From Wikishire
(Redirected from Douglas, Isle of Man)
Jump to: navigation, search
Manx: Doolish
Isle of Man
Douglas Inner Harbour - - 138483.jpg
Douglas Inner Harbour
Grid reference: SC379750
Location: 54°8’43"N, 4°28’54"W
Population: 26,218  (2006)
Post town: Isle of Man
Postcode: IM1 - IM2
Dialling code: 01624
Local Government
Douglas North, East, South, West
Website: Douglas Borough Council

Douglas is the capital city and largest town of the Isle of Man, with a population of 26,218 people (2006). It stands at the mouth of the River Douglas, and a sweeping bay of two miles. The River Douglas forms part of the town's harbour and main commercial port. Queen Camilla presented Letters Patent conferring city status on Douglas on 20 March 2024.[1]

As the capital, Douglas is seat of the Government of the Isle of Man and of the High Courts. Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, meets in Douglas (except on Tynwald Day, when it instead meets on Tynwald Hill in St John's, a small village near the west coast of the island).

The city serves as the Island's main hub for business, finance, legal services, shipping, transport, shopping, and entertainment.


Douglas stands on the east of the island near the meeting of two rivers, the Dhoo and the Glass. At Douglas, the rivers flow through the quay and into Douglas Bay. A gently sloping valley runs inland. Hills lie to the north-west and south-east.

The town is surrounded by several other smaller towns and villages, most notably Onchan to the north (which forms a conurbation with Douglas) and Union Mills to the west.

The city

Photochrom of Loch Promenade, 1890s
Douglas Promenade
The sea terminal

Douglas is the capital of the Isle of Man and is the main shopping centre, which draws people to Douglas from all over the island. It has many chain stores and other shops not found elsewhere on the island.


A bronze weapon unearthed in central Douglas in the 1890s[2] tells of an early population.

Douglas was a Norse centre, as evidenced by the large Ballaquayle Viking treasure hoard[3] found on the outskirts of the town in the 1890s. Scholars agree that the name of the town derives from Early Celtic 'Duboglassio' meaning 'black river'.[4]

Douglas is twice referred to in the Monastic 'Chronicle of the Kings of Man and the Isles'; first in 1192, when the monks of St Mary's Abbey at Rushen, were transferred there for a four-year stay, then again in 1313, when Robert (Bruce), King of Scotland, spent the night at the 'monastery of Duglas' on his way to seize Castle Rushen.[5] These may be references to the site of the later Nunnery, a little upstream from the port.

The first detailed documentation shows that in 1511[6] there were only thirteen resident households in the settlement clustered north of the harbour, most of the property there classifying as "chambers"[7] (unoccupied, unheated, single-celled structures) for which rent was paid by non-residents including clergy, officials and landowners from elsewhere on the Island. This suggests that the origins of the town's nucleus were as a non-urban port.[8] Current speculation links the store-buildings with the Irish Sea Herring fishery, and the import/export trade.

In 1681 Thomas Denton described Douglas as "The place of greatest resort" on the Isle of Man, and by 1705 a clear picture of the early town emerges, with hints that its residential, market, and military defence functions were growing in importance[9] alongside the port facility. The ensuing sixty years saw the town thrive as imposing merchants' houses, large warehouses, quays and a pier were provided to accommodate the burgeoning 'Running Trade' (smuggling) : one of the stimuli for the town to expand.[10] Other forms of trade also grew, and following the Revestment Act of 1765, Douglas began to reap the benefits of trans-Atlantic trade, due to the discovery of the New World, and co-operation on a local level with Liverpool.[11] Legitimate merchants who rose to prominence over the period included the Murreys, the Moores, and the Bacons.[11] The town's later prosperity was facilitated by the low cost of living, and favourable legal status enjoyed by English debtors (who could not be pursued there by their creditors) and half pay officers.[12]

The initial growth and development of the town owed much to its natural harbour (now the Inner Harbour), since greatly expanded and improved. Over the course of the 18th century, the town's population rose significantly, from 800 (approx.) in 1710 to nearly 2,500 in 1784.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the town's population began to follow the same trends as the United Kingdom, due to the Industrial Revolution. The growing number of people coming to holiday in the area from the early nineteenth century forged a new industry,[11] and from around 1870 onwards, the town was transformed into a leading holiday resort. Juxtaposed with this prosperity were the increasingly unsanitary conditions, and poor quality housing; this, again, reflected a trend seen across the United Kingdom.[13]

The open sewage, middens (domestic waste dump), and smell from the harbour at low tide all contributed to the town's uncleanliness. Oil and gas lamps first appeared in late 1820s and 1830s, the first hospital to join the Dispensary was built in 1850, and Douglas bay became home to one of the town's most recognisable pieces of work in 1832, when the Tower of Refuge was built to offer shelter and provisions for sailors awaiting rescue.[14] Douglas, in the first half of the nineteenth century though, was often characterized by the destitution of its population and the high number of epidemics, in particular, cholera, that they suffered from.[11]

