L11 Libraries

Although early Historians credit Man as the seat of the Druids and a place where Kings' sons were educated, it is unlikely, given their known aversion to committing knowledge to writing, that any public library existed until after Bishop Barrow's time. (Rushen Abbey would probably have had a library before its dissolution in 1537).

Academical Library, Castletown, c.1686

Ralfe states that Lord Fairfax, the Governor appointed by Parliament post 1651 presented 217 books to the Library in the Isle of Man. Barrow was Bishop and Governor of the Island for an all too brief six years from 1663-9 during which time he obtained money to help support clergy and schoolmasters. He also established the Academic Student fund to train future ministers. In his will dated 1679 he states:

Being desired by the present Lord Bishop of the Isle of Man, Dr. Henry Bridgman, that instead of a Library I intended to leave for the use of the Clergy of that Island, I would give one hundred pounds, to purchase a rent charge of five or six pounds per annum, to buy such books yearly as should be more convenient for the clergy, I willingly consent to it, and therefore bequeath one hundred pounds for that purpose, to be paid upon security given that the rent charge (so purchased sufficiently in Law) shall be disposed of to that use.

(Bishop Barrow's Will, dated 14 Dec. 1679).

The Disbusements for 1670-1 show an entry of £2 per year to a Mr Gilberte' libuarie keeper', by 1672 this was being added to the Castletown Chaplain's salary, thus it would appear that a library did exist prior to the establishment of the Academic School in Castletown in 1686 when two scholars were to be educated by Mr Holt instead of being sent abroad, by 1703 it would appear that many of the books had been lost.

Bishop Wilson was given licence in 1706 to build a public library in Castletown (this would appear to be the Academical Library):

"whereas the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of this Isle hath proposed to have a Public Library built in some convenient place within this town, and there being a piece of waste ground near the house of Arthur Halsall, porter, which his Lordship thinks a proper place to erect the said Library, therefore his Lordship is licenced to enclose and take in the said parcel of waste ground for his use aforesaid, provided the Great Enquest of this Sheading do first view the same, and see that it be no way prejudicial to any highway or water-course, and return certificate thereof to the Records.

This waste space, close by the Castle gate, was available as Earl James had had the area cleared in 1643 so as to give a better line of fire from the Castle towards the harbour. Any library would appear to be housed on the upper floor of a building occupying the site of the old House of Keys in Castletown. In 1717 Charles Stanley, fourth son of Charles 8th Earl of Derby left his books to the Library. Certainly by 1761 a library must have existed for in Arch. Epis. Lib. 1761 (quoted in IoM Charities 1831) we read

"Thirdly, That the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of this Isle, be requested and empowered to purchase books and mathematical instruments for the use of the sd. Academic School, so that the same do not exceed in value the sum of fifty pounds.

Feltham writing of 1797/8 states:

The House of Keys has a public library over it, but it is blocked up, and the books of most value selected for the use of the academy.

Cumming, writing in 1848, gives the subsequent history of this library:

Till the year 1706 the Keys met in the castle; they then purchased, from the trustees of the Academic Fund, the ground-floor of a house which stood on the site of the present House of Keys, the upper portion being occupied by the Academical Library. In 1818 they purchased the remainder of the house, and the Library was removed to the Grammar School, and subsequently to King William's College, where it was destroyed by fire, January 14, 1844.

The Grammar School was by then housed in the old St. Mary's church, which building had been released by the construction of a new St. Mary's Church in 1698 by Bishop Wilson (this church itself was replaced in 1826).

IoM Charities, 1831, gives the following description of the library

The books remaining in this Library were removed to the Free Grammar School, where there are at present about 1100 volumes. £20 have lately been expended, by direction of the Lord Bishop, in re-binding some of the books.

Parochial Libraries of Bishop Wilson, 1699

Dr. Thomas Bray, later the founder (in 1701) of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, was the driving force in the creation of such libraries - his movement probably supported 250 such Parochial Libraries in the British Isles. The history of the Manx libraries, and their state in 1831, is well covered in IoM Charities 1831. They were founded in 1699 by Bishop Wilson

By the encouragement and assistance of my worthy friend Dr. Thomas Bray, and other benefactors, I began a foundation of Parochial Libraries in my Diocese; which, by the good blessing of God, I have been improving ever since with books practical and devotional."

These libraries were not intended for public use (that of Castletown was a public library) but for the better education of vicars and curates of the various parishes.

