[From Manx Soc vol 5, 1860]


Had not Castle Rushen been familiar to every observer, and so often described, I should have given a history of it somewhat in detail; but as my object here is not to dwell on history, but to enlarge archaeological novelty, I shall now only notice a few features of it which have not been adequately observed. This noble structure forms one of the best examples of the keep and fortalice of the middle ages, almost in its original state and in habitable repair, to be found in Great Britain in modern times. the keep, which was the ancient residence of the sovereigns of the Isles in the tenth century, comprises four magnificent towers built three stories high on the four sides of a quadrangle, and of different elevations; the highest being about 80 feet, over the portcullis gate, on the north of the quadrangle, which gate is the only entrance to the inner square of the keep, into which all the doors, and windows, and inner staircases open from the various stoner of the building. The outer windows are narrow casements and comparatively few in number. The walls consist of large blocks of limestone from the neighbouring sea shore, and are twelve feet thick at the base and nearly nine at the summit, which terminates in embrasures that cover the leaden roof. The architraves of several of the inner windows consist of carved freestone, and all the ceilings and passages of various cells are formed by massive pillars of the long stones which are found at Spanish Head, laid close together. Thus the keep comprises a square quadrangle, on the four sides of which rise four towers, in the form of a cross, and contains altogether about thirty-five apartments, including a chapel and banqueting-room on the third story of the northern tower. The first stories of’ three towers are solid, filled with earth and bones, as if they had been vaults of the dead, or by small cells, without any light, and which are entered by descending through the floor of the second stories. The battlemented wall which surrounds this keep all round, at a distance of about fifteen yards, is upwards of fourteen feet in height and nine feet in thickness, with embrasured parapets and a covered way, (which is secured inside by a low wall,) and have three square turrets of one story on them, and on the north one large square outer keep of four rooms over the outer gateway two stories high. The space where the ditch was, is immediately outside the battlements; beyond the ditch is a modern glacis of irregular polyagonal outline, said to have been built by Cardinal Wolsey. Outside the glacis were three circular redoubts, on the land side, about a bow shot distance from each other. The sluice which admitted water into the ditch from the harbour is still visible, built of rubble masonry in the same manner as the glacis. The walls of the north redoubt, which is least ruinous, are nine feet and a half thick, and enclose an area fifteen feet in diameter. It is two stories high, and appears to have been covered in. The notches for the support of the floor of the upper story are very evident. The lowest wall is fifteen feet high, and has a sally-port door towards the har bour, and an entrance that opens into the ditch. The upper story had two doors, one of which leads obliquely through the wall to wards the ditch, the other, which is built up, passed in a very narrow zig-zag manner to the external defences. There is also the relics of a fire-place. The redoubt called "The Old Fort," on the Pollock Rocks, at Douglas, and used as a jail, was of similar construction.

In 1644 there was built on the rampart wall and keep on the eastern side, a house for the accommodation of the Lieutenant-Governor. This building appears to have been an addition to the tower of four rooms over the outer gate on the north, and opposite to the inner portcullis of the keep, and is now occupied as offices by the Clerk of the Rolls and by other Courts of Government. There are vaults beneath this tower underground and contiguous to the harbour, which in early times may have given rise to those fabulous accounts of passages underground between Castle Rushen and the Monastery at Ballasalla, two miles distant up the river, which from the nature of the level and the drainage of the land between them were impossible.

