The earliest reference to a footpath the writer has been able to find in the Manx Newspapers index in the Manx Museum is from The Manx Advertiser, and dates from the edition of 30th September, 1834. The index card in the Manx Museum Library states simply: ‘The construction of a footpath from Athol Street to Kirk Braddan church is now in progress.’ This footpath was probably along Peel Road to Quarterbridge and thence to Braddan Bridge. Alternatively, as Braddan Bridge had been destroyed by floods in 1805, it may have been along Peel Road and then via Ballaughton and Saddle Road. However, an examination of some of the microfilmed newspapers of 1810 threw up a reference to a footpath through the Nunnery to Pulrose in August of that year.
The Nunnery Footpath
The Nunnery footpath itself became a problem to the owners of The Nunnery in the 1830s/1840s when walkers were redirected around to the new western driveway. However by the 1870s, when the numbers of tourists to the Island surpassed the 100,000 per annum mark, most of whom stayed in Douglas, the main problems would have been firstly the sheer amount of pedestrian traffic using the route on Sundays in order to get to Kirk Braddan (the nearest church), and secondly, the promenaders who walked that way on fine summer evenings, and no doubt created a lot of noise.
A Right of Way?
The second reason why a dispute occurred was that the public insisted that there was a right of way through the estate. This ultimately lead to threats of legal action. As a modern day researcher one of the problems trying to understand what the Nunnery footpath was at various times in the past is the conflicting descriptions of the footpath as a road, a path (between twelve and fourteen feet wide), a roadway, a public road, a public footpath and so on. There is no evidence to suggest that it was ever officially adopted by the Highway Board, and the Railway Company did not install gates at the level crossing, so it was probably at this time a private road with a public right of way along it. Some confusion arises from the first part of it being a ‘carriage drive’ to the old Mansion House until the 1820s, after which it was presumably extended around to the new Mansion House further back. Horse-drawn carriages would therefore have been a familiar sight on this stretch of the footpath. The fact that the Railway Company created a level-crossing is however evidence that the footpath was in fact a road through to Pulrose, as is Mr Moore’s protest of 1891 where he is reported to have driven a cart of manure along the route. The opinion of the Attorney-General that came out of the threatened legal action in 1886 does not particularly clarify the situation as that too uses a variety of terms without clear definitions.
The insular newspapers between 1885 and 1894, particularly the Isle of Man Examiner, carried a number of stories regarding the escalating dispute between Sir John Senhouse Goldie-Taubman, Speaker of the House of Keys, proprietor of The Nunnery; and the then recently formed Douglas Ratepayers Association. By 1891 the agitators were titled ‘the Nunnery Footpath Preservation Committee’, and shortly afterwards the Douglas Town Commissioners became involved. Trying hard to stay out of it was the Highway Board.
The answers given by the Attorney-General do not absolutely clarify matters as he stated at the outset that ‘I presume from what is stated within and from what was said to me in the conference which I had with Tho. Keig & others that the path or road referred to is a public road or highway. A public footway is a highway…’. Major Goldie-Taubman probably did not agree with the description of The Nunnery Footpath as a ‘public road’ or a ‘highway’, but the term ‘public footway’ is an unusual one, and presumably meant that if a public right of way existed, whether it was on a road or a footpath, it was in the Attorney-General’s opinion a highway. Therefore the Highway Act was the correct governing legislation.
Two Deaths and Three Songs
The opinions given by the Attorney-General must have been seen as a victory by the Douglas Ratepayers Association, and in particular George Preston. Preston was a long-term champion of the Nunnery Footpath and in a ‘Memorial Notice’ published in the Manx Quarterly it was remarked that:
Mr Preston had strong political and social convictions. He held progressive views, and was a fearless and able supporter of public rights of way, when these were threatened. In this latter connection, he first came into prominence about thirty years ago. The footpath through the Nunnery was diverted by the late Sir John Goldie-Taubman and in consequence of this diversion there was much perturbation among the people of Douglas. An agitation, at the head of which was Mr Preston, was initiated for the restoration of the old footpath, and for some time relations between the public and Sir John were considerably strained. Mr Preston fought indefatigably and courageously for the people, and eventually an amicable settlement of the dispute was arrived at – a settlement to which Mr Preston’s patriotic action mainly contributed. He also endeavoured, this time unsuccessfully, to establish a public right to recreation on land near Derbyhaven; and later on, he led the demonstration which had as a result the summary destruction of certain erections which were regarded as interfering with public rights of way on Pulrose farm…
The reference to Pulrose farm is of interest as that is the part of the ‘Nunnery Footpath’ between the Nunnery Grounds and Ballaughton, immediately beyond Major Taubman’s ‘Nunnery Grounds’.