Bray had procured an act of Westminster Parliament (7 Anne c.14) 'An Act for the better Preservation of Parochial Libraries in that part of Great Britain called England' which was designed to reassure potential donors that their gifts would not be expropriated and also to give the ordinary (Bishop) powers to inspect, as well as requiring catalogues of the libraries to be kept. The same ideas were seen in a 1734 act of Tynwald which allowed for better control of these libraries

" And whereas several well-disposed persons have given a number of useful and practical books to the several parishes of this Isle; in order to preserve the same from embezzlement, and that all future benefactors may be satisfied that their pious intent shall not be frustrate; Be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that every Rector, Vicar, or Curate, or their Executors or Administrators, shall be accountable for such books as are already remaining, or shall hereafter be given, or the full value of the same: and every Rector, Vicar, or Curate shall, immediately after his induction or lycence, make a new catalogue of all the books belonging to their respective Churches, and shall deliver the same to the Episcopal Register, to the end that the said books may be accounted for and made good, according to the purport of this Act.",

Ferguson states that by 1735 each library should have had 34 volumes and is of the opinion that by 1740 there were no further additions by Bishop Wilson, so that each parish library then contained some 40 volumes.

A circular letter dated 17th August, 1796, from the Episcopal Registrar (Rev J. Crellin, of Kirk Michael) to the clergy, was as follows

The Associates of Dr Bray, at the request of Bishop Wilson, having many years ago sent books to form libraries in this Isle, it has lately been intimated to his Lordship that it would be a satisfaction to the present Associates to be informed of the present state of these libraries. His Lordship therefore directs me to desire that each of you will send him in the course of a fortnight a fair catalogue of the books belonging to his parish to be transmitted to them that they may see (as they have signified) whether they can add a volume or two that are not already there.

However by the beginning of the 19th century many of these libraries were in poor condition

"The Rev. Hugh Stowell entered on the Vicarage of Kirk Lonan, April 18, 1802, and found the Parochial Library in a most ruinous and tattered state.

That of Kirk Bride (whose catalogue of 1831 is included in IoM Charities) appears to have been the best preserved; Feltham writing in 1797/8 of it states:

The parochial library is large, and a catalogue of it is delivered to every minister as they succeed in all the parishes. These, and parochial or petty schools, are established throughout the island. The libraries were introduced by Bishop Wilson and Dr. Bray, by whose advice and assistance this excellent institution was undertaken Dr. Bray died in 1729, he continued as long as he lived to supply books. Law's "Christian Perfection" was supplied by Mrs. S. Hales, of Teddington, near Hamptoncourt, who gave 50l. worth of books for general distribution among the poor.

In the Onchan Parish Registers is preserved:

On the first page of the book is a "Catalogue of Books belonging to the Parochial Library of Onchan." The list contains 41 volumes, 38 of which seem to have been entered by the same hand about 1799. The compiler adds a note to the last in his list, " this book was not to be found at Mr Quayle's death. ' (The Rev Thomas Quayle, Vicar of Onchan for 89 years, was buried 9th March, 1798). The last three books have been added later, the last on the list being " Erasmus' Ecclesiastes," which is said to have been " lost in ye carriage from Bishop's Court."

Such libraries were established in the 17 insular parishes (presumeably that of Kirk Patrick was founded when the new church was established in 1714). A similar library was established at St. Matthew's in Douglas (a Chapel of Ease to Kirk Braddan established by Bishop Wilson in 1714) for we read:

This Library, established by Bishop Wilson, is kept in the house wherein the Chaplain resides, and a Catalogue of the books is inserted in the Register, with the names of the persons by whom the books were presented. Bishop Hildesley bequeathed above two hundred volumes to this Library.

Quiggin's guide of 1841 describes a small library as attached to the chapel; John Mason Neele writing 1848 had this to say:

He attached a small library to it, which still exists

St. Mark's was built in 1771 and a library was established here around 1780 - see Harrison's Account of St. Marks

Received of the Revd. Philip Moore, Rector of Kk. Bride, and Chaplain of Douglas, a sett of the Great and Good Bishop Wilson's Works in 2 vols., being the gift of his son, Dr. Wilson, and the first-fruits of an incipient library for the use of St. Mark's Chapel per me,

By 1846 St. Mark's Chapel and School Library was described

The Sunday-school circulating · library belonging to St. Mark's consists of 303 volumes.

The twelve Government school-maps, and all the class and historical books belonging to the daily school of St. Mark's, amounted in subscriptions to £5 5 0

This was probably the largest and most active library - the Manx Liberal of 16 May 1846 noting that it had 302 volumes and that the Bishop observes that St Marks is the largest country library he has met with in his diocese.

An account of the present state of these Libraries was given in Manx Note Book No 3 p114/7 1885.

PAROCHIAL LIBRARIES, (p. 74.)-Some account of these, and of the steps taken to preserve them, will be found at the end of the " Isle of Mann Charities," pp. 136-139. I believe remnants are still to be found in most of the parishes, but generally in a sadly diminished state. If those who have books belonging to such libraries would restore them, many a gap might yet be filled. St. Matthew's Library is still fairly extensive, but it is, by no means, what it formerly was. Books belonging to it are to be found on bookstalls in the Market-place, and in private hands. Whenever seen by any honest man they should be at once restored to the Chaplain. TRUX.