The grand keep had fallen into ruins after the revestment in 1765, and was without a roof till 1815, when Capt. Holloway was sent down by the Government, soon after the conclusion of the long war, to repair it thoroughly as a common prison, as well as to form batteries of two guns at Peel Castle and Douglas Head. Upon breaking through the base of the east wall of the quadrangle, immediately north of the high square tower on that side, in order to make a sewerage for the building, Capt. Holloway, in 1816, laid open a gateway which had been built up, and which had been most probably the gate of the quadrangle, opening on the harbour, before the four towers had been raised and the portcullis formed on the north side. On the masonry being cleared away, the old gate was fiund to be a beautiful low pilastered arch of the early Saxon period; and in a morticed recess on one side of the arch, a beam of oak fourteen feet long by sixteen inches square, was found, with a date cut upon it of 947 in Arabic characters, and which, doubtless, was the barrier used to secure the gate, according to the fashion of the period. During the operation, the architect found that the keep com prised two distinct kinds of masonry, — the materials of the one exceedingly hard and difficult to cut through; the other, though more regular and beautiful, easily penetrated, — the quadrangular enclosure being the former, and the high towers the latter. Any one who will examine the masonry externally will see two sorts of architecture displayed. The first story is a hard rubble wall of limestone, to the height of the solid portions of the towers, whilst the upper portions of the building consist of large square blocks of the same stone.* It would therefore appear that Castle Rushen has been built at two different times, that the original had been a large quadrangular enclosure, entered seaward by a low Saxon pointed arch, and flanked on the four sides by solid towers; wherea.s the gate of the lofty keep of four stories on the north front is a high porteullis of the Norman period, which in fact coincides with the two kinds of architecture found, and with the traditions that Castle Rushen was built by Guttred, of the Orry race, and also by Godred Cronan, or one of his immediate successors on their settling in the southern parts of the Island after the conquest.

The oaken barrier was in excellent preservation, dry and crusted over white with lime, I have often seen the inscription, and a representation of it was published in Part 2, Vol. 11., of the Transactions of Scottish Antiquaries, and the inscription part is now in the possession of His Grace the Duke of Atholl; the rest having been cut up and constructed into a variety of boxes and writing desks, by the lovers of antiquity, one of which is now in my possession. The engineer informed me that rollers of metal were found under it, upon which it must have been drawn out and in. The cavity in the wall also, from which the portcullis was let down, had not been filled up like the gateway, and is now converted into a flue for carrying away the foul air from the sewer and the lower apartments. Notwithstanding these facts, the great antiquity of this oaken beam with inscription, naturally leads many to be sceptical in believing it genuine. The conjectures offered in reference to the causes that led to its being deposited in the place it was found in are two, viz., first, that it had formed the barrier of an ancient gateway, and had, for some reason, not been taken away when the opening was built up, at the time when the entrance was changed; second, that it was laid there at the first building of the walls, for the same reason as coins are deposited in the foundation stones of public buildings in modern times. Others deny its alleged antiquity altogether, on the grounds that the inscription is merely the number of a log of timber, and that its Arabic numerals were not known or in use at so early a period. It is therefore, perhaps, necessary to make an attempt to remove ill-grounded objections. If it is kept in view that a portcullis and the metallic rollers were discovered in the same arch within the barrier, little doubt can remain of its having been a part of the machinery of the gate of that arch, and other facts corroborate this. The present main gate of the keep is on the north front, and at first sight appears to have been the original entrance; but an attentive examination of the masonry will show that it was built at two different periods at least, as has been already remarked. The first or ground story, for twenty feet and some inches, is thicker than the superincumbent towers, and is a rubble work of uncommonly hard materials, whereas the towers are built of large square blocks of limestone for three stories, and only of ordinary hardness. In this manner two kinds of walls, and in all probability two dates, are evident. The towers on the east, south, and west sides are solid twenty feet; and it was found, on breaking into the southern tower, that the filling up consisted of earth, embedding human bones, most probably from having been used as a burying tumulus. The north tower, through which the portcullis passes, is not solid on the ground floor, and projects less from the quadrangle than the other three, which are also upwards of one story lower in elevation. The ramparts, but not the glacis, are of the same age as the upper stories of the keep, whereas none of the outworks correspond in architecture to the ground story. Most of these facts were particularly observed and examined by the architect who conducted the reparation of the Castle in 1815-16, and formed quite sufficient grounds for the inference that it was originally of a much simpler form than at present. That its original walls were not more than twenty feet high, and its Saxon gateway was on the eastern front, and opened directly on the harbour, and the oaken barrier with its subscription was part of that gate and was left in its recess when the fortification assumed its present more modern form. In fine, these solid square towers are only an improvement on the fortified hills described above, and not unlike the early strongholds of the Britons and the Saxons, the first stories of many of which, it is well known, were solid.