The rise of Douglas as the social and economic stronghold of the Isle was recognized in 1869, when it became the capital, an honour previously held by Castletown, a smaller town in the south of the Island. Douglas's political landscape also changed significantly in the nineteenth century, in spite of the conservatism shown by some townsfolk: in 1844 for example, at a public meeting, the idea of a town council was rejected in favour of retaining the system of Town High Bailiffs (when the Town Bill Act was passed at Tynwald in 1852, the people of Douglas again rejected the idea). However, an Act passed later that decade, which did not include opt-out clauses, was accepted, and in 1860, Douglas elected its first town council. The Town Commissioners were able to tackle the town's problems with greater efficiency, and by 1869, the sewage problem had been largely taken care of.[11]

Street in Douglas

The Commissioners also determined to alter the old architecture of Douglas, built during the era of fishing and trading, and no longer amenable or safe for tourists. The proportion of the Manx population living in Douglas was also expanding, with 35% living there by 1891. The Victorian and later modernisation of the town was achieved at the expense of the original maze-like layout of the oldest streets. These were cleared away in the new street schemes and slum clearances of the 1870s to 1920s. The town's infrastructure was radically altered in order to convenience tourists, and in 1878, the Loch Promenade was constructed. In 1870, there were 60,000 visitors annually, by 1884, this had grown to 182,000. In 1887, 310,916 visited for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.[11]

In the absence of any archaeological data, it is possible that the origins of the town may be revealed by analysis of the original street and plot pattern. It is now home to the Island's offshore financial services industry.

During First World War and Second World War, Douglas and other parts of the Isle of Man were home to internment camps for enemy aliens. A section of the Promenade was cordoned off and many guest houses were used for this purpose.

In 2011 Douglas hosted the Commonwealth Youth Games.


References to education in Douglas begin in the late seventeenth century, with mention of the schoolmastership, usually combined with the Chaplaincy of Douglas, and reference to a "petty school" in 1675.[15] William Walker (1679–1729) was appointed to the mastership in 1700,[16] school being probably kept in the old Chapel, (in later Heywood Place[17]). Later being promoted Rector of Ballaugh, and the recipient of an honorary Doctorate, Walker is now remembered in his mother's Manx Gaelic lament on her sons: "Illiam Walker as Robin Tear".[18]

The more formal history of education in the town begins with Bishop Thomas Wilson's establishment of the Douglas Grammar School. Alderman William Dixon (a native of Douglas, but resident in Dublin since at least the 1680s[19] agreed to hand over his parent's former home, and passed over the New Bond Street property in 1714. The Bishop raised an endowment of £500 (Irish currency), half being funded by the Barrow Trustees, most of the balance being provided by the Bishop's Douglas relatives, the Murrey family.[20] Even after this, the mastership of Douglas Grammar School continued to be combined with the Chaplaincy, now of the new Chapel of St Matthew. Details of the building of the original Grammar School are sparse, but it seems that William Murrey was deeply involved, retaining the use of the capacious storage vault under the school in lieu of repayment of £150 costs.[21]

Another notable Master of the Grammar School was Rev. Philip Moore (1705–1783) who was a native of the town, his father Robert Moore having been one of the "Undertakers" who organised the construction of St Matthews,[22] and his mother Miss Katherine Kelly. Moore was appointed Master in 1735, and was reckoned to be a good classical scholar, and have "an inherent love of teaching".[23]

Today, Douglas has other schools too; two two high schools and several primary schools.

Sights of the town

A horse tram
Douglas during the TT Races

Amongst the sights and attractions of Douglas are:

