Peel Castle on the Isle of Man

Isle of Man - Scott #20 (1973)
Isle of Man – Scott #20 (1973)

Peel Castle (Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey in Manx Gaelic) is a castle in Peel on the Isle of Man, originally constructed by Vikings. The castle stands on St Patrick’s Isle which is connected to the town by a causeway. It is now owned by Manx National Heritage and is open to visitors during the summer. Peel (Purt ny h-Inshey in Manx, meaning Port of the Island) is a seaside town and small fishing port  in the historic parish of German but administered separately. Peel is the third largest town on the island after Douglas and Ramsey but the fourth largest settlement, as Onchan has the second largest population but is classified as a village. Until 2016 (when it was merged with Glenfaba) Peel was also a House of Keys constituency, electing one Member of the House of Keys (MHK), who, from September 2015, was Ray Harmer.

Peel is on the west coast of the Isle of Man, on the east side of the mouth of the River Neb. To the north west is St Patrick’s Isle, connected to the mainland by a causeway, and to the west across the river is Peel Hill. The A1 road connects Peel with Douglas. The A4 and A3 roads connect it with Kirk Michael and Ramsey. To the south of Peel is Castletown, the former capital of the island, and to the south-east is Douglas. Ireland to the west and Scotland to the north may be seen on a clear day.

Peel was the de facto capital of the island before 1344 when the King of Mann moved his home and military base from Peel Castle to Castle Rushen. Peel is the island’s main fishing port and Peel Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Sodor and Man.

Peel is sometimes referred to as the “rose red city”, due to the red sandstone used to build the castle and other important buildings. As it is in the west, it is also called the “sunset city”. Peel is a popular seaside destination for Manx residents and visitors in summer. It has narrow streets of fishermen’s cottages and a Victorian promenade which was built on reclaimed land and a small construction line built for this purpose, as well as sandy beaches. For many years the main industries in the town were fishing, trading and shipbuilding.

There is evidence of local settlers in the Mesolithic Age on both St. Patrick’s Isle and the nearby Peel Hill, and Neolithic farmers are believed to have settled in the area. Archeological studies have shown permanent occupation on St. Patrick’s Isle dating to the Late Bronze Age. The island’s steep and rocky edges made it an ideal defensive outpost. It is said to be the place where St. Patrick first set foot in the Isle of Man in 444 while returning from Liverpool to Ireland. Having established Christianity, he then appointed Germanus bishop, to oversee further development of the Church. However, there is debate as to whether the name “St Patrick’s Isle” pre-dates the thirteenth century.

About 550, a Celtic monastery was founded on St. Patrick’s Isle. Excavations in the 1980s found a large early Christian burial ground, many of the burials dating from around 550. Some later graves had Norse burial goods. The ruins of the original Peel Cathedral (c.1250) can be seen within the walls of Peel Castle. This replaced an earlier church.

Norsemen first came to Mann around the year 800, and ruled the Isle for four-and-a-half centuries before finally ceding it to the King of Scotland in 1266. Norsemen settled in Peel and used the harbour on the River Neb as a shelter for their longships. In 1228 Olaf the Black, King of Mann and the Isles, beached his fleet in the inlet. It was attacked and burned by his half-brother Ragnald. In 1266, as agreed in the Treaty of Perth, Norway’s King Magnus VI ceded the Isle of Man to Scotland. The island came under English control in the 14th century.

The castle was built in the 11th century by the Vikings, under the rule of King Magnus Barefoot. While there were older stone Celtic monastic buildings on the island, the first Viking fortifications were built of wood. The prominent round tower was originally part of the Celtic monastery, but had battlements added at a later date. In the early 14th century, the majority of the walls and towers were built primarily from local red sandstone, which is found abundantly in the area. After the rule of the Vikings, the castle continued to be used by the Church due to the cathedral built there but was eventually abandoned in the 18th century.

View of Peel Castle, taken on May 25, 2006.
View of Peel Castle, taken on May 25, 2006.

The town of Peel developed on the east bank of the river and the settlement was known as Holmtown until the 17th century. Later development, apart from the late 19th century guest house building on the sea front, has been inland, away from the coast. Peel Castle would eventually become a joint seat of government with Castle Rushen until the mid-17th century. The name Peel was given to the castle by the English rulers, and the settlement then became Peeltown until about 1860. By the time the local councils were established in 1883, the name Peel referred to the town rather than the castle.