The keep and inner battlemented walls, but not the glacis, had attained their present form before the House of Derby became sovereigns of the Island, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, most probably before the Scottish annexation in 1265, soon after which it underwent a seige, conducted by King Robert Bruce in person. With this amount of antiquity, therefore, and allowing that it must have been built at two different times, the primitive existence of the building is carried back sufficiently far to warrant a belief of the date 947 being genuine. With reference to the Arabic characters not having been known in such a remote place as this, it is only necessary to recur to the fact that they were known in Spain two centuries before 947, and that the Isle of Man had, in the darkest ages, intercourse with the East and the Mediterranean Sea. If it is allowed me to give some explanation of that part of the inscription which reads would take the E. C. to be the initials of the words Edificalum Caslturn, and look upon the intervening character as some masonic or emblematic design in use by those bands of architects who migrated from one country to another in the middle ages, constructing feudal castles like that of IRushen. The date 947 is distinct beyond dispute, and from what has been said, ought, I think, to be considered authentic. It is the only date of great antiquity extant in the Island, and, if taken in conjunction with the circumstances attending its discovery, must be of considerable importance in throwing light upon the original era of other ancient buildings and earthworks in the Island, an account of some of which follow. [This is of course incorrect — the mark was in all probability some mason's mark]

In the immediate vicinity of the Parish Church of Braddan, large ruins of earthworks for defensive operations are very distinct. In March, 1860, I ascertained by attentive observation that the mounds of earth seen in the old wood on the right of the road leading from the highroad to Peel, past the western end of the churchyard, to Kirby House, are not merely old sod fences undeserving of attention, but the remains of a camp, fortified in the dark ages. An account to this effect was published in a weekly periodical, the Manx Sun, of 20th March, 1860. The principal remains of this camp is an irregular line of wall, about 70 yards in length, opposite the churchyard, vhich turns at both ends southward at sharp angles, so as to surround Kirk Braddan and its burial yard; the western or outside front of this wall is faced with tall stones from four to six feet high, set on end close together, so as to form a parapet throughout the whole 70 yards which protects a covered way behind it, fourteen feet wide and two or three feet high above the area enclosed on the east. Outside of this redoubt, on the west, there are the remains of a wide ditch, in which there is a run of water; and at the western end, the wall is continued southward till it is biscected by the highroad,south of which it has been almost obliterated by the levelling and fencing of the burial yard and of Kirby Grounds, but traces of it can be followed on the east of tho church. If we consider the time those works were thrown up and the waste of ages that must have taken place since, these ruins are remarkably distinct, and it must have been an enclosure calculated to afford a very formidable protection. On the declivity westward of the camp, traces of numerous ruined foundations and immense stones present themselves throughout the wood, and in the field beyond there is a spring of water called the Chibber Niglus, about 100 yards from the wood, which gives name to the field; also the remains of a carnaen close to the boundary, comprising some erect stones, and an immense one recumbent, measuring 7 feet 6 inches long by about 4 feet broad, and having on its upper flat surface a peculiar looking excavation or trough, upwards of 2 feet long and 18 inches wide. Can this have been what is usually called a sacrificial stone ? — (See Plate vii, fig. 1.) The whole of these remains extend over a space of about ten acres of ground or more. Can this have been an ancient British town, with its fortified broogh, on the river Dhoo, or is it Scandinavian? The Norwegian Sagas inform us that Magnus Barefoot (Nudipes) constructed three strongholds in Man, but he was killed during an invasion of Ireland which he conducted, before he had time to finish them, (1098.) Can this be one of the strongholds of Magnus? My friend Dr. Oliver is of opinion that it is the remains of an ancient British town or station, and very similar in many respects to Abury.

The castles of Rushen and Peel are the two feudal fortresses of the Island, in the middle ages; Bishop's Court, about forty years ago, more more the aspect of a place of military strength than it does now, the ditches and mounds of earth about it having been levelled, and a portion of its massive walls — of great hardness and strength — having been removed by Bishop Murray, when he repaired and modernized the building in some degree. These immensely thick walls must have belonged to a tower of the ancient palace, which Robertson in his Tour informs us was demolished by Bishop Criggan, about 1780. I can find no record of the building of the primitive palace, but may remark that Jocelinus says that the bishopric was founded in 447, and that the masonry of the walls pulled down much resembles that of the primitive portion of Castle Rushen. The number of barrows found round Bishop's Court are so many proofs of the ancient importance of this locality, and has a tendency to confirm the remarks on this subject that I have ventured to suggest.