  • The Tower of Refuge, a small castle-like shelter built upon Conister Rock in Douglas Bay as a sanctuary for shipwrecked sailors. Construction was instigated by Sir William Hillary, founder of the RNLI.
  • Douglas Head and he Grand Union Camera Obscura, which has recently been restored and is open to the public during the summer months.
  • Douglad Victorian townscape
  • The horse-drawn trams that run along the promenade from the Sea Terminal to the Manx Electric Railway station from spring to early autumn.
  • Steam trains run 15 miles from Douglas railway station to Port Erin in the south of the Island.
  • The Grandstand on Glencrutchery Road marks the start and finish of the annual TT Races and various other motorsports.
  • Victoria Road Prison was the first purpose-built prison in the Isle of Man. Opened in 1891, the prison closed in 2008.
  • The Gaiety Theatre and the Villa Marina are popular venues for all manner of stage acts - from rock music to comedy to drama to ballet. The Gaiety Theatre is one of the best surviving examples of the work of Frank Matcham and dates from 1900. Both venues have recently undergone extensive renovations.
  • The Manx Museum in Kingswood Grove, a treasure house which contains many of the most important cultural artefacts relating to the Manx nation. Some of the highlights include the Calf of Man Crucifixion Stone, the Pagan Lady's necklace from the Viking excavations at Peel Castle, and the largest collection of Archibald Knox materials. It also houses the National Art Collection, and the National Archives.
  • The Jubilee clock is a street clock built in 1887 in commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign. It is located at the foot of Victoria Street and Loch Promenade. The location also marks one terminus of the Upper Douglas Cable Tramway
  • Merchants' houses from the mid-eighteenth century (now the Isola restaurant and the Douglas Hotel)
  • Castle Mona, a magnificent seaside mansion built by John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl in 1804, currently awaiting refurbishment
  • The Loch Promenade, a magnificent curving terrace of former boarding houses dating from the 1870s. Douglas is becoming increasingly renowned as it saw the first architectural essays of the Arts and Crafts architect Baillie Scott.
  • The breakwater extension (completed in 1983)
  • The Sunken Gardens on Loch Promenade - a result of the widening of the promenade at the turn of the twentieth century.


  • Motorcycling: The Isle of Man TT races start and finish in Douglas: the biggest classic roadracing event in the world.
  • Football: nine football clubs:
    • Braddan FC
    • Corinthians FC
    • Douglas and District FC
    • Douglas Royal FC
    • Gymnasium FC
    • Police FC
    • Pulrose United FC
    • St Georges FC
    • St Marys FC

The National Sports Centre is a large multi-sports centre owned by the Department of Tourism and Leisure. The King George V Bowl is a multi-use stadium owned by Douglas Borough Council.


The bay in Douglas - visible landmarks include the staircase turret of Castle Mona (centre)
Douglas bay looking out to the sea
A view of Douglas Bay

Outside links


  1. Brahde, Rebecca (20 March 2024). "Crowds gather as Camilla confers city status". BBC News. 
  2. P.J. Davey & others, 1999 Bronze Age Metallurgy in the Isle of Man, p. 48, in P.J. Davey (Ed.) Recent Archaeological Research in the Isle of Man. BAR Brit. Ser. 278, Archaeopress
  3. David M. Wilson, 2008, The Vikings in the Isle of Man, Aarhus U.P., p. 113
  4. Broderick, G., 2006; A Dictionary of Manx PLace-names. English Place-name Soc. ISBN 0-904889-71-8, p. 103
  5. Broderick, G. & Stowell, B., (Eds.), 1973; Chronicle of the Kings of Mann & The Isles. Published privately, Edinburgh. pp. 26 & 46
  6. Theophilus Talbot, 1925, The Manorial Roll of the Isle of Man, p. 32
  7. Crowe, N.G. 2001, Survey of Douglas - Vol. 1., p. xvi.
  8. Gardiner, Mark & others; 'Continental trade and non-urban ports in mid-Anglo-Saxon England : excavations at Sandtun, West Hythe, Kent'. Archaeological Journal, 158 (2001), 161-290. ISSN 00665983.
  9. Crowe, N.G. 2001, Survey of Douglas - Vol. 1.
  10. Moore, A.W., 1900, History of the Isle of Man, p. 436
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Gordon N. Kniveton; Robert E. Forster, BA; Robert Kelly; Stuart Slack; Frank Cowin FRICS. Douglas Centenary 1896-1996. Manx Experience. ISBN 1-873120-21-4. 
  12. Belchem, J., 2000, 'The Onset of Modernity' in A New History of the Isle of Man, Vol V, Liverpool U.P.; ISBN 0-85323-726-3.
  13. Clive Behagg (1991-10-03). "5: The Development of the Labour Party 1885–1902". Labour and Reform: Working Class Movements, 1815-1914 (Access to History). Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 99–103. ISBN 0-340-52930-X. 
  14. "Tower of Refuge". IOM Guide. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  15. Rev. H. Bird, The Island that Led, THe History of Manx Education, Vol. I., N.D., p. 75
  16. A.W. Moore, 1901, Manx Worthies, 1901, p. 22
  17. )N.G. Crowe, Survey of Douglas Volume I, 2001, p. xiii
  18. A.W. Moore, 1901, Manx Worthies, 1901, p. 101
  19. N.G. Crowe, Survey of Douglas Volume I, 2001, p. 9
  20. McHutchin, J. & Quirk, G., The Isle of Man Charities, Liverpool, 1831, p. 112
  21. McHutchin & Quirk, p. 114
  22. St Matthew's Parish Register
  23. A.W.Moore, 1901, 24