Patronized by the Queen and the Nobility of England: A short history of the Sulby Glen Starch Works.

Sulby Starch Works c2010.

Sulby Starch Works c.2010.

A query of the Manx Nostalgia Facebook group reminded me about some notes I took (and some photographs which I have mislaid) about the old Starch Works in Sulby. As a result I thought it an appropriate to write up that research in this blog post. I hope people find it interesting and if anyone has any photographs, similar notes then please email Manx Research or post a comment at the bottom.

Tracing the early origins of the Sulby Starch Works is difficult. It has often been supposed that a mill, of some description, was located in the area of the starch mill since the medieval period but there is little physical evidence of this building. This building was probably part of the monastic estate of Myerscogh, initially granted to Rievaulx Abbey (Yorkshire) and shortly afterward transferred to Rushen Abbey. The lands of this monastic community, managed from the ‘the Grangee’ farm (SC 39386 94094), are plotted in the thirteenth-century manuscript the Chronica Regum Manniæ et Insularum (the Chronicle of Mann and the Isles), but there is no mention of the mill itself. Certainly references to mills in the Sulby area become more frequent in the later medieval and post-medieval periods, but these references are rarely detailed and notoriously difficult to place in the landscape.

The first definitive reference to a mill at Ballacuberagh comes in 1808, when James Brew (from Kella, Lezayre) bequeathed the “mill houses, buildings and lands to the same belonging in and about Balla Cubbenagh” to his son Thomas Brew [1]. The exact function of the mill remains unclear at this time, but as James also left a second “Bleach Mill buildings and edifices” at Ballamanagh to his son, one can suppose that the mill in Sulby Glen performed a similar function. Thomas seems to have run, or at least part-owned, the mill for over a decade, before putting it up for sale in 1822. An advert in the Rising Sun notified that:

On Wednesday, the 13th of February, next. The whole right, title, and interest of Thomas Brew, of Lezayre, to those premises of houses and lands, situate in Ballacuberagh, in the Parish of Lezayre; being the two-thirds of a flax mill, the best on the north side of the island; a tuck mill, dye house, a good dwelling house, and out offices; a large tract of good arable and pasture land; together with the one-eighth part of an extensive park, called Carrin.[2]

Such flax mills had begun to appear in the island from the late eighteenth-century as a consequence of the local demand for linen, but significant quantities were also exported. Although unnamed this mill is probably one of the two flax mills listed by Feltham in the 1790s.

Who purchased the mill following Brew’s sale in 1822 is unknown, but by 1831 the mill, and associated buildings, were being leased by Thomas Charles Southward (1796-1871) who used the mill to make woollen cloth. Thomas was the founder of what would later become the Sulby Glen Woollen Mills, a family company that continued to make cloth until it was sold in 1924, and finally closed following the flood of September 1930. Thomas’ initial success at Ballacuberagh led him to expand his operation through the construction of a second mill further down the valley (1834). Seemingly Thomas continued to lease the mill and buildings at Ballacuberagh as a notice of sale in 1844 lists both him and Charles Caine as tenants. The notice of sale within the local newspaper, which included the brewery and other houses in Sulby, reported:

…Also to be sold. That property known as ‘Ballacupragh,’ [sic Ballacubragh] situated in Sulby Glen, consisting of about 25 acres of arable and pasture land, together with certain carding and other mills, dye-houses, and two dwelling houses, being abundantly supplied with water, now the occupation of Chas. Cain and Thos. Southward. The above properties will be sold together or separately…[3]

The sale must have been difficult as adverts continued to be placed in the local press throughout spring and summer, following which the property was listed for auction.

Good opportunity of investment. To be sold by public auction, on the premises, Ballacuberagh, Sulby Glen, near Ramsey, on Wednesday, the 14th August, – A dye house, tuck mill, flax mill, carding mill; two dwelling houses & out oficers, with garden and orchard attached, and about twenty-five acres of arable and pasture land, at present in the holding of Charles Cain, Dyer, and Thomas Southward, Manufacturer. The mills are well supplied with water…[4]

Following the sale, Cain and Southward were evicted, and within two years the buyers were reported as having converting the buildings, erected new ones and begun the operation of what became the Sulby Glen Starch Works. The Manx Sun reported:

