Raad Yiarn / Iron Road Search of iMuseum

Raad Yiarn / Iron Road

150 years ago the sight, sound and smell of the railway arrived in Peel where it became a landmark for nearly a century. The complete story of the Douglas to Peel line is traceable through the collections at Manx National Heritage. This online exhibition of items digitised from originals held in the Library and Archives offers a glimpse of what there is, from 19th-century engineering plans, colourful publicity posters, to 1960s photographs that capture the last days of steam on the Douglas to Peel line.

The idea of a railway linking Douglas and Peel got its first shunt with the founding of the Isle of Man Railway Company in December 1870. The Duke of Sutherland (Chairman for the first seven years) and John Pender helped fund the endeavour with Henry Vignoles appointed Engineer. The tender to construct a 3’ 0” gauge railway went to Messrs Watson & Smith of London. Work on laying the 12 miles of track started in June 1872. Beyer, Peacock of Manchester supplied the first three locomotives (No.1 Sutherland, No.2 Derby and No.3 Pender), their green livery and black smokebox becoming a familiar and much-loved sight on the line.

Steam train and engine drivers David Wolstenholme and Percy Cain of Isle of Man Railway, August 1968 (PG/13633/1/1968/657/1)


‘Progress’ was one of the mottoes that decorated the first steam engine in the Isle of Man 150 years ago. The locomotive is a powerful and heroic symbol of industrial progress. It is also the moment when driver and engine combine to shrink time and space by cutting a rail through the landscape. This photograph, probably taken in the 1960s for publicity purposes, elevates the Isle of Man steam locomotive and its driver to the romantic days of steam.


Isle of Man Railway steam locomotive No.4 Loch, 1960s (PG/7619/3/T1)


Plan of Isle of Man Railway type river bridges, Henry Vignoles, 8 December 1871 (P.6214/T3)

Plan of Isle of Man Railway type level crossing lodges and gates, Henry Vignoles, 8 December 1871 (P.6214/T6)

Plan of Isle of Man Railway engines No.1 and No.2, Beyer, Peacock & Co., November 1872 (P.6230/T13)

Plan of Isle of Man Railway saloon carriage, Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Co., 1872 (P.6230/T7)

Plan of Isle of Man Railway proposed new Peel railway station, James Cowle & Son, 16 October 1907 (P.6214/T14)

Plan of Isle of Man Railway alterations to St John’s railway station, Henry Vignoles, 3 March 1879 (P.6230/T15)

Douglas & Peel United

On Tuesday 1 July 1873, the first official journey from Douglas to Peel took place. At 11:40am engine No.1 Sutherland and its dozen coaches ‘glided easily and gracefully’ from the station with the Duke of Sutherland in the directors’ saloon and the band of the Royal Bengal Fusiliers playing in an open wagon. The locomotive bore the motto ‘Douglas & Peel United’. The train arrived at Peel at 12:25pm greeted by the banner ‘Success to the iron road between Douglas and Peel.’ The return journey took only 27 minutes, the train averaging almost 25mph.

Official opening of the Isle of Man Railway, Douglas railway station, 1 July 1873 (PG/8240)

A grand, brick-built station replaced the original wooden building. Gas lamps light the platform. The man with the white beard stood on the platform is George Henry Wood, general secretary of the Isle of Man Railway Company in 1872 and later manager and director until his death in 1925.

No.2 Derby at Douglas railway station, early 20th century (PG/3285)

Boy stares intently down into his box Brownie camera to photograph No.4 Loch. Many a steam enthusiast began their lifelong interest in locomotives as a child.

