New Year's Day Lecture 2018

by Curtis Devereau

With the inevitable passing of time, it becomes more and more difficult to truly say that all there is to know about the tangled histories of the transport system of the Isle of Man has been fully revealed.

There are probably reams of information still sealed under military classification from both world wars that will never be made public, still the grand scheme dreamed up in the golden age of tourism and transport that fully needs investigation. Indeed if one thing can be said with certainty it is that we are uncertain of many things.

Whilst rummaging through the transport section of ‘Thie Lioar Veg’ earlier this year, I came across a sheaf of papers which had been rolled up and sealed with sealing wax. These things turn up regularly and usually turn out to be property deeds, but I was intrigued by the seal being intact, and also being of the Foxdale Railway Company; it was worth buying for that alone. The shop manager could not provide any details, having bought it as part of a house clearance from a Mr Dirk Kerruish. I have found a number of references to Mr Kerruish –he is apparently a local builder- but have not been able to make contact with him: I believe he is currently on a cruise and is not answering his phone. Interestingly, a number of other people also seem keen to contact Mr Kerruish: it seems my hobby of railway archaeology (as I like to call it) is more popular than I thought.

Needless to say, a modest sum of money changed hands, and the papers were mine; but an urgent request to help investigate the North London Sewage Railway delayed my own researches somewhat. On returning home, after a long, hot bath I sat down to inspect my recent purchase. The seal was carefully removed and added to my personal museum. The papers initially looked fairly innocuous: an exchange of letters between a Foxdale carpentry business and the railway Company discussing fencing and general joinery took up most of the sheets. It appears that a Mr Ebeneezer Kerruish (a relative of Mr Dirk?) had been using the Railway’s property to store building materials, necessitating the construction of sturdy fencing. A number of letters then discussed the disappearance of materials which had been delivered to the site; a note from the constable of police at Foxdale implicates Mr Kerruish in the ‘removal of timber, and employment of the same in constructing sturdy fencing’ at a farm on South Barrule.

But I digress. To me, the most interesting pages were those that came last: the discussion between a mineral company and the carpenter about the feasibility of constructing ‘a large drop-sided wagon for conveying loads of crushed mineral between the mine at Foxes Dale (sic) and the harbourside at Rams Eye (sic)’. What is striking is that the specification for the wagons requests an item of rolling stock that measures 24’, almost twice that of the ‘standard’ 14’ 6’’ of the H and M wagons. Unusual too is the running gear, for the intention was to use a simplified version of Cleminson’s six-wheel underframe. Whether this was to reduce the axle loading or simply because the Company was conversant with the mechanism is not clear. But what I could not satisfactorily resolve was why the railway company wanted such large and cumbersome goods stock, when the H and M models has already proved their worth.

The answer came with almost the final sheet of paper: pinned to a draft general arrangement drawing was a note explaining that the wagons were to be employed on a ‘private owner’ basis; and the reason for the excessive length was due to the need to fit the signwritten name of the commissioning company onto the side of the wagons: The Penmaenmawr & Trinidad Lake Asphalt Co., Ltd (South Quay) Douglas.

This offshore operation was set up primarily as a tax avoidance scheme by the directors of the above company, again the Kerruish connection may have come into play here. The question must be though, were these wagons ever actually constructed

Now here is where doubt joins forces with reality, for two photographs have recently surfaced that may, or indeed may not, reveal the truth about the wagons. The first certainly portrays a Cleminson type truck assembly, lying abandoned behind the now long demolished goods warehouse at Ramsey. Now whilst this is almost certainly from the same works as the six wheeled carriage fleet, there might be seen to be subtle differences in the dimensions of the timbers used, where they of lighter construction, were all underframe assemblies accounted for, or was this just a case of the Northern trying to save money on repairs by using lighter and cheaper timber? We probably will never know.