The Isle of Man lacks a volume of Pevsner’s great buildings series: Sir Nikolaus spent much of his life compiling the first edition Buildings of England, and since he completed the original series in 1974 his successor editors have additionally laboured at the Buildings of Wales, Buildings of Scotland and