Young steam enthusiast at Peel railway station, 10 June 1957 (PG/14786/44)


No.11 Maitland in a snow drift between Crosby and Greeba. Ray Jackson, Jackie Clarke, Eric Corlett, Dougie Corrin, Hughie Duff (driver) and John Elkin (fireman), part of the permanent way gang, 1965 (PG/8352/2/21)

No.8 Fenella pushed out of Douglas railway station sidings shed by railcar No.19 Donald Shaw (railcar driver) and Arthur Buttell (driver), 1962, 1963 (PG/8352/2/32)

Trackmen or platelayers, with wheelbarrow, at work on the track No.5 Mona in the background at Douglas railway station sidings, 6 September 1958 (PG/8352/4/121)

No.4 Loch at Douglas coaling stage area with driver Joe Buttell oiling up, 1953 (PG/8352/2/1)

No.3 Pender at Mill Road crossing, Peel, taking on water. Workers bothy on the right is where they would have their tea, 1958 (PG/8352/2/89)

Station master George Henry Hogg at Union Mills railway station. George served the Isle of Man Railway for 62 years until the age of 82, 26 February 1947 (PG/4272)

Hugh Duff (driver) and Jim Cowley (fireman). First train on reopening day, 3 June 1967 (PG/7619/7/T1)


The Isle of Man Railway carried over half a million passengers in 1877 with figures increasing annually as the island attracted more and more visitors. Passenger numbers topped a million for the first time in 1913.

St John’s railway station, late 19th-early 20th century (PG/5845/66)

In the 1920s, manager A.M. Sheard improved services and rail fares and formed Manx Motors with local charabanc operators. ‘Go-as-you-Please’ tickets made it easier for passengers to travel by road and rail though not when manoeuvring a perambulator through a narrow carriage door.

Peel railway station, 1920s, 1930s (PG/14786/47)

In 1946 1,312,780 passengers travelled by steam. The post-war boom however ended in 1956 when over a million passengers travelled that year for the last time.

Douglas railway station, August 1949 (PG/13051/3/161)


Shortly before one o’clock on 22 August 1925, Douglas railway station was the scene of a shocking accident. The Pender, pulling 23 passenger coaches and trucks, crashed into the buffers, mounting the platform before halting a few feet away from the booking office. The accident was caused by the train’s guard and brakesman having both been left behind at Union Mills. Only the brave actions of John Quayle and Albert Edward who leaped into the brakevans and applied the brakes prevented a worse accident. Remarkably, none of the passengers came to harm and 72-year-old driver William Costain survived. Sadly, fireman William Robinson was found dead on the platform.



Engines in steam, carriages and wagons in the sidings. The platform canopies cast a shadow but were ideal for passengers in wet weather.

Douglas railway station, mid 20th century (PG/13051/3/71)

Passengers for the popular open air Sunday morning church service at Kirk Braddan.

Braddan railway station, 1950s (PG/13051/3/93)

No.10 G.H. Wood admired by three young trainspotters on the reopening of the Isle of Man Railway.

Union Mills railway station, 3 June 1967 (PG/7619/6/T1)

No.12 Hutchinson and No.8 Fenella at Crosby.

Crosby railway station, 1957 (PG/7619/6/T2)

St John’s

St John’s was the junction of the island’s rail network at its peak with lines to Peel, Ramsey and Foxdale meeting there. It was nicknamed ‘the Manx Crewe’. On Tynwald Day special train services took thousands to nearby Tynwald Hill and the Fair. On 5 July 1920 a record number of 24,103 passengers were carried by steam in one day. Today at St John’s, no trace of the tracks, ticket office, gates or footbridge remain, but memories linger of George Crellin, station master, in later years.

“…people poured into St John’s in a steady stream by train…”
(Isle of Man Examiner, 7 July 1933)

St John’s railway station on Tynwald Day, 5 July 1933 (PG/14786/15, 20, 24, 26, 34 )

End of the Line

Financial losses saw the steam trains stop in the Isle of Man at the end of 1965. Relief came with the Marquis of Ailsa who agreed to lease the line for 21 years. With renewed hope, the Douglas to Peel line reopened on 3 June 1967.

Peel’s last days of steam, 1967 (PG/13051/1/132)

The Tourist Board assisted in keeping the Port Erin line open but it was not enough to save the line to Peel. Mounting losses saw the 1968 season cut short and, on 7 September 1968, the last train travelled from Peel to Douglas.

