitors. The bathing creek had been an attraction for some years past and with the opening in 1908 of Mr Cottier Cubbin's amusement park at Onchan Head, visitors flocked into the neighbourhood in ever-increasing numbers.

It is difficult today to appreciate just how many visitors wended their way up from the promenades and stopped at or passed through Port Jack. The land at the foot of the glen had been formed by a retaining wall above the beach, with infill behind it, to enable the railway line to cross what had formerly been a ravine at this point. The passing crowds had commercial potential and it was not too long before various stalls were set up, including that run by a Mr Laurence Boni.

The earliest shops at Port Jack were erected around 1907 and were two single storied structures in about the centre of the area now occupied by the seaward row of black and white shops. That to the left had a roof which sloped towards the sea and appeared, from an early view card, to comprise two shops. Both had extending window blinds and over the one on the left was a huge display board with the words ABDULLA CIGARS. The other shop had a pitched roof with a gable facing seawards. From entries in the Commissioners' rates book it appears that one property was occupied by Gell and Co. and the other by a Mr Coupe who was probably of the same firm that had tobacconist shops in Douglas. The buildings enjoyed a very brief existence and were soon demolished to make way for the shops which today occupy the site.

With a few exceptions, the Castle Mona Shops for instance, many of the Island's shops were built either as individual structures or were conversions of dwelling houses, but the shops at Port Jack are an example of a purpose built and multi-trade group of shops or what today would be called a shopping precinct! They were built by Mr Alex Gill, the top row in 1911, the seaward row in the following year, and the centre row in 1915. As their landlord, he insisted that each shopkeeper kept to his own trade and did not steal business that rightly belonged to another. Some of the buildings on the right hand side of Mount Royal, as the centre row was called, were residential. The earliest tenants of the shops included two photographers, Harrison's Studios at No. 1, and Hough's Postcard Gallery at No. 2. Boni's ice cream business transferred from the former stall to the new shops and, in May 1912, a branch of S & W Plant, newsagents and tobacconists, was announced. They also had hairdressing and shaving saloons in their new premises. Port Jack Post Office, known officially as Royal Avenue Post Office, opened in July 1911, and this date would infer that it was originally in the top row.

A photograph of 1930 shows the roofs of the middle and rear rows extending over the pavements to protect against sun and rain. The front row, because of the proximity of the tramline, was not able to have this feature and the window displays there were protected from the sun by roller blinds which could be extended out towards the railway line. The rear row was demolished around 1982 and replaced by a modern terrace of shops. Some changes have occurred in the front and centre rows. The chip shop on the corner has been rebuilt and the Tudor Inn has had a second storey added. Display windows have been modernised, some dormer windows have been enlarged and the colour of roof tiles changed from red to grey. However, the original black and white theme of the shops has been maintained.

In the front row, in the late thirties, were Harrison's Studios, Mr Hough who sold post cards, many from his own photographs, Miss Steer who had a sweetshop and also provided teas and cakes, and Boni's ice cream parlour. And finally, there was the ubiquitous fish and chip shop which was run by Mr Kewley who was reputed to have touted for business outside his premises with the words - "I have the right plaice and I'm not codding!"

The rows behind were perhaps a little less tourist orientated and included Mr. Caine at the Post Office, Frank Faragher's chemist shop, Creer the grocers, Caley's the butchers, Greenhalgh's who sold fruit and vegetables, Miss Julia Williamson's millinery establishment and Winnie Caley's cake shop. Kippers could be bought at Agnew's and, for the children, Powers provided the buckets and spades to make their seaside holiday complete. But all the shops at Port Jack would have had some involvement with the visitor as some private houses provided beds but not meals. Guests would provide their own food which, at additional cost, was cooked for them by their long-suffering landlady, and these shops could meet most of their needs.

At the end of the war, many of the Port Jack shops still followed their pre-war trades. Boni's still made ice cream. Fish and chips were as much in demand as ever. Inevitably some changes occurred. Harrison's Studios became the Moo Kow Milk Bar and The Half Moon Cafe appeared on the scene. Visitors could arrange excursions by Corkill's Green Luxury Coaches at a tiny triangular-shaped booking office on the corner to the right of the chip shop. In these post war years the emphasis at Port Jack was still on tourism but this was to change in step with the decline in the Manx visiting industry. By 1979 only the milk bar, an amusement arcade and the Calypso Cafe remained to represent a fast vanishing seasonal era. The new businesses, which included a general store and a printing works, were no longer dependent entirely on tourism and operated all the year round. By the 1980s this gradual change to general services was complete. Shop units declined in number but expanded in size by the taking over of neighbouring premises.