There is a large barrow in the grounds of Bishop's Court, near the foot of the glen, which is only notable as having been the elevation from which the Bishop watched the naval engagement off Jurby, between Elliott and Thurot, in 1760, but it appears to me to connect this site with the age of hillocks.

The earthwork at Ballachurry, in the parish of Andreas, deserves a place in an enumeration of the defences of the Island. This noble camp is almost quite entire, owing to its solidity. It is a rectangle enclosing a space of 50 yards in length, by 40 yards in breadth. The walls of earth are six yards thick, with four noble bastions at the four corners, all of which are surrounded by a wet fosse of equally ample dimensions.2 Although its appearance is so regular and modern, it is of an unknown antiquity, nor have I been able learn of any tradition respecting it. It appears to me to have been a stronghold for the north division of the Island, such as Castle Rushen was for the south, at the time when the attitude of these two divisions was hostile to each other, of which fact there are several instances recorded in the Norwegian history of the Island. [partially completed, civil war, stronghold built by Earl James, believed to be 'Loyal Fort']

Of the rounds camps that are usually considered Danish or ancient British, there are two specimens in the Island of considerable dimensions. One situated close to the town of Ramsey, on the high brooghs that border the Bay, at the estuary of Ballure Glen; the other near St. Mark's Chapel, at the southern base of Slien-ny-Clogh, in the valley where Silverburn takes its rise. The field in which the latter camp stands is called the Claare-our; it was levelled about the year 1820, but its site may still be traced. Around it lay many granite boulders, one of which was flat and of vast size, impressed with marks or hollows which tradition said were the marks of the hand of a giant, who cast it to this place from the top of South Barrool, where there is the large enclosure formerly described. The camp near Ramsey was entire 40 years ago, but it has been disappearing for many years from the brooghs on which it stands being carried away gradually by the sea. These two were as similar to each other as if they had been constructed in the same age and after the same fashion; the circular redoubts of both being high and strong, and enclosed by a ditch. No probable tradition is entertained respecting either of them, but doubtless that at Ramsey was a station during those fierce battles that were fought in the immediate neighbourhood, in the early part of the Norwegian era, between the Manx and their invaders.

From several ancient authors we know that the Romans were not ignorant of the Isle of Man, but many question whether they ever formed a station here. The remains of them are certainly not numerous, but I think they are worthy of notice, as evidence of their having formed settlements of some duration.

Bishop Wilson is the first author who described the altar "lovi Aug." at Castle Rushen, which is undoubtedly Roman; but as he did not believe that that interesting people ever made Castletown a station, he suggests that this altar was in all probability brought from Cumberland, for what reason he does not inform us, but probably it was because similar to others found there and published in Camden. In Vol. ii., Part 2, of the Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries, an exact drawing of this altar, and the inscription on it, taken under my own super- intendance, was published with an account of it. From the inscription it appears that the altar had been erected to Jupiter by Marcus Censorius, son of Marcus Flavius Voltinius, of the Augustensian legion, prefect of the Tungrian cohort of the pro vince of Narbonne. Since Bishop Wilson's time many writers have noticed this stone, to which I beg leave to refer.3 When the above account was published a deposit of three copper coins in the Market Parade, at Castletown, had not been dug up by the workmen employed by Mr. Brine, the architect for the re-building of the present Government Chapel of St. Mary's, in 1826. These coins were found deposited a few yards from the north side of the chapel, in a square hollow scooped out of a small block of free-stone, exactly of the same kind as that of which the altar is formed. The cavity was covered by a flat stone, and there can be little doubt that it had formed the foundation stone of that Roman altar which had lain so long in the House of Keys and in the fosse of Castle Rushen, and described by Bishop Wilson, although its having stood in the Market-place had never been recorded.4

Speaking of the parish of Santon, Feltham, atp. 259, says, — "An old stone with some characters similar to Roman capitals thereon was dug up in the churchyard at a very great depth, and is preserved by the Vicar." A representation of this stone is given in my communication to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries. For several years back this stone has disappeared from the neighbourhood of the vicarage.5

The old fort at Douglas, situated at the Pollock rocks, was considered by Colonel Towuley to be Roman. He came to this conclusion from a comparison of its architecture and plan, with those of other ruins which were acknowledged to be Roman. It was pulled down in 1816, about the time when Major Holloway repaired Castle Rushen and constructed batteries on Douglas Head and at Peel Castle.