Circulating (Lending) Libraries

The first circulating library in England was established around 1730 by a bookseller, Mr Wright, in the Strand, London; the practice soon spread to other towns so that by 1755 most major towns and cities would possess at least one (and often two). Sheridan's comment (Sir Anthony Arbuthnot to Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals) illustrates that early libraries concentrated more on entertainment (novels of a doubtful moral persuasion) than education:

"A circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge: it blossoms throughout the year. And depend on it, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves will long for the fruit at last"

Mann would appear to have been slow to take up this fashion for Feltham writing of Douglas in 1797/8 makes the following comment:

and, as instances of its progress in refinement, a circulating library, a theatre, several billiard-tables, assemblies, and races.

It is probable that Feltham's comments refered to a ciculating library kept by the Briscoe's, publishers and booksellers, who were active in Douglas from the late 1780's until c.1801 when George Jefferson's Manx Advertiser began. Prof Alston refers to a volume in the British Library stamped Briscoe's Library. Thus this library would appear to date from the1790's.

Jefferson later operated a circulating library - in the Manx Advertiser 14 Nov 1801 it is noted that G. Jefferson intends to start a circulating Library. Lists of books are carried as advertisements in the same paper on 18 Nov 1819, 1 June 1820. Is it possible that it may have been built on the remnants of the earlier one ?

In 1812 Manx Advertiser carried following:

R. Stubbs

Respectfully informs the Public that Heywood House Circulating Library continues open from Ten till Two, with upwards of 1400 books consisting of History, Travels, Romances, Novels and the whole of Mrs Archbald's New Plays ; the Collection is entirely new and well chosen.

A Sarah Sharp is noted as opening a Circulating Library on 22 Jan 1813 (Manx Advertiser) - it closed 1820 (Manx Advertiser 14 Sep 1820).

L. Lane (auctioners) is noted on 7th September 1820 as opening Wellington News Room - Haining states that this is on the pier with an extensive view of the Nunnery, harbour and Douglas Head, I presume by pier he means North Quay. He also kept a circulating library - Manx Advertiser carries a notice to this effect on 3 Nov 1825. Luke Lane's age is given as 59 in the 1841 census; he was living with his wife (10 years his junior) and some nine children. By 1851 only the eldest daughter can be found (though other daughters may have married).

In 1833 the Lanes announce they are entering on a new business and the Manx Sun carries note of the sale of some 3000 books on 29 Jan 1833. In Oswald's guide of 1834 a L. Lane is shown as landlord of the Birmingham House Muckles Gate and Pigot's 1837 lists Luke Lane as innkeeper Fort Street. He appears however to have kept a News Room for the Manx Sun 6 Jan 1837 notes the opening of a News Room at the Birmingham House and Tavern Fort Street.

Douglas, or IoM Subscription Library

Woods writing in 1811 has the following:

A public circulating library and reading room have been lately established, and are a great acquisition to the town. They have commenced on a moderate scale, and contain, at present, a very small, but well chosen collection of books The number of proprietors, all of one class, does not exceed ninety. The funds are divided into guinea transferable shares, every share-holder paying one guinea a year for contingent expenses and the improvement of the library. On the arrival of every packet, the room is crowded with subscribers, flocking thither to read the English news. On other occasions it is little frequented, and the conversation is always more political than literary.

The Manx Advertiser, 24 March 1810, announces that a Public Subscription Circulating Library has lately opened This was kept in a room in John Calvin's shop (see Hugh Stowell Brown "There was an Institution called the Douglas Library, which was kept in the house of Mr. Calvin, grocer, Duke Street, and to which my father was a subscriber")

John Calvin (a very Scots name) was listed as 70 in the 1841 census and could not be found in the 1851 (according to Rev Inglis he was superintendent of Athol Street School and removed to Liverpool). As most Scots were associated with the Duke of Atholl's faction which was opposed by most Manx born this may explain Hannah Bullock's barbed comments who, writing in 1816, states:

Amongst the most promising, establishments are a public library and reading room; institutions so necessary to the improvement of society, that they deserve in all places the highest support, and the most careful superintendence; but in this, as in many other instances, too much party spirit prevails, and in consequence the advance has not been equal to the commencement; the president, the committee, and the secretary, have been occupied with private differences, when they should have been debating only the best means of promoting the good of the society, and therefore the collection of books is neither so large, or so well chosen, as might have been, considering the time which has elapsed since the formation, or the funds subscribed.