John S. Goldie-Taubman died in 1898, some 12 years before George Preston, and it would appear that this brought an end to the dispute. Neither party got exactly what they wanted. Goldie-Taubman had to allow the public to use the footpath, and it would appear that the public eventually preferred going under the railway bridge, rather than climbing the slope to cross the unfenced level-crossing, although there were exceptions when the river levels were high, or the area particularly muddy. The Douglas Ratepayers Association and others got the footpath preserved, but Goldie-Taubman built a tall stone wall immediately adjacent to it which severely restricted the view of The Nunnery and its gardens, and made the path dark and damp. A lower wooden fence was erected on the north side. Goldie-Taubman even went to the trouble of building two ‘fly-over’ footbridges, so that his family and staff did not have to walk across the footpath to get from the main part of the Estate, to the now separated eastern part.
What is perhaps most difficult to perceive in the modern era is just how important a footpath could be for an urban population to reach its chosen place of worship. Attendance at church or chapel was just about compulsory in the society of the time, and a popular walk for the tourists could even become the subject of a music hall song, as was discovered in a song pamphlet in the archives of the Manx Museum which boasted:
INCLUDING THE MOST POPULAR COMIC SONG EVER SUNG IN THE ISLE OF MAN, ENTITLED
“The Nunnery Footpath”
The song-sheet is not dated, but the references to Mr George Preston would date it to between 1886 and 1895, whilst the reference to the existence of a wall by the footpath, the exact date of building of which is not known, would probably date it to the height of the dispute between 1885 and 1886. If the songs were really sung ‘with the greatest success’ in the music halls of the mid 1880s then it would suggest that the Nunnery Footpath was well known to a large section of the audience, an audience presumably comprising mainly visitors to the Island.
Music Hall Songs concerning ‘The Nunnery Footpath’
Manx Museum Reference: Au11157/J48.
Description: Pamphlet – “Book of Songs”
Dated: no date (c.1886?)
Written and sung by: Robinson, George
Published by: Cowin, W.H., 27, Strand-st., Douglas.
BOOK OF SONGS
WRITTEN, COMPOSED, AND SUNG, BY
INCLUDING THE MOST POPULAR COMIC SONG EVER SUNG IN
THE ISLE OF MAN, ENTITLED
“The Nunnery Footpath”
This Song must not be sung without the permission of G. Robinson
+ SONGS +
The Kewaigue Guards
Written, Composed, and Sung by with enormous success by G. ROBINSON
Next week we’re going to make a charge
Upon the Nunnery Grounds;
And pull that wall down, high and large,
With which the place abounds;
George Preston’s going to take command
And lead us to the strife,
And sooner than he’d run away
He’d stand and lose his life.
The Nunnery Footpath
Written and Sung with the Greatest Success by GEORGE ROBINSON
INSIDE a great big mansion,
Just outside Douglas town;
In this place I’m going to mention
There lives a great big clown.
A Footpath and a title
Is all he calls his own
And he’ll ask you every evening
To leave that path alone.
Chorus-On Sunday night its our delight
To stroll with Mary Jane,
Along the favourite Nunnery Grounds
And down a Country Lane;
There’s a footpath through the Garden
In which we stroll alone,
But this party is trying to shut it up,
Although its not his own.
You can walk around old Kirk Braddan,
At the closing of the day,
And see the lads and lassies, all
Slowly wend their way;
They’ve walked back through the pathway,
For many and many a day;
Now he wants to try and shut it up,
And send them on their way. Chorus.
Now I think that if his title
Has been won by deeds like that,
In the very next big battle
He should be shot down flat,
For a man that will rob his townsmen
Of their favourite little stroll.
I think it very nearly time
That his bell began to stroll. Chorus,
The Man that Broke his Heart through Ramsey Palace
Parody on “The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”
Written by G. ROBINSON
I’ve just got here to Douglas through the dirty Nunnery Grounds,
I to Ramsey town was sent, just to earn my winter’s rent.
Dame misfortune smiled on me as she’d always done before,
Aud I’m now without a single blooming cent.
Chorus-And as I walk along the Douglas Prom
With my arms and feet all bare,
You’ll hear the police declare
He’s not a millionaire
You can hear them sigh, and wish to die,
You can very nearly see them cry,
At the man who broke his heart through Ramsey Palace.
 Isle of Man Examiner, 4th April 1891.
 Preston was a ‘land reformer’, who was present at the second annual conference of debating societies and mutual improvement societies held in Douglas in April 1895. Fyson (2000)