A company from Manchester have erected commodious buildings at Sulby Glen for the manufacture of starch. They commenced operations last week, and even in the present incomplete state of the buildings, can manufacture thirty tons of potatoes in twenty-four hours. The buildings, when finished, will be about three times as extensive as at present. It is expected that when these mills are complete, the northern farmers need not export many of their potatoes. The home demand will, it is expected, be equal to the supply.[5]

The company, a partnership between Thomas Stott and Nathaniel Lloyd, was certainly ‘Nathaniel Lloyd & Co.’, which appeared in Slater’s Commercial Directory (1846) [6]. For four years the company continued, but a fire at the mill in 1850 marked a setback to the business. Fortunately the proprietors were insured and were able to make good the damage. Despite this shortly afterward (December 1850) the partnership between Stott and Lloyd was legally dissolved [7]. Stott retained the Sulby Mill, setting up his own company ‘Stott & Co., Isle of Man’. The census (1851) shows Thomas living at the factory and working as a starch manufacturer, employing 18 workers. Alongside Stott (and his young family) workers in the mill included other migrants workers from northern England, including Robert, his older brother. Around this same time Thomas (and Mary) invested personal capital in the business. A ‘conditional bond and security’ through the Bank of Mona, a subsidiary of the City of Glasgow Bank, shows that they mortgaged a property at Cooillbane House (Sulby) (July 1852) [8]. The money seems to have been used to expand the business as around the same time the company purchased, or at least leased, warehouses in Watling Street (Manchester) from where it distributed its products throughout northern England.


Mona’s Herald, 19 October 1853, pp. 2, col. c. Copyright: Manx National Heritage.

The investment seems to have worked as within a relatively short period the company could count the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, amongst one of its customers [9]. The Mona’s Herald could report that:

It must be a satisfactory fact to those who have made the good of Mona and her prosperity at heart, to know that Sulby Glen Starch is becoming a popular article of use in England, and bids fair to be a successful rival to the far-famed ‘Glenfield Starch.’ About five tons weekly are just now required for British consumption, a large proportion of which is made up in exceedingly neat packages of from one ounce and upwards [10].

A sentiment reiterated the following week, when the Manx Sun observed,

Sulby Glen Starch – This popular article bids as fair to make the Island generally known as any other medium, as the spirited proprietors have established agents in every town of important in Great Britain. They are about, we understand, to erect extensive warehouses in Ramsey for the employment of the poorer classes in packing, &c., as at the works sufficient hands cannot be obtained. The inhabitants of the Island should certainly patronise their home manufactures [11].

Around this time Stott also began producing his own patented “Sulby Glen Starch prepared from Sago” [12]. When the patent was filed is unknown, but it suggests that the company was diversifying it efforts. Whether this new starch was actually produced in the island is unknown, certainly it was the relative accessibility of water power and potatoes that attracted the business to Sulby in the first instance, but the location must have become something of a drawback when the importation of sago and transportation to the factory was added on. Around the same time the starch industry more generally seems to have been going through something a crisis. Stott and Co. and, the more famous, Hall’s Starch were amongst many who produced adverts in the English press promoting the uniqueness and quality of their products, such were the efforts of the ‘fakers’ that these adverts even described the packaging their products came in [13].

At some point Stott seems to have gone into partnership with George Hall who took over responsibility for the management of the Sulby works. Certainly both are listed in the court case surrounding the embezzlement of funds by George Purdue, a traveller and collector of accounts who worked for the company for two years in England [14]. Perhaps as a consequence of this, or for other reasons, the business arrangement between Stott and Hall was dissolved shortly afterwards [15]. By this point Stott seems to have been living in Manchester, where he was running the distribution side of the business from offices in Greenwood Street [16]. Hall seems to have continued the business as Leech’s Guide and Directory of the Isle of Man reported:

Near the entrance are the Sulby glen starch works, conducted by George Hall, Esq. where various preparations of starch are manufactured of a very pure quality, and command an extensive sale in England. The employment afforded by this establishment is very beneficial to the working population of the neighbourhood [17].

The 1861 census shows that Hall had moved into Cooilbane House, where he lived with his wife, daughter and niece [18]. The census records that Hall was a ‘farmer of 9 acreas, Manufacturer of Starch’. The flooding of the Sulby River in 1862 certainly damaged ‘Captain Hall’s Starch Works, along with Southward’s Dying and Carding Mills [19]. Gauging the full impact of the flood is difficult, but within three years George Hall had decided to sell the business and leave the island [20].

