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Douglas (page 1) Douglas (page 2)

Douglas (page 3)

My family connections with Douglas

My maternal grandmother, Frances (Fanny) Ruth Kelly was born in Douglas in 1880. Her father, John Kelly (born 1839), came from another part of the Island, but he had lived in Douglas for over 20 years by the time my grandmother was born. His wife, Elizabeth (Betsy) Corlett, was born in Douglas in 1833, the daughter of Henry Corlett and Catherine Kneale. Many family events took place at Kirk Braddan, a mile or so outside Douglas. For example, Henry Corlett and Catherine were buried there (in 1854 and 1877); John Kelly and Betsy were married there (in 1859); and Fanny Kelly (my grandmother) was married there (in 1902).

Old Kirk Braddan
Kerruish's Illustrated Guide (4th edition) 1857
Above: The old parish church of Kirk Braddan, viewed from the south-west.
In 1876, a "new" church was built close by because the old church was felt to be....
"wholly inadequate for the requirements of the parish".

  Samuel Ally
Manx Life magazine, Jan/Feb 1992

Old Kirk Braddan churchyard contains many interesting tombstones, but none is more touching than the one shown here (right).
The tombstone marks the grave of a former slave, Samuel Ally, who was brought back from the West Indies, along with a number of other slaves, by Colonel Mark Wilks, one time owner of Kirby Mansion, next to the church.
The inscription records:

An African and native of St Helena.
Died the 28th of May 1822 aged 18 years.
Born a slave and exposed in early life to the corrupt influences of that unhappy state, he became a model of TRUTH and PROBITY for the more fortunate of any country or condition.
This stone is erected by a grateful Master to the memory of a faithful servant who repaid the.....
(inscription becomes indistinct here).

My great great grandparents, Henry and Catherine Corlett, are also buried in this churchyard (see below).

Old Kirk Braddan churchyard
Photography by John Ball, 1992
  Corlett gravestone
Photography by John Ball, 1992
Above: The gravestone of my great great grandparents, Henry and Catherine Corlett
in Kirk Braddan churchyard. The east wall of the old church is in the background (left).

Henry Corlett was a tanner. He died in 1854 at the age of 41 of glanders a disease which is acquired from infected animals. Catherine died aged 72 in 1877, three years before my grandmother was born. Sadly, I do not have any photographs of my great great grandparents.

Betsy Corlett
Betsy Corlett

My great grandfather, John Kelly, married Betsy Corlett in old Kirk Braddan church in 1859. John was a stonemason and builder by trade and he set up in business as a builder in Douglas. At this time the town was expanding rapidly, so his business thrived. One of his achievements was his involvement in the building of the Villiers Hotel at the southern end of Douglas promenade. The hotel became a famous landmark, and stood on this prestigious corner site for well over 100 hundred years. The earliest illustration of the Villiers Hotel is the engraving (below) said to be from the early 1880s.

John Kelly
John Kelly

Villiers Hotel, Loch Promenade
19th century engraving
Above: The Villiers Hotel on Loch Promenade, Douglas.

As well as being involved in the construction of hotels, John Kelly also built residential housing, including Laureston Terrace (below) in Ballaquayle Road in what was then known as "Upper Douglas". Apparently, when the terrace was first built, the properties were slow to be sold, because they were away from the centre of the town. John's wife Betsy suggested that maybe if they themselves moved into one of the properties others might follow. So in 1892 the Kelly family, including my grandmother, moved into number 4 Laureston Terrace - and soon the other properties were selling like hot cakes! The Kellys remained at number 4 Laureston Terrace until all their children had grown up and left home. John and Betsy then moved two houses down the hill to number 2 Laureston Terrace which is where they died in 1916 (John) and 1917 (Betsy).

Laureston Terrace
Photography by John Ball, 1992
Above: Part of Laureston Terrace, Ballaquayle Road, Douglas, built by John Kelly.
Number 4 is second from the left; number 2 is far right.

When they lived at Laureston Terrace, John Kelly and his family were members of the local church, St Thomas's in Church Road, Douglas, where John Kelly was a sidesman (see below).

St Thomas's Church
Photography by John Ball, 1990
St Thomas's Church
Photography by John Ball, 1992
Above: The eastern (left) and south-western (right) aspects of St Thomas's Church.
The church was built in the 1850s.

In 1900, John Kelly's business suffered a catastrophe when Dumbell's Bank, where he held his accounts, collapsed and he lost all his money. To enable him to pay his workers' wages and settle his debts, he sold off all the considerable properties he owned and was left with just the house he and his family were living in at 4 Laureston Terrace.
My mother spent two years of her childhood living at Laureston Terrace with John and Betsy Kelly, her grandparents - a time she remembered with great affection. John died in 1916 and his wife eight months later.
During a visit to the Island in 1985 with my children and my mother, we visited the Borough Cemetery in Douglas and found the grave of John and Elizabeth Kelly (see below).

John and Betsy Kelly's grave
Photography by John Ball, 1985
Photography by John Ball, 1992

Left: My son (then aged 6) and daughter (aged 9) sitting at the grave of their great great grandparents John and Betsy Kelly in 1985.
The detail from the inscription (above) shows John Kelly described as a "builder". John and Betsy's bachelor son Robert is buried in the same grave.
Since 1985, I've made five more trips to the Island, and on each occasion have visited the grave to pay my respects.

From the 1960s onwards, as the Manx tourist industry went into decline, John Kelly's pride and joy, the Villiers Hotel on Loch Promenade began to look run-down and neglected (see below).

Villiers Hotel 1952
Isle of Man Official Guide Book, 1952
Above: The Villiers Hotel (right) and Victoria Street (centre), circa 1950.
Contrast the appearance of the hotel in the early 1950s (above) with curtains at the windows and its name proudly displayed, with that in the early 1990s (below) by which time it had closed down.
Villiers Hotel
Manx Life magazine, 1991

Above and right: The Villiers Hotel in the early 1990s.

During the 1990s the future of the Villiers Hotel was the subject of a protracted debate. Some wanted money spent on modernisation and refurbishment of the existing building; others claimed this was not an economic solution and that the building should be torn down and replaced with a completely new structure. In 1991, my mother was moved to write in protest to Manx Life magazine (below).

Mom's letter
  Villiers Hotel
Photography by
John Ball, 1991

Sadly, Mom's story had little effect, and in 1998 the Villiers was demolished and replaced by an office block.
Thus yet another link with my great grand-father was severed.

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