The private differences may also explain the shabby treatment of an early benefactor - William Harrison (Bibliotheca Monensis) gives the following gloss to a pamplet published by Kermotte Stowell in 1812.

About 1810, Samuel Ward, Esq., LL.D., then residing in Dublin, presented to the Library a great number of valuable works, for which his name was placed on the list as an Honorary Member. Some time after, visiting Douglas for a few months, he availed himself of this privilege, when the proprietors resolved that no honorary member (there were only two) could have access to the rooms without paying the Annual Subscription ! Mr. Ward’s name was erased, and he was obliged to leave the rooms.

Mr. Stowell was Secretary, and resigned 30th May 1812. His pamplet gives an expose of the management of the Library. [see also KS 1813 Letter]

Samuel Haining, a school teacher and pastor in the Independent Chapel Athol Street, gave the following unguarded comments in his 1822 IoM Guide:

A Reading Room and Library established almost 12 years ago, may be justly classed among the useful institutions in the town ; and, if the managers had been men, uninfluenced by party spirit, unshackled by by personal considerations and distinguished by their literary attainments, then would they have been careful to select useful standard works, which would have proved an ornament to the place, and a benefit to posterity ; but instead of this some of the most active proprietors were prescribed by the majority party, from any share in the management, the books which they recommended were not ordered ; and if the barber of Seville should examine their selection, almost the whole of them would be committed to the flames.

These, along with similar comments on Methodists etc, were expunged from his 1824 edition.

In Pigot's 1823 Directory is found:

Calvin John, tailor. & draper, and newsroom & library- Duke-st
Lane Luke & Son, booksellers, stationer, public news room,and library, &c. Cambrian-place

Samuel Haining in his Isle of Man Guide (2nd Edition) of 1824 states:

About sixteen years ago a Reading Room and Library were established in this town . The Library contains nearly 1,200 volumes. and it is the determination of the managers to select only standard works, to render it more valuable, to ensure its permanency and to benefit posterity. Circulating Libraries are kept by Lane & Son, and by G. Jefferson, Printer.
News Rooms - There is one connected with the Isle of Man Library, and to which only proprietors can have access. The Douglas Commercial Reading Room is kept by Lane & Son, Cambrian-place and there is a Subscription News-room on the Pier.

In an 1832 printed catalogue we learn that the books are contained in 14 Cases marked A to O. and the total number of volumes is 1228.

Haining's third Edition of 1835 gives a little more information, though by now the choice of books is becoming questionable:

Libraries properly conducted, may be justly classed among the useful institutions. About 24 years ago a Reading Room was established; the latter still exists, and contains about 1,600 volumes.- If the managers would only select standard works, they would ensure its permanency, and benefit posterity. 'A 'Mechanic's Library was established nearly eighteen months ago. The Selection is good, the support given is encouraging and the benefits which it is likely to confer on the community great.

Circulating Libraries are kept by Lane and Co., Fort street, and by Mr. George Jefferson, printer, Duke-street.
Newsrooms - The Douglas Commercial room is kept by Lane and Co., Fort-street. There is a subscription News-room on the pier and the United Service News-room, near the Court-house

The United Services Club commenced in 1829 and was intended as a haunt for the many half-pay officers who retired to the Island.

Oswalds Guide of 1834 lists under libraries : Jefferson's circulating library, Douglas Mechanics'; and other private Book Societies, (as it was published by G Jefferson the mention and a plug in another section may be understandable).

John Welch with his usual caustic style writes [in a Six day's Tour] in 1836:

The usual routine of the day's recreation, preliminary to the evening's entertainment, being the news rooms, two or three indifferent libraries, the billiard table, a stroll or two on the pier; last, but not least, the tattle shops, where the scandal of the day is picked up and retailed.

The 1837 edition of Pigot's Directory lists three libraries, distinguishing the Isle of Man library from the two circulating libraries run respectively by a bookseller and a printer:

Dillon Wm, circulating, North quay .
ISLE OF MAN, Duke street—John Calvin, librarian
Jefferson Geo. (circulating) Duke st

John Quiggin (Manx Liberal 18 June 1841) announces his separation from the Manx Sun and the opening of a new shop - the advertisement does not however mention a Circulating Library.

By 1843 we read in Cannell's Guide re Libraries:

There are several in the town ; that established by Mr. Jefferson, in Duke Street, is the oldest and best in the Island, for choice selection and variety ; it contains double sets of all Sir Walter Scott's novels' and the productions of all the popular and fashionable novelists of the age: to which has been recently added, several publications of Voyages and Travels, by the latest and most celebrated authors. Mr. Dillon has one on the North Quay, besides which there is the Mechanics' and the Isle of Mann Libraries.