In the 19th century, schooners built in Peel traded around northwest Europe and Peel fishing boats fished around the island and further afield to the southern coast of Ireland and near to Shetland. The harbor and breakwater were gradually improved, with much of the local income derived from the export of salted herring. By the 1880s, fishing was the main employer with about 3,000 men and boys employed, with ancillary businesses such as shipbuilding providing employment to hundreds more. However, with what is now seen as over-fishing, the number of boats leaving for Ireland dwindled from 300 in 1880 to a handful by 1915.

After the railway arrived in Peel in 1873, Peel started to develop as a tourist resort, with guest houses and hotels built along the shoreline and headlands, and then the promenade was added. Tourism gradually grew in the town. During World War I, Knockaloe Farm, at Patrick to the south of the town, was made into an internment camp and housed up to 30,000 German, Austrian and Turkish civilians. In 1940, guest houses at one end of the promenade were requisitioned to become Peveril Internment Camp, housing those suspected of having sympathy for the Nazi regime under Defence Regulation 18B.

By the late 1960s, the Peel to Douglas railway line had closed and tourism saw a decline. Fishing from Peel has seen periods of upturn and decline. For a number of years, the annual Viking Festival has attracted visitors to the resort. In 1979, Odin’s Raven — a replica of a Viking longship — sailed from Norway to Peel to commemorate the millennium of the first sitting of the Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald. In 2005, a new floodgate was installed at Peel to retain the waters of the River Neb and thus enable the moored boats to float at low tide.

Peel is the birthplace of Peel microcars, made by the Peel Engineering Company in the 1960s, the only Manx cars ever built.

View of Peel, taken on August 5, 2009.
View of Peel, taken on August 5, 2009.

There are several museums in Peel, including The House of Manannan Museum built in 1997, costing £5.5 million, partly new and partly in the old Peel railway station. The museum covers the past and present of the island and houses Odin’s Raven, a two-thirds scale replica of a Viking longship which had been built in and sailed from Norway, arriving on July 4, 1979 to celebrate the millennium of the High Court of Tynwald. There is also the Manx Transportation Museum, which opened in 2002 housed in the former Brickworks building near the harbor, and the Leece Museum established in 1984 and relocated to the Old Courthouse building in East Quay in 2000. This museum is devoted to objects, photographs and documents specifically relating to the town. The museum now has a large display of TT and MGP racing bikes, on- and off-road and vintage bikes along with memorabilia from the TT races.

Peel Castle is on St. Patrick’s Isle, a small island connected to Peel Hill by a causeway. The castle remained fortified through much of the 19th century and new defensive positions were added as late as 1860. The buildings within the castle are now mostly ruined, but the outer walls remain intact. Excavations in 1982-87 revealed an extensive graveyard as well as the remains of Magnus Barefoot’s original wooden fort. The most spectacular finds were the 10th century grave of “The Pagan Lady” which included a fine example of a Viking necklace and a cache of silver coins dating from about 1030. No pagan Viking-age burial in the British Isles has produced grave goods of such high quality. The Castle’s most famous “resident” is the so-called Moddey Dhoo or “Black Dog” ghost.

The cathedral ruins located within the walls of Peel Castle are those of the former Cathedral of St. German. Like the structures throughout the castle grounds, the cathedral’s roof is completely missing. Robert Anderson examined the ruins to determine what repairs were required to restore the cathedral, and he reported to the island’s Lieutenant Governor in 1877. However, none of the suggested repairs were carried out.

There is a pointed barrel-vaulted crypt below the chancel, measuring 34 feet by 16 feet by 9 feet high at the west end (10 × 5 × 3 meters), sloping to the entrance at the east. In the middle of the transept is the tomb where Bishop Rutter was interred in 1661. There is a cemetery in what was once the cathedral’s nave.

In 1980 the parish of German, part of the Church of England’s Diocese of Sodor and Man, was officially transferred to the newer Cathedral Church of St German on Albany Road in Peel.

The Castle is now a tourist attraction open in summer. There is a public footpath around the castle. It features today on the reverse side of the £10 notes issued by the Isle of Man Government. Peel Castle has been proposed as a possible location of the Arthurian Avalon.

Peel, Isle of Man
Peel, Isle of Man

Today, Peel Harbour is the most active fishing port in the Isle of Man and is also used to import fuel oils. There is a fish and shellfish processing industry as well as the traditional art of kipper curing. The castle overlooks the entrance to the inner harbor, which is tidal. However a water retention scheme was built in July 2005 with a jetty from East Quay toward West Quay with an automatically operated gate-flap and a pedestrian swing bridge above it. The breakwater has deep-water berths with a lighthouse situated at the end. There is a marina where tourist boats and leisure boats are moored. Fishing boats are usually berthed on the breakwater.

