Silverdale Glen near Ballasalla is famous for its Victorian water-driven roundabout
Silverdale Glen near Ballasalla and starting only 500 yds away from the famous Rushen Abbey, has always been a very popular place as a family rendezvous point as it contains a children's playground with swings, slide, water-driven roundabout, boating lake, picnic area, cafe, toilets and car park. Access is by car, bus or steam train and it is also popular with coach trips.
The buildings, which now house the restaurant and craft centre at Silverdale, were once in the hands of the Quayle family who owned Ballasalla Cregg Mill. This family was responsible for building the stone bridge over the Silverburn, dating back to the fourteenth century, which gave access to the packhorse route to the Phildraw/Ballamodha Road.
In 1868 the Quayles sold the Mill to the Quine family. William Quine MHK (1825-1907) miller of Glen Mooar Mill, German, (also see Glen Helen), was passionately fond of trees and was a founder member of the Isle of Man Tree Society. William had three Sons, his successors Thomas Frederick Quine MHK, Dr R H Quine and Canon Quine. Dr Richard Henry Quine (1859 - 1959) purchased the Ballasalla Ochre Works in 1900 along with land upstream to the Cregg Mill bridge. This was planted with trees by Thomas and his father, William, to create Silverdale Glen. William also lovingly restored the well, which he believed to be of considerable antiquity and which may have served the monks of an earlier monastery than Rushen Abbey.
It was in 1938 that the mill became more commonly known as Silverdale Tea Rooms and it was then sold to an Englishman, Mr C J Mitchell.
The lower part of the glen was given in May 1966 to The Manx National Trust by Dr Richard Henry Quine's surviving children and is leased from the Manx National Heritage for a nominal sum subject to the Forestry Board maintaining it and not changing its inherent character. A plaque was mounted commemorating this gift in memory of William Quine MHK.
The Forestry, Mines & Lands board eventually purchased Silverdale in 1960 for £400 from Mr Cecil Joseph Mitchell. Mr Mitchell had, for a few years, wanted the glen to belong to the Manx people, but the Forestry, Mines & Lands Board were not interested in acquiring what were mainly pleasure grounds. Mr Mitchell was very generous in his offer and as he pointed out, the Board had recently purchased Glen Helen at a cost of £4,300 for 63 acres. He was offering Silverdale with 6 acres including all the amusements for just £400. He later even offered to run the boating lake and cafe for the Board for a year. In 1957 paid admissions totalled £20,095 which showed how popular the pleasure grounds were. In 1959, which was an excellent year for the weather, the takings were only £343. The following year was a very wet one and takings fell to £309. The Board was finally in agreement and purchased Silverdale Glen in 1960. The price included the boating lake, the roundabout and all the other amusements, and the old pop works at the top of the lake. The cafe and old flax mill were purchased two years later, in 1962, for £2,500.
Silverdale has remained very much unchanged since about 1906. Most local people will have fond memories of school picnics to Silverdale, including the inevitable child managing somehow to fall into the lake.
The walk through the glen follows the Silverburn river, and about half a mile downstream is the "Crossag" or "Monks' Bridge".
Access into Silverdale from Phildraw Road in Ballasalla was only made possible in 1965 when Dr. Margaret Quine conveyed it to the Forestry Board who had the road made up before passing it on to the Highways' Board.
The waters of the Silverburn River were dammed for the mill and this later became the boating lake. It is also used by the model boat club and is home to an assortment of ducks and their ducklings.
The little building at the top of the lake was used as an umber and ochre works during the 19th century. This mill was built in 1767 to break flax and then converted to grind colour, by a newspaper proprietor, James Grellier. A dispute erupted over Grellier's failure to pay dues on the umber from the Billown quarries and the red ochre from Maughold. William Quine and his sons later converted the mill into a house.
The roundabout dates back to about 1890 and the horses were originally made by a company called Anderson Brothers from Bristol. This roundabout is the only surviving and working one in the British Isles and Europe, to be driven by water. The horses themselves, being about 6 ft long by 4 ft in height, are so heavy that it takes two men to lift them off the roundabout. In about 1980 the original horses started to deteriorate and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry looked around for someone to make replacements. Various prices were quoted, up to £2,000 for one horse, but a man from just outside Morecambe was eventually awarded the contract at £400 per horse on the strength of his past works. Two horses were commissioned to start with and they were both so well made that eventually all eight horses were replaced. If you look carefully at all eight you will notice that each one is different. As Mr Dougie Allan of the Forestry Division pointed out -
"The outside of the outside horse is more decorative than the outside of the inside horse and the inside of the inside horse is naturally more decorative than the inside of the outside horse."
The well-known and much loved water wheel, which drives the roundabout, came from the Foxdale mines. When the mines finally closed the small washing floor wheel, which once powered the circular buddies, was transported to the pleasure ground and re-erected to provide the power to drive the gilded wooden horses on the roundabout which has given so much pleasure over the years to every Silverdale visitor, young and old.
Over the years the lake has seen many children fall into it, but tragically in May 1926 one such fall resulted in a fatality. The lake is only about two feet in depth but on a visit by the Mona Tent Rechabites, the eighteen month old son of Mr and Mrs Daniel Leneghan from Nelson Street in Douglas, was found at the bottom of the lake after wandering away from his parents.
The cafe buildings were a purpose built extension to the mill in 1910. In the 1970s children loved going downstairs to see the display of automated gnomes which stood about three feet in height and did a variety of movements from swinging an axe to snoring loudly.
In more recent times the mill buildings have housed various stalls and a craft centre.
The water wheel on the side of the old mill is now restored and used to produce electricity. Manx Energy & Natural Resources Society and the Manx Electricity Authority combined forces to restore the wheel.
The future holds plans for the restoration of the mill itself, along with a new car park which is to be created on an area of farm land situated adjacent to the glen and purchased in 1996 from brother & sister, Wilfred Juan Cain and Helen Maree Cadman Cain. The original plans for this car park did cause some concern from environmentalists who objected to the felling of trees. This objection resulted in two "eco warriors" staging a protest by taking up residence in one of the trees. The first was "Woody" who vowed to stay in the tree until all plans for the car park were dropped. He remained there for the early part of the year but was then relieved in the early summer by Derek Moore, better known as "White Seagull". By December "White Seagull" had started a hunger strike and only consumed glucose. He received messages from all over the world pledging support. After losing two and a half stone in the following 21 days, his friends became concerned about his health and talked him into coming down for Christmas Day. He returned later. It is thought that the car park maybe built in a nearby field.
[Source: Manx Glens - A stroll through history]
[Acknowledgement: Suzanne Cubbon]