Jefferson's Library ceased in 1843 as in Manx Liberal 12 March 1843 there is notice of the sale by auction of the whole Circulating Library of G. Jefferson 'who is declining the book business'. It is likely that this formed the basis of O'Briens Library.

On 5th Oct 1843 the Manx Sun carried the following editorial in support of Mr Cannell's proposed 'New Circulating Library'

We are glad to learn that the reading public of Douglas and the neighbourhood - and we trust they are not few - will shortly have an opportunity of gratifying their intellectual appetite with the literature of the current year. the want of a constant supply of new books has long been felt here as a social evil, and parties residing on the Island , had often the mortification, on visiting or being visited by their friends in the surrounding countries, to find themselves at least a year or two behind them in reading. This however, will now be remedied in a great measure, as Mr Cannell, of Duke street, in this town, has, we believe, made arrangements for a supply of all the new books, of general interest, as they issue from the press. This will of course, involve considerable outlay and risk ; but as the social advantages of such arrangement will be great, we hope the patronage will be commensurate with it

However it took some years to establish the library - Cannell advertises two classes of membership: Class A religious works etc; Class B: miscellaneous, Historical, travel etc. Each classes was 7s 6d per year subscription.

By the mid 1840's the IoM subscription library had entered into its final decline though there was an unsuccessful attempt to revive it. On 17 April 1843, the Manx Sun, carried the news that:

A meeting of the proprietors and subscribers to the Douglas Library, having been duly advertised, took place yesterday at the new library-room in the Odd-fellows' Hall, Richard Nickin, Esq, in the chair, when the usual business having been transacted it was, on the propsition of Dr Garrett, seconded by H.R.Oswald, esq, unanimously agreed that one of the rooms be opened as a news-room, and that the leading papers of the day and other periodicals taken.


committee for the ensuing year: John Moore, Esq. Hiils, J.C. Bluett, Esq, H.R.Oswald Esq, Rev F. B. Hartwell, F. Matthews, Esq, Dr Garrett, S.S. Rogers, Esq, Richard Nickin Esq, Senhouse Wilson Esq.

The Manx Liberal, 20 June 1846, describes it as having been established more than 33 years ago with upwards of 2000 volumes, annual subscription £1 with a £2 membership. Senhouse Wilson and Sam S. Rogers were in charge - the library being housed in the Odd-fellows' Hall (erected 1840 and later the Douglas Courthouse).

However the attempt failed for on 26 April 1848 the Liberal carried an advertisement for the sale on 9th May 1848 of the IoM library - describing it as about 2000 volumes - the committee were John Moore, Senhouse Wilson and S.S. Rogers.

In the directory section of Quiggin's guide for 1848 mention is made of three circulating libraries kept by

O’Brien James, 40 Duke St
Mylrea John, 21 Duke st
Quiggin M A, North Quay

William Dillon no longer appears in list of booksellers. O'Brien was the most interesting of these - a radical publisher who had come over to exploit the postal regulation loophole that allowed cheap postage from the Island. His library is advertised on 25 July 1846 as comprising some 2500 volumes. However when the postal regulations changed, O'Brien and several others, left the Island. In the Manx Liberal 8 March 1848 D. Kerruish, 40 Duke Street, anounces that he has opened (until alterations made in his new premises) the shop lately occupied by O'Brien and that he has acquired the the Circulating Library.

Mylrea's Circulating Library is noted as opening on the 10th Oct 1847 - he would appear to have moved to the Island in 1843 as on 4 Feb 1843 he advertises his new shop and that he had had the management of a first rate bookbinding and store in Liverpool.

Samuel Johnson, who had arrived from Manchester in 1847 and like the Quiggin's and the Cain's, another Methodist bookseller, was not indicated as having a library at that time.

The old-established Isle of Man Library was by 1843 relegated to the 'has-beens' which fate is confirmed by Johnson's guide (6th edition) of 1850 which also mentions several more circulating libraries:

THE ISLE OF MANN LIBRARY, on the Pier, was founded about thirty years ago, and still exists, thought in a comparatively languescent state. The Reading-room originally connected with it has become a matter of history, and the library, though containing 1,600 volumes, has increased but slowly. Strangers are admitted to the use of the Books, on the recommendation of a shareholder, and on subscribing five shillings.

A MECHANICS' LIBRARY was founded several years ago, but as yet has not met with much encouragement.

PUBLIC CIRCULATING LIBRARIES are kept by Mrs. Quiggin, Custom-House Quay; Mr, Mylrea; S. Johnson; Mr. Kerruish, Duke Street ; and John Cain, Great Nelson Street.

The United Service Club-room, and Commercial News-room is on the Pier.