Scott #20 was released on July 5, 1973, as part of the first set of definitives issued by the newly-established Isle of Man Post Office Authority. The stamps were issued approximately 50 years after campaigning for them had started. Stamps had been perceived as promotional tools for the Manx identity. In the absence of stamps, postage labels — some measuring 2 inches by 1.5 inches — were affixed over the rear flaps of envelopes.

The Isle of Man’s postal service was originally operated by the United Kingdom’s General Post Office, with a daily postal connection with the UK since 1879. Campaigning for stamps in the 1920s led to the first official approaches to the General Post Office between May 31 and June 5, 1930, when the GPO laid the Island’s first submarine telephone cable. The idea was rejected because of fears that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would want their own stamps too. To promote the fact that the Isle of Man was no longer isolated telephonically, therefore, Tynwald’s Publicity Board produced a postage label depicting a girl making a telephone call; the slogan, ‘A Holiday Call from the Isle of Man.’

The Island’s first experimental airmail service was started by a Railway Air Services Dragon Rapide on August 20, 1934. This operated between Manchester and Belfast. Letters weighing less than two ounces were carried at no extra cost. The first regular airmail service from Liverpool was started on February 1, 1935 by Blackpool and West Coast Air Services Ltd.

The Isle of Man’s first regional postage stamp was issued on August 18, 1958. The 3-pence deep lilac stamp featured a portrait of the Queen encompassed by a Celtic ring chain. In common with UK practice, it did not bear its country of origin but did depict the Three Legs of Man. The Royal Mail issued it as part of a regional set aimed at satisfying nationalist sentiments in the Island, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Jersey and Guernsey. The Manx design was inspired by Isle of Man Art Society chairman, Victor Kneale, who had produced 18 designs to show what could be done. His membership of an Advisory Committee meant exclusion from being the official designer but when self-taught artist John Nicholson was appointed as designer what he produced reflected Kneale’s proposals. Subsequently, Kneale would be the first chairman of Isle of Man Post and Nicholson would design the latter’s first stamps.

Two delivery vehicles of the Isle of Man Post Office (Oik Postagh Ellan Vannin) in the Post Office yard at Peel. Photo taken on September 5, 2017.
Two delivery vehicles of the Isle of Man Post Office (Oik Postagh Ellan Vannin) in the Post Office yard at Peel. Photo taken on September 5, 2017.

In 1966, the UK Government commenced planning to convert the General Post Office into a public corporation, and as part of this process offered each of the Crown Dependencies the opportunity to assume control of the operations of the GPO on their territories. On October 18, 1968, Tynwald decided that they did not wish to take up the offer, but provision was made in the Post Office Act 1969 nonetheless.

In the Channel Islands, the authorities did accept the offer, and postal activities of the GPO were transferred in October 1969 to form Jersey Post and Guernsey Post. The GPO had not provided any telecommunications services in the Channel Islands since the 1920s.

The Isle of Man’s first officially authorized postage stamps were issued during Britain’s first postal strike (January 20 to March 7, 1971). Tourist souvenir supplier, Gordon Quirk, launched Post Manninagh on January 20 and was authorized on January 27, though restricted to deliveries within the island. He adapted illustrated match box covers as stamps, guillotining from their edges words such as ‘Foreign – Average Contents 30.’ Quirk’s first authorized mail deliveries outside the island began on February 1. His first specifically designed stamp was produced on February 15. Others followed. Post Manninagh’s first airmail service started on March 1, six days before the strike ended.

In 1972, following negotiations by Tynwald with the GPO to leave the Island’s telephone system, it was agreed that the Isle of Man would, after all, take over control of the insular postal administration. As a result, the Isle of Man Post Office Authority was formed and took over the postal assets and functions of the Post Office on July 5, 1973.  Spink and Son Ltd produced the first stamp essays but the Authority preferred to initiate its own designs.

The first set of 16 definitives were printed on unwatermarked paper using the photogravure process, perforated 11½ (Scott #12-27), picturing a number of Manx sites and animals as well as a Viking longship on the highest denomination, £1. The 5-pence value portrays Peel Castle and part of the shoreline of St. Patrick’s Isle.

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