While the succeeding owner remains unclear, we can definitively state that the 1871 census reports that the Starch Mills were managed by Horatio Webb [21].

These mills are rapidly increasing in size, and the commodities manufactured there in popularity. The increase in the starch trade has lately been very considerable, under the able management of Mr Webb, who has, however, been removed to London, to take charge of the wholesale depot there, the large increase having rendered the presence of an experienced person absolutely necessary at the London house. We have seen samples of the Corn Flour manufactured at the mills, which we think rivals the famous ‘Brown and Polson’s’ [22].


Huddersfield Chronicle, 29 July 1871, pp. 1, col. e

By this time, and perhaps even earlier, the works were no longer manufacturing starch, but were producing corn flour and other products. An advert in the Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Adviser showed that the Sulby Glen Starch Co. manufactured, “prepared corn flour. Unequalled for purity, and delicious for puddings, custards, infants and invalids food, &c.” [23]. The business certainly continued to develop as the Manx Sun reported:

We are glad to hear that the business at the Sulby Starch Works (one of the few home staples of industry apart from agriculture) is largely on the increase, as shown by the weekly shipments from Ramsey. On Saturday some 20 tons were shipped in the Mona’s Isle [24].

Despite these successes by 1874, Kellow Lucas, who one supposed must have been a partner or investor in the ‘Sulby Glen Starch Company’, business was suing for bankruptcy.

The Bankruptcy Act, 1872. In the Deemster’s Court holden at Ramsey. In the matter of proceedings for liquidation by arrangement or composition with creditors instituted by Kellow Lucas, of Ramsey, aforesaid, Starch Manufacturer, trading at Ramsey, and also at Sulby, in the Parish of Lezayre, under the style and firm of ‘The Sulby Glen Starch Company.’ Notice is hereby given, that the first general meeting of creditors of the above-named person has been summoned to be held at the Court House in the town of Ramsey, on the 10th day of March next, at Twelve o’clock, noon [25].

Under the terms of the bankruptcy Horatio Webb was appointed trustee under the liquidation, one can assume as an attempt to save the company [26]. While the matter lingered on for over a year the mill was closed [27], but in May 1875 the Mona’s Herald reported that:

Sulby Glen Starch Works, which have been idle for twelve months past are in full swing again. We understand they have been taken by an English Company, who intend carrying on the works upon a large scale [28].

The stress seems to have taken its toll on Horatio Webb as the following year he passed away (23 September 1876). The company seems to have continued under new ownership, investors perhaps recognising the potential opportunities for expansion offered by the construction of the railway from St John’s to Ramsey (1878-1879). William Gadd was employed as secretary (1877), and went on to become manager (1882) [29]. Unfortunately the high transportation costs and the cheaper imports made it difficult for the company to survive. That the company was experiencing financial problems was evidenced by the fact that it let the warehouse on the East Quay, Ramsey, which it had let for over thirty years, go [30]. While liquidation proceedings seem to have been relatively speedy for the Manchester based arm of the company [31], the sale of the actual Sulby Mills did not come about until 1887 [32]. The list of property and associated material for sale provides an inventory of the mill towards the end of its working life. The Sulby Glen Starch Company Limited was finally struck off the companies register in 1904 [33].

The redundant buildings remained empty until 1896 until they were purchased by the Southward Bros. (Sulby Glen Mills), the descendants of Thomas Southward who occupied the mill in the 1840s.

… have been experiencing for some time past that their premises are somewhat inadequate to satisfactorily carry on their business, on account of the steady increase in their trade. In order to cope with this increased work, the manufacturers have purchased the greater portion of the old Starch Works, Sulby Glen, where, a good number of years ago, starch was manufactured, but the buildings have been allowed to get into a state of dilipadation [sic]. The place is being fitted up with machinery, &c., and a portion of the work will be diverted to the new premises. This arrangement will certainly give satisfaction, as they will be able, with but little expense, to use the water for driving the wheel both at the Starch Mills, and also at the present works. A number of Ballaugh masons are making the necessary alterations, which will be completed shortly [34].

