Peel 1965

A bright green steam engine sitting on the railway tracks.

Algorithms are funny things. Sometimes they’re belly-shakingly hilarious in their misfires. But generally, they’re quite cute in the way they stalk your every online movement to serve up some digital sweetmeat that they think you might like. They’re often correct.

Because I read and write a fair bit about Manx culture and history, a site like YouTube will often fling me items of a similar theme. Some of them aren’t fantastically interesting, to be honest. I can largely do without those stilted newsreels of the 1950s with their condescending tone, sloppy mispronunciation of place names, and a dirty old man narrator drooling over the bathing beauty contestants.

Sometimes though, a treat is served, as recently happened. The Tube of You suggested I might be interested in a cine film made in 1965, covering journeys on two lines of the Isle of Man Steam Railway. One showed a trip to Port Erin, on the Southern line which still rattles through the countryside. The other headed west to Peel, on a line that closed three years after this film was made.

Cine can often have a picture quality that suggests the film has been soaked in a generous measure of mulligatawny before being shown. Here, however, despite quite a lot of the inevitable grime and smudges, the pictures are sharp enough. To judge from the countryside, this was made in the height of summer, even if the trip to Peel took place on a rainy day.

Looking at a piece of history as recent as this, it’s often the little changes that stand out. Although it’s still not unusual to see parcels being delivered via the train, the sheer amount of brown paper parcels being unloaded at Castletown and Port St Mary here raises an eyebrow.

The Peel train passes through the former station at Union Mills. It was pretty much reclaimed by nature decades ago but was only four years closed when this film was made.

There’s also a brief glimpse of the road junction at Quarterbridge, where the main routes from the south and west of the Island enter Douglas. These days with a larger population, the habit many have of giving up cars in favour of huge SUVs, and the lamentable proximity of Maccy D’s, Quarterbridge is a hectic, choked place. In the film, the junction is quiet enough for a pretty little lawn with flowers to be placed at the centre. A feature that would now probably be vapourised after a couple of over-enthusiastic school runs.

If the QB is looking VG, the same can’t be said of Peel. Obviously, the rain doesn’t help, but that doesn’t seem to be the sole reason for the heavy grey Western skies. Sunset City looks noticeably more industrial than it is today – and it’s an industry that seems past its best. Peel railway station (nowadays absorbed into animatronic-laden tourist lure The House of Manannan) is surrounded by crumbling warehouses and fishery buildings, while smokehouse chimneys belch out grim wreaths of sooty deposits.

It’s a common enough response to look at old films and photos of places that you know, and reach for the comforting crutch of nostalgia; “It was better in the old days“. On this evidence though, I’d say that Peel harbourside is in a better condition -financially, aesthetically, and environmentally – today, than it was in 1965.

It’s details like that that make me grateful for those crafty wee algorithms. Nostalgia is a powerfully alluring drug, and it’s often served in a rose-tinted glass. Seeing the past in a realistic way might not be as pretty, but it’s much more satisfying. You can’t rewrite history, but you can sometimes rewind it.

Here’s a link to the film. Please have your tickets ready, the train to 1965 is now boarding….

One thought on “Peel 1965

  1. I liked that! Although going back somewhat earlier, it brought back memories of coming home to Peel after a long day at Douglas High School for Boys (and before that, Ballakermeen). I had not seen that YouTube clip before.


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