‘Douglas or Bust!’ No.5 Mona at St John’s railway sidings, 1968 (PG/13051/1/110)

Steam Enthusiasts Remember …

“I’m an engineer and made a drawing of the locomotive Mona in 1966 when it was in the Douglas Railway Station shed. I thought in 1966 that was it, it was the end of the steam railway in the Isle of Man. But in 1967 it reopened. St John’s on Tynwald Day 5 July 1967 was like Clapham Junction, everything that could move did that day! An abiding memory that year is travelling back to Douglas from the Peel Viking Festival on a packed steam train at 10 o’clock at night in utter darkness with no lights in the train or on the track. Very strange as you didn’t know where you were. It was great fun!” Leslie Darbyshire

“I first came to the Isle of Man in 1966, booked the holiday, then found out the steam railway was closed! Fortunately I was back in 1967 for the fi rst day reopening of the Douglas to Peel line – albeit very rainy – along with a notable number of steam enthusiasts invited by the Marquis of Ailsa, including The Revd Teddy Boston from England. Before the line closed in 1968 it was the biggest narrow-gauge in the UK, a complete system, and the collection of Beyer, Peacock locomotives made it so unusual. There is a photo of me aged 2 on the buffer beam of a steam engine at Dymchurch, Kent – of course I wasn’t looking at my father but at the locomotive.” Richard Pryke

“I was born in May 1942, in Cheshire, and became interested in railways at a very early age, as my bedroom window gave me a panoramic view of trains on the Crewe to Liverpool railway line. In addition, my father was Manx, having been born near Ramsey in 1910. Starting in 1943 I was taken on holidays to Ramsey and we normally had to pass the station, where my attention was captivated by the small red locos, with their brass domes, which were so different from the much larger locos which roared past my bedroom window. When it was announced in January 1966 that the Isle of Man Railway would not be reopening, I decided to make what I thought might be a last visit to see what remained of it. On 23 June 1966 I was on Douglas station, when someone told me that No.8 was being steamed at Peel to shunt the yard at St John’s, so that the station could be used as a car park on Tynwald Day. As it was still early, I walked down the track to find no sign of No.8. George Crellin, the ever helpful station master, informed me that the crew were having difficulty raising steam and the operation was probably being postponed to the next day. I therefore walked down to Peel where I found No.8 in the loco shed, with Percy Caine and Hughie Duff having just dropped the fi re after being unable to raise steam. On opening the smokebox, to check the tubes, it was found that the remains of a deceased pigeon obstructing the blower was the cause of the problem, so the issue was easily remedied and an early start planned for the next day. The following day I made my way to St John’s to find No.8 at work moving stock around under the watchful eye of Mr Lambden, the General Manager. Operations finished early in the afternoon, and Mr Lambden, a couple of the permanent way staff and myself, all joined Percy and Hughie in the somewhat confined space of Fenella’s cab for the short journey back to Peel. Thus, my first experience of a railway trip to Peel, was somewhat of a unique one, as I believe I was the only member of the public to travel on the Isle of Man Railway in 1966. In 1968 I acted as guard on the St John’s to Peel service on both weeks of my holiday, as well as on a couple of the Douglas to Peel return services. These, sadly, are my only experiences of the Peel line, but I feel that I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to travel on all of the system, with the exception of the Foxdale line, both as a passenger and as a volunteer guard. One abiding memory is of how friendly and helpful all the staff on the railway, from management downwards, were to enthusiasts. I owe them a big thanks for the experiences that I was able to enjoy.” Peter Robinson

The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association Committee, 1968-1969 (PG/7619/3/T2)

Coal and Water

Getting up a head of steam with water and baskets of coal.

No.5 Mona taking on water at Douglas railway station, 1950s, 1960s (PG/8352/2/83)


Jude Dicken (Manx National Heritage, Collections Information Manager)