Kerruish did not appear in the 1848 directory - it would appear that the years 1848-50 saw a considerable improvement in library facilities, probably built on the expanding tourist trade. All the circulating libraries were by then kept by booksellers; the cost for M.A. Quiggin's in 1852 were:

Annual subscription 15s; half yearly 8s; quarterly 5s; monthly 2s and per volume 2d. "Subscriptions to be paid at the time of Subscribing; and a Deposit required before a Work can be taken from the Library" (advert in Quiggin's guide of 1852)

 Thwaite's 1863 directory lists the following under LIBRARIES (CIRCULATING).:

Backwell Matthew Price, Prospect hill
Cain Margaret, 8 Gt. George street
Kneale William, 37 Duke street
Mylrea John, 17 Duke street
Quiggin Mary A. 52 North Quay
Sailors' Library and News Room, 72 Pier

Possibly by then the United Services Club had become the Sailor's Library; all others are booksellers - by 1877 (Brown's Guide) the club had its rooms in the Peveril Hotel close to the Pier..

By 1874 a penny reading room had been established as Jenkinson in his guide of that year states

At the end of Athol Street is a news room, where the stranger may see Manx and English newspapers, the charge being 1d a visit, or 6d a week. It contains a small library. This is the only public reading room in Douglas.


Specialised Libraries

King William's College Library - founded 1833

Founded on establishment of the School in 1833, it became the repository both of the Academical Library mentioned above and of many records of Castletown given to it for safe-keeping. The original library was destroyed by fire in 1844; Cumming gives the following description:

The original library of the College was removed from the grammar-school, Castletown, in the principalship of the Rev. E. Wilson. It belonged to the Academic School. It contained several volumes given by Bishop Wilson, many of them containing his autograph and motto, " Tuta et Parvula." It was increased by many benefactors; amongst them Lord de Grey gave Bishop Ward £20 to be laid out in books; Captain Willis of Castletown and R. Quayle, Esq. made valuable presents, and the British and Foreign Bible Society gave a selection of their versions. But the most liberal donor was Bishop Short, who presented a valuable collection of Hebrew books, works of Greek and Latin criticism, the Delphin Classics in 141 volumes, Stephens' Greek Thesaurus, 8 vols. for.; Facciolati's Latin Lexicon, 4 vole. for.; Critici Sacri, 9 vols. for.; works of Johnson, Robertson, Burnet, Clarendon, Strype, Grindal, Whitgift and Parker, &c. Very many of these books formed a part of the library of the late Dr. Ireland, Dean of Westminster, his Lordship's uncle.

Between two and three o'clock of the morning of January 14th, 1844, a fire broke out in the dining-hall of the Principal, in the western wing of the College; its origin has never been discovered. Owing to the circumstance of the entire roof of the building being connected throughout, and two wainscoted and floored corridors running from end to end, the flames spread with fearful rapidity, and in a very short time consumed (with the exception of the greater part of the Vice-Principal's residence) the entire building, tower and chapel. There was a great destruction of property. The library was all but wholly consumed. Most providentially no accident of life or limb occurred, though the inmates of the College numbered nearly 100. The Principal was fully insured, but the College only to the amount of £2000, a very inadequate sum. Bishop Short drew up a circular, asking for pecuniary aid, and heading the subscription-list with £300. The call was handsomely responded to, and £1871 10s. was raised. The cost of re-building amounted to £3791 16s. 4d.

The rebuilding and refitting the College after the fire was undertaken voluntarily and gratuitously by J. Timperley, Esq., Civil Engineer, to whose assiduous attentions, energy and perseverance, the rapid restoration of the building is to be ascribed. Sufficient progress was made to enable the members of the College and their friends to meet for the annual distribution of prizes in the large class-room on the 4th of June of the same year. The College Library has already in part been restored by donations of books from various sources.

The University of Oxford, through the interest of Bishop Short, made a most munificent donation of a choice selection of 344 volumes, printed at the Clarendon press, handsomely bound. Bishop Short has also himself largely contributed to the new library, and has obtained presents from his friends. The Rev. W. P. Ward, son of Bishop Ward, formerly of this diocese, contributed several valuable works. The Parker Society replaced the works published by them which had been burnt, and the British and Foreign Bible Society more than replaced their original gift of selected versions of the Holy Scriptures. The University of Cambridge presented several volumes, printed at the Pitt press. Mrs. Shirley, widow of Bishop Shirley, presented, at Bishop Shirley's request, 63 volumes; being a complete series of the Latin Fathers.

Thomas Street Methodist Day and Sunday School Library

A day and Sunday school were operating from 1834 (a Sunday School had opened considerably earlier); in 1839 a fire in the 'cabinet maker's shop underneath the school house' destroyed the premises and with it the library and records of the early school. [J.E. Douglas History of Thomas Street]

It is possible that the library referred to was the Mechanics Institute as this used the Thomas Street premises as its meeting room and Library.