1 Within the memory of individuals, traces of a gangway were shown near Scarlet point, which was said to have extended all the way to the summit of the Castle Rushen (about a mile) at the time it was erected, whereby the large blocks of stone and other materials were carried up, instead of raising them by crank and windlass.

* Colonel Towuley thinks it not older than Charles I. This conjecture he grounds on having seen several similar to this formed during the civil war; he therefore thinks it was formed when the troops of the Lord Protector Cromwell were in the Island ; — if so, why is it so complely forgotten? In the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, the Roman General, Ostorius Scapula invaded Galloway, and the Queen of Carrick, Vcadicia, raised a powerful army of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man and Gallovidians, who had taken refuge there. This camp is situated in the parish of Audreas, nearly opposite to Galloway, where a Roman camp was discovered by Train, in 1820.

3 From my own observation there can be little doubt that the inscription on this stone has undergone mutilation, which mystifies the reading of it.

4 When the heathen temple of Rushen was overthrown, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected on its site — Hollinshead's Chronicles of Scotland, Vol. i. p. 130. — The foundation stone of the Roman temple remained undisturhed, nor was it till the foundation of the second Christian Church, erected on the site of St. Mary's in 1698, was cleared away in 1826, for the erection of a third on the same spot, that it was discovered with its deposit of Roman coins, evidently placed there by Roman hands. — Train, p. 65.

5 Some families in the Island entertain a tradition that they are descended from our heathen lawgiver Mannanan Mac.ee-Lheir and the Romans.


Few things are more characteristic of the civilization of a country than the roads which have been constructed for the con venience of the inhabitants, and for military and commercial intercourse. Many of the old roads of the Island are still in use as footpaths, for the Manx have an objection to give up any road established of old. Few or none of the modern highways were made till the middle of the last century, therefore all the lines of old road are well remembered. The principal of them skirt the sea coast in nearly a straight direct course, like the Roman roads in England, over hill and valley, irrespective of steepness or of the defiles of the country; on the contrary, preferring to traverse the elevated ridges, and to open up the interior of the country conveniently from the leading lines of road. Excepting where they cross the mountain commons, these roads are all carefully enclosed on both sides by high earthern dykes. For the most part they do not exceed 12 or 18 feet in width, but open out occasionally to much wider spaces, as if it were into areas where a halt in travelling might be made. Hence they appear to modern ideas impracticable to wheeled carriages of any sort, and only fit for horses and pack-saddles. Besides their almost impracticable steepness (such as at Laxey Hill), they are scooped out into hollows, in many parts like ditches, which are obstructed by boulder stones of all sorts laying loose in water-worn currents. Many of them are known by special names and designations. Thus the old road from the North to the South district, by Bishop's Court, through the parishes of Michael and German along the ridges of hills near the sea-shore, eastwards of Peel, is denominated "Ugh tagh Breesh my chree," "O the steep that breaks my heart." From St. John's this road passes over South Barrool, by ascending directly the south flank ot Slien whallin, instead of following the course of the valleys and streams. It is remarkable that the majority of old keeils and fortified brooghs are near these old roads. That from Ramsey to Castletown runs twenty-five miles in as direct a course as the crow would fly. They usually crossed rivers and ravines by steep and difficult fordings.

I know of six bridges only in the Island possessed of any antiquity: That over the Castletown River, about 200 yards above the Abbey, is said to be of great age; it is a very narrow one, four feet wide, with parapet and two circular arches. It is delineated by Mr. Robertson in his Tour. That over the River Neb, in Glenfaba; that over the Sulby river, near Ramsey; that at Ballure; and that at Laxey; all were old and narrow bridges, but have been widened within the last fifty years. The old bridge at Douglas was also narrow, and was pulled down when the present one was constructed.

If to these facts we take into consideration the accounts of Mona given by Caesar and Tacitus, the histories of the invasion of Anglesey by Suetonius, and of the campaign of Ostorius Scapula in Galloway, little doubt will remain on the mind of the Romans having been in Man for a considerable period, and that they, as well as the Plannicians and Druids, had an influence upon the civilization, the form of government, and the customary usages of its primitive inhabitants, which have come down to us; — a study of which I intend to make the subject of the concluding chapter of this dissertation.




1 The Manx believe that the Orrys first established themselves in Dalby.


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