Picture of George Head

George Head


places mentioned

Ramsey; a Manx Wedding

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CHAPTER V.

A Ride to Ramsey—Laxey—Lead Mines—Maughold Head—Cliffs—Their extraordinary Character—The Village—The Well—Tradition—Town of Ramsey—Bay—Singular Jetty—A Manx Wedding Party—The Earl Grey Stage Coach—A talkative Lady—Benevolence ill rewarded.

THERE are three roads from Douglas to Ramsey; the more direct, along the line of the coast, and the more circuitous route, by the way of St. John's, Kirkmichael, and Sulby. The first is not usually preferred for wheel carriages, for though in distance only sixteen miles, it is extremely hilly; the other is twentyfive miles, but hard and level the whole way. The third track can be accomplished by foot passengers and horsemen only, being moreover difficult to find, and leading directly across the mountains, between Sulby and Kirkbraddan.

On the first of the above three roads, seven miles from Douglas, is the village of Laxey, a cluster of clean looking cottages at the bottom of a steep winding descent, in the gorge of a magnificent ravine, close to the sea-shore, on a small sandy bay. The road here, after winding considerably inland, turns suddenly towards the sea, whence the view of the village is extremely picturesque and beautiful; a rivulet, for it cannot be called a river, though occasionally in some places a score yards in breadth, by whose tributary streams the machinery of the lead- mines, a mile distant, is worked, here empties itself into the sea. The proprietors of the mines are solely dependent on these trickling donations, neither is the supply rendered greater or more equable by reservoirs or other artificial means ; the soil however being rocky, there is little absorption, so that the streams, small as they are, are tolerably regular all the year round.

The machinery, applicable only to water power, is of extremely simple construction, such as the village wheelwright and blacksmith might furnish and keep in repair; consisting of one water-wheel of thirty feet diameter, for the purpose of pumping the main shaft; a second of smaller dimensions, and a third of seventeen feet diameter, both the latter similarly employed in two other shafts, and lastly, a rough machine for crushing the ore. A man and boy are employed to attend this machine, the former to shovel the stones containing the ore, previously broken to the size ordinarily used in a macadamized road, into the hopper. The hopper is of simple contrivance, similar to that of a flour-mill, except that the horizontal motion of the inclined plane below its throat, is given by the boy, who pulls a string fastened to the lower extremity of the plane. The broken stones, sliding downwards, pass between two large fluted iron cylinders, the one stationary, and the other, being the axle of the water-wheel, continually revolving, whereby they are cracked as easily as if they were coffee-berries, into pieces the size of lumps of sugar. No apparent effort of the machine during this process is perceptible, unless, indeed, when now and then perchance a fragment harder or larger than usual comes in contact with the cylinders; which impediment, though it cause a momentary check to the rotatory motion, is soon overcome, for the cylinders, separating for an instant with a jarring sound, close again with redoubled vengeance upon the recreant stone, and violently dissever its particles.

So soon as the ore is broken in the manner above described, it is again passed through a similar machine, and cracked into still smaller pieces; after which latter process, it becomes of a size sufficiently small for the operation of jigging.

To this end, a large wooden box filled with the broken ore, and immersed in water, is affixed by a chain to one end of a long and strong pole. The bottom of the box is full of holes, and the pole is so unequally divided on its balance upon an upright post, that a small boy is enabled, by grasping the opposite end, and continually jumping with his arms above his head, to give the box a jigging motion sufficiently violent to cause the heavier pieces containing the ore, which here by the way is exceedingly rich, to make its way to the bottom of the mass. The aforesreg="Liverpool" cnty="Lancashire">Liverpool and Glasgow steamers use the port of Ramsey, as a place of call for passengers on their voyage up and down, in preference to all other parts of the island; nevertheless, such visits are exclusively restricted to fine weather, nor is there at any time, except by means of a boat, communication between large vessels and the shore. As regards craft of two hundred tons or thereabouts, some of which are built in the town, at times only of the extreme height of the tide, access can be had to the dock.

One place of accommodation for the use of small boats, is singular, and of curious construction. It is a sort of quay or jetty, formed altogether of slatestone, whereof the slabs, instead of as usual being laid horizontal, are placed perpendicular, which mode has been adopted by reason of the soft unsound quality of the ground whereon the structure is built. Thus the long vertical slabs, as the whole mass sinks towards the middle, closely jam together, till the inverted arch thus formed is supported as it were by abutments on each extremity. As this homely work is not intended for the purposes of promenade, the manner of constructing its surface is equally simple, yet the ends of the slabs, merely levelled rudely by the hammer, afford a foothold infinitely more secure and less slippery than any description of pavement whatever. The Sulby river, the largest in the island, rises seven miles distant in the mountains, and, ancle deep at low water, and twenty or thirty yards in breadth, here empties itself into the sea.

The interior of the town is clean, but the streets are for the most part narrow, some indeed more so than those of Douglas, and in many of the principal thoroughfares, a man by the help of an ordinary walking stick, may touch both together the opposite houses.