Mechanics' Institute - founded c.1833

Mechanics' Institutes grew from a series of Saturday evening lectures given by George Birkbeck in Glasgow at the end of the 18th century. These lectures were aimed at the working class who had few chances of self-improvement. By the mid 1830's it is estimated that some 100 Mechanics' Institutes had been established, each of which would have a library. The general users of these would appear to be skilled craftsmen rather than the general working class.

Haining's comment would date the start of this library to 1833. However it apparently got off to a shaky start and collapsed within a few years.

Manx Liberal 23 Feb 1836 noted that it was evident that subscriptions are not sufficient - it was open every Tuesday in the school room Thomas Street ,7 to 8 o'clock in evening; subscription 6s per year paid in advance.

A letter to the Manx Liberal, 3 Spetember 1836, from 'An Artist' after giving a brief history of such Institutes elsewhere and their advantages stated "Some praiseworthy attempts have been lately made to render the Douglas Mechanics' Institute more efficient ..among other means.. appeals..to the generousity of those possessing wealth...but hitherto without any favourable results" The writer also bemoaned the lack of lectures stating that "the library attached to the Institution would complete what the lecturer had begun".

Cannell's Guide of 1843 (dating from 1841 ?) has:

A Mechanics' Institute had been some years established, and was liberally encouraged. The whole library was consumed by fire about eighteen months back; it is rising rapidly, however, out of its own ashes, and is very generously supported by many respectable inhabitants ; the books are selected with much care and judgment, and the working community derive much benefit from it. The subscription is only 6s, per annum.

 Manx Liberal 4 Jan 1845 carries a note under 'IoM Mechanics Library Douglas' that the committee of this excellent, but not much patronised institution, acknowledge the receipt of a donation of £3 from E.M. Gawne, Kentraugh.

IoM Educational Library

In an advertisement in Manx Liberal, 20 Dec 1841, dated 17 Dec 1841 above the name of Colin Pearson, secretary, it is stated that:

At a meeting of Insular Teachers, convened by the Lord Bishop, at Bishop's Court, on Wednesday, the 22d Sept., 1841, - It was Resolved, at the suggestion of the his Lordship, that a Library should be formed, to meet the especial wants of Teachers, and that a committee was appointed to carry this object into effect.

The advertisement goes on to justify the need and to request public support for the establishment of a Library of Educational Works, money would be gratefully received by the secretary at his residence, Mrs Redfern's, Atholl Street.

In an editorial on the 29 October 1846, the Manx Liberal (under the misleading heading 'Isle of Man Subscription Library' was 'glad to learn that an attempt is to be made to revive it'. It also stated that "it was established in 1841, under the patronage of his Excellency the Lieutentant Governor and the Right Rev the Lord Bishop of the Diocese; and was in active operation for some time. It afterwards, however, languished for want of adequate support. A meeting of those interested in its prosperity was held some time ago, and a committee appointed to adopt means by which it may be placed on a permanent and efficient basis. The object in view to establishing this library, is to procure valuable and instructive works, chiefly connected with education, for circulation, at a small annual subscription, among our insular teachers".

The committee demonstated some enterprise for in 1847 it published "A Statistical View of the State of Education in the Isle of Man, furnished by the Teachers to the Committee".

IoM Law Library Castle Rushen

In the 1851 Religious and Educational Census is listed as:

Alfred N Adams secretary
annual subscription £1/1/- with 22 members; 700 volumes.
The aims were to establish and support a Law Library for the use of Practitioners of Law in the Isle of Man. All Judges, members of the Bar and Magistrates may be subscribers. The affairs are managed by the committee.

The IoM Law Society was founded in 1825 (though Thwaites in 1863 gives a date of July 1859 for its incorporation - public limited liabilty companies started in 1862). This library presumably transferred to Douglas , in 1883 the Law Library and Society Hall were situated in Athol Street.

Military Library

Thwaites 1863 directory references a Military Library in Custom House Square kept by Sergeant Lawrence McDonald - it is also shown on the 1868 25" plans of Castletown as occupying a building attached to what is now the Castle Arms ('Gluepot') on the quay.

Public Libraries

On 29 July 1850 the Westminster Parliament passed an enabling act for the establishment of Public Libraries supported by a ½d rate in metropolitan boroughs of above 10,000 population. In fact three such boroughs, Canterbury, Salford and Warrington had already jumped the gun by exploiting an ambiguity in the 1845 act authorising Public Museums to establish combined Museums and Libraries.