The site may well have already been empty again by 1899 when Ramsey Commissioners suggested that the mill could be used for the generation of electricity for the town [35]. Certainly the buildings had been “unlet for many years and were practically derelict” when Mr W. C. Southward, MLC, asked for reassessment of the rates in 1934 [36].

The site remained in the hands of the Southward’s until the 1930s when they went out of business and the site was purchased by Water Board and converted into a filtration works [37]. Comparing the Ordnance Survey maps from the 1860s with those from the 1950s it is evident that little of the original Starch Mill survived. The filtration works seem to be housed in part of the original mill, but many of the associated buildings were demolished or at least left in a semi-ruinous state. The filtration works remained in use until the 2000s when it was replaced by a new structure further down the valley, when the site was sold and renovated for residential use.

[1], accessed 20 January 2014.
[2] Rising Sun, 26 January 1822, pp. 6, col. d.
[3] Mona’s Herald, 24 January 1844, pp. 6, col. a. In other versions of the notice Charles Cain is listed as ‘dyer’ and Southward as ‘manufacturer’.
[4] Mona’s Herald, 6 August 1844, pp. 6, col. a.
[5] Manx Sun, 7 February 1846, pp. 4 col. b.
[6] Manx Sun, 9 February 1850, pp. 4 col. b.
[7] Manx Sun, 15 February 1851.
[8] The house and gardens having been previously been settled on Mary Ann Stott by Harriet Angliss (1 September 1851). Harriet seems to have been Mary Ann’s sister, and Ball
[9] Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 27 August 1853, pp. 1, col. f. It was used specifically at Balmoral Castle.
[10] Mona’s Herald, 5th October 5 1853, pp. 3, col. d.
[11] Manx Sun, 15 October 1853, pp. 4, col. c; see also Mona’s Herald, 19 October 1853, pp. 3, col. a.
[12] The Bradford Observer, 18 November 1852, pp. 1, col. d.
[13] Incidentally the packaging for Sulby Glen Starch is described as followed: “They pack it in 1oz to 16oz. packages, and enclosed in 7lb parcels with Green Labels, adapted to the trade, and allow a liberal discount off, a much less prices than any other makers” (The Bradford Observer, 18 November 1852, pp. 1, col. d)
[14] Manx Sun, 10 June 1854, pp. 1, col. c
[15] Mona’s Herald, 17 January 1855, pp. 2, col. b.
[16] This must have taken place after 1852 as Edward Thomas Southern Stott, the son of Thomas and Mary Stott, was baptized in Lezayre Church (7 June 1852).
[17] Leech, Frederick 1861 Leech’s Guide and Directory of the Isle of Man its scenery, history, popular customs, &c. F Leech: Manchester.
[18] Hall’s daughter (Frances Mary Hall) was born in Lezayre (30 January 1854).
[19] Mona’s Herald, 29 October 1862, pp. 3, col. e.
[20] Manx Sun, 28 October 1865, pp. 8, col. b.
[21] 1871 Census shows that Webb was living at Belle Vue, Sulby.
[22] Isle of Man Times, 24 October 1868, pp. 5, col. d.
[23] Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Adviser, 29 July 1871, pp. 1, col. e.
[24] Manx Sun, 14 October 1871, pp. 4, col. f.
[25] Isle of Man Times, 28 February 1874, pp. 8, col. c.
[26] Manx Sun, 16 October 1875, pp. 1, col. b.
[27] Mona’s Herald, 18 March 1875, pp. 14, col. c.
[28] Mona’s Herald, 6 May 1875, pp. 5, col. c.
[29] Brown’s Isle of Man Directory. 1882 James Brown & Son: Douglas.
[30] Mona’s Herald, 19 April 1882, pp. 6, col. e.
[31] London Gazette, 9 January 1883, pp. 168, col. b.
[32] Manx Sun, 17 September 1887, pp. 8, col. e.
[33] London Gazette, 17 June 1905, pp. 3875.
[34] Ramsey Courier, 2 June 1896, pp. 3, col. e.
[35] Ramsey Courier, 3 November 1899, pp. 4, col. b.
[36] Isle of Man Examiner, 2 March 1934, pp. 10, col. e.
[37] Isle of Man Examiner, 18 September 1936, pp. 6, col. e and f. Notification of sale appeared in the Isle of Man Examiner, 15 January 1937, pp. 2, col. b.


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