The inn, when I arrived, though a comfortable house, was somewhat in a state of bustle and disorder. A wedding had been celebrated the very same morning, which event had disturbed the equanimity of the inmates; and of the females especially, the services were absolutely unattainable, by reason of their excited sympathies. The youthful bridegroom, attended only by two young ladies, the bride and her bridesmaid, had crossed over from England a few days before, by the Liverpool steam-boat, and here they remained sojourners in the house during the intervening period of delay. As the young ladies mutually chaperoned each other, the young gentleman was necessarily unremitting in his attentions towards both, wherefore the second young lady's predicament, with regard to strict propriety, was extremely awkward; one which required in fact no slight degree of matronly experience; for hers was the care in behalf of her friend to guide the footsteps of youth amid the intricate mazes of friendship, where the path meanders dangerously among the precipices of love. The parties, as I was informed, were married by special license, which document in the Isle of Man costs five pounds, and now, the ceremony having been performed, they were taking refreshment, previous to their departure, in the apartment which afterwards was to be allotted to me.

While their equipage, a kind of two-horse vehicle, was preparing, I had frequent opportunities, being pro tempore in an outer room, as persons passed backwards and forwards, of observing the young people within, and upon these occasions, remarked that the young ladies were always simpering and silent, while the gentleman sustained the brunt of the conversation. The two former had apparently some time since finished eating, while the latter was completing his repast alone. To this end, a silk handkerchief to serve as a napkin was spread on his knees, and with fingers laden with a profusion of broad gold rings, he was mercilessly sucking the bones of a roast duck, and dragging them between his teeth. Notwithstanding an operation so derogatory to effect, he was still comfortably satisfied with his own grace and eloquence, as extending a pair of extremely long arms towards the ladies, who kindly condescended to titter at every word he uttered, he invariably returned suitable tokens of obeisance, every action being accompanied with redundancy of motion, and straight lines being made curves on each trifling occasion, were it only to reach across the table for a spoonful of salt. Both arms he frequently crossed upon his bosom, and then spreading them abroad with Romeo-like gesticulation and force sufficient to stem the waves of the Hellespont, he would spout appropriate scraps of poetry, and afterwards gloat amorously upon the bride. In personal appearance he was not prepossessing, for he had remarkably thick blubber lips, a mouth of enormous calibre, full, prominent, light grey eyes, the right one veering full two points from its neighbour, eyebrows and eyelashes nearly white, and hair of the lightest flaxen. And as if to give his countenance, when he talked, the expression that nature had denied, he had a facetious manner of causing the twisted eye to vibrate and roll on its swivel. At last he led his fair companions down stairs to the carriage, in front of which were collected some half dozen acquaintance, formed by reason of his easy sociable manners even during this short matrimonial visit to Ramsey; and while, as the open vehicle departed, he replied with significant nods and winks to the congratulations of his male friends, the ladies, radiant in blushes and bloom, smiled graciously to all, kissed their hands to the maid servants of the inn, and bowed to the landlady.

On my return to Douglas, I secured a place thither in a public carriage, not fairly to be called a stagecoach, but a sort of nondescript vehicle or caravan, somewhat like a baker's cart in form, with a door behind, and the name "The Earl Grey" painted conspicuously in large red letters on a yellow body. Such as it is, it works regularly between Ramsey and Douglas, and up one day, down the next, performs the journey throughout the whole year.

A few minutes before the hour of departure, when I repaired to the coach office, the preparations for starting appeared at first sight most unusually tardy; for so far from finding the horsekeepers and the cattle ready at their posts, the carriage stood empty in the street with a hind wheel out of order, and such was the apathy among the neighbours upon making enquiry, that I might very reasonably have come to the conclusion, that the equipage belonged to nobody. The coach-office was closed, and no one was present to answer interrogatories, except a blacksmith, who had doffed his coat, laid his box of tools on the ground, and was lustily hammering upon the crazy wheel. A pair of long-tailed cart horses, stood quietly devouring their provender out of a basket; and these saturnine animals, having finished their repast, first resting one hind leg and then the other, drooped their noses drowsily to the ground, with eyes closed, and motionless, otherwise than switching their tails now and then at the bite of a fly, or twisting an ear backwards half way round at the clink of the hammer.

In every day life I am inclined to believe more poetry exists than people imagine, for whether gnomes, sylphs, or fairies, ideal existences, or means purely mortal be employed to pull the strings of the puppets, companions of our progress, it matters not one farthing, so long as we are doomed to remain under invisible agency. In the present instance, though no coachman was to be found, yet as the blacksmith hammered on at the wheel, and the passengers one after another began to arrive, it seemed at all events probable that not only at any rate matters were progressing somehow, but that also certain controlling authorities existed somewhere, and in fact no sooner had the blacksmith put the defective wheel in order, than accordingly the said coachman forthwith made his appearance. Without excuse or apology to the passengers whom he had so long kept waiting, on the contrary, he appeared in a portentous hurry, and behaved towards the latter precisely as if they themselves had been the cause of the delay.

Mr. Christian, the driver, though plain spoken, was a civil man, remarkably decently dressed, like an English small farmer, in an easy fitting, blue cloth coat, a broad brimmed hat, and neat buttoned gaiters. The passengers, who by this time were all ready, and anxious to be let in, consisted of a young lady about to return from a visit at Ramsey to her friends at Castleton; a young Yorkshireman, away from home on a tour of pleasure; a rheumatic elderly man, whose legs appeared to disadvantage in ribbed worsted stockings, and his wife, an extraordinary fat woman, whom Mr. Christian buttressed forwards, applying his shoulder to her rear, while her husband vainly remonstrated from within, that his shanks were not yet arranged in decent order. All these persons were finally seated in the vehicle, and I was on the point of making a fifth, and taking post accordingly, when a lively, buxom lady, with black roving eyes, apparently about thirty, and somewhat nervous and fidgety withal, in a multitude of terrors, moreover, lest the vehicle might have already departed, made her appearance as another candidate, and to her I immediately gave place. I then stepped in lastly, making in all six persons closely dovetailed together, when Mr. Christian immediately slammed the door in its place, and mounting the box, whereon sat also two other persons, whipped his cattle to the extent of a slow, reeling trot, and bid adieu to the town of Ramsey. A few minor arrangements with regard to position, were indispensably necessary with the last-mentioned lady, to whom I sat opposite, all which were disposed of without demur or hesitation; yet still was she in a fluster, and evidently embarrassed by reason of small packages to be arranged in their places, and particularly one or other, which it seemed was left behind. After fretting some time and feeling about her person, rising sometimes from her seat, and making sundry ejaculations, "dear me," she exclaimed, "my parasol, my parasol; I'd rather pay thirty shillings than lose my beautiful parasol;" and then, with extraordinary volubility of tongue, she related in minute detail, all the particulars of the parasol's history; and from that subject she proceeded, talking incessantly to every body inclined to listen, continually changing her topic, and returning again to the lost parasol. Full twenty times before we had gone the first three miles, did she specifically declare that thirty shillings was the least possible value of the favourite parasol. She said "she was happy to quit the town of Ramsey, and surely must die if obliged to remain in it; 'twas enough to be once born there, and now again, a single week, the first visit after ten years' interval, had sickened her of the place more than ever; the 'Isle of Man' she continued, it certainly was, and a man sure enough was he who effected her deliverance, but for her part, she thought that the 'exile of woman,' was a far belter, and a more appropriate appellation."

This effusion of language had never at all failed her, when, as we had completed about three miles on our way, an active, lightly-formed peasant girl, apparently about fifteen years old, bounding after us as gaily as a fawn, came evidently in direct pursuit of our vehicle. The little nymph was dressed in a dark blue camlet petticoat, with a plain white linen jacket, the latter loosely confined by a string at the waist: and thus equipped, had tripped along now full three miles from Ramsey, and to the joy of the lady, as she approached the door of the "Earl Grey," produced to her delighted eyes an implement till then concealed, namely, the highly valued, much lamented parasol. The benevolence of the action, and the grace wherewith it was performed, added charms to a countenance naturally lovely, resplendent in rural health, and replete with innocence that vainly repressed an arch expression in her eyes of the desire to create a surprise. As she turned on her heel, enlivened by reward, and carrying away all that the grateful lady gave, I thought I never saw a human smile more truly pourtray a virtuous consciousness. Acquitted of her errand, she skipped back on her way, her airy step and jocund gait braced by pure joy and light-heartedness; lighter still, nevertheless, was the lady's bounty, who, in despite of her annunciations regarding her parasol, and in recompense of the zeal and activity of her humble benefactress, gave her,—reader, what think you that she gave ?—nothing at all but thanks. * *

On arriving at Laxey, the delay of an hour was necessary while the horses were baiting, which period was expended by the passengers either in walking about the village or in remaining at the inn. Although I preferred the former course, I nevertheless walked in for a moment to take cognizance of the apartment destined to our accommodation; whereof the floor was covered with plaster or cement, and the style of things altogether that of an English village ale-house. The fat elderly woman and her husband had already commenced refreshment; two Manx fishermen, seated at a table in the room, were in a state of prosing inebriation; and the talkative lady, after searching busily in her reticule, had at last extracted a bottle containing, I suppose, some mild carminative.

Our pace during the journey was about four miles an hour, and to the period so expended, is also to be added our delay at Laxey. While ascending the acclivities Mr. Christian besought us to get out and walk, to which request we acceded, including the postman employed to carry the mail between Ramsey and Douglas, who had sometime since joined us, and standing on the step behind, clung on by his elbow placed within the door, after the manner of the cad of an omnibus.

George Head, A Home Tour through various parts of the United Kingdom (London: John Murray, 1837) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

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