Douglas Town Commissioners were established in 1860 (by the Douglas Town Act) and had a major task to bring Douglas up to date in terms of sanitation, roads etc. However they were limited in what they could do and, as is all too typical in Manx affairs, by how much money they could raise. After much heated debate within Tynwald, an amended act was passed in 1864 allowing them to raise town rates and also to borrow money. The 1885 Local Government Act tidied up much of the previous legislation (as well as allowing for Town Commissioners in other Towns) - under sections 220-226 of this Act, Towns were allowed to spend up to a 1d rate on a Museum and Library. The Act assumed a common building for both Museum and Library but inter-town rivalry soon required that the Douglas Town Library be separated from any potential Island Museum. In 1886 Athol Hall was rented to provide both a library and a public reading room - this was the old Independent Chapel buildings in Athol Street.

J.J.Ogle in 'The Free Library", 1898, though obviously based on information dating from a few years earlier, states:


In 1885 the legislature in the Isle of Man passed its first Public Library Act, and in February 1886, in consequence of letters and articles in the papers, on the motion of a member of the Douglas Town Board a plebiscite was taken, and the Act adopted by a majority of nearly two to one. A penny rate was levied, and produced £373. The managers of the Douglas and Isle of Man Savings Bank gave £800 towards the establishment, and donations of books were also received. A commencement was made with 3000 works in a hired room, which served as reading-room and lending and reference library. The library now contains 11,250 volumes, issues 146 works per day for home reading, and 43 for reading on the premises. Nearly 300 visits per day are made to the reading-room. Isle of Man local literature is collected. The local press is very friendly, and the Manx Sun has recently published some really valuable guides to historical reading prepared by the librarian, and unlocking to the general reader the valuable series of books published by the Master of the Rolls [sic ? probably those books published by UK Record Office - an arrangment organised by Gov Walpole]]. The library is growing at the rate of 500 volumes per year. The librarian and his assistant have attended the meetings of local societies to read papers on the books in the public library. The rate now produces £480 per year, and the town council is considering a project for building new municipal buildings and a public library.


Douglas Public LibraryIn 1897 the Library moved from their cramped building to their present home adjacent to the Town Hall (which was completed 1900). The specification of the new library was by the Town's Librarian John Taylor and consists of a galleried ground floor library and reading room with Librarian's offices and a large (but currently underutilised) reference room on the first floor. Much of the need for this reference room was removed by the opening of the Manx National Library (to which the Douglas Free Library's Manx collection was mostly transferred) and especially the new Museum Library Extension in the 1960's.

The original holdings of the library were some 3,000 books (mostly donated) - High Bailiff Samuel Harris and others donated some £1000 to help the library.

Until 1913 the library was closed access, i.e. users had to locate the book in the library catalogue and staff would fetch it. On Taylor's death in 1912 William Cubbon was appointed librarian - one of his first acts was to make the library open access. During WW1 the Manx Labour Bureau transferred to the Library and Cubbon ran this resigning his post as librarian in 1918 - he went to the Manx Museum as its first Librarian in 1922.

The Library has recently [ 2002] moved to new premises - Henry Noble Library in Victoria Street.

Private Libraries

There was a library at Castle Rushen as listed in an inventory of 1653

Library of Vicar Coole of 1658 given in inventory to will.

In the will of John Christian of Lewaigue, 1724, an inventory gives 182 books valued by size - 4s per folio, 2s per quarto and 1s per octavo!

Online Pages:

Isle of Man Charities Liverpool 1831 has a section on the Parochial Libraries.

Other references on my pages are hyperlinked.

Prof. R Alston's Libraries in the British Isles before 1850 gives a directory of all such libraries..

Offline References:


J.J. Ogle The Free Library Its History and Present Condition London: George Allen 1898

R.J.B Morris Parliament and the Public Libraries London: Mansell 1977 (ISBN 0-7201-0554-4)


J. P. Ferguson The Parochial Libraries of Bishop Wilson Douglas:Shearwater Press 1975 (also covers Castletown Academic Library including a 1716 catalogue).

Various catalogues of the Parochial Libraries covering 1723-61 are held by the Manx Museum Library.

Kermotte Stowell A brief Report of the Transactions of the Committee of the Douglas Library, for the last twelve months, including some of the Resolutions passed at the last Annual Meeting. By. Printed by J. Beatson and Co., Douglas. Delivered gratis to the Proprietors. 1812. 12mo. Pp. 17.

A Catalogue of the Books, Pamphlets, etc. etc., comprising the Isle of Man Library, on the first day of January 1832. To which are prefixed the Laws for regulating the same. Douglas : printed for the Proprietors by G. Jefferson. 1832. 12mo. Pp. 40.
(This Catalogue was reprinted in May 1842, with additions made since the former publication.)

G. Kniveton Douglas Centenary 1896-1996 Douglas:Manx Experience 1996 (ISBN 1-873120-21-4)

[john Bowring] Douglas Public Library Centenary 1886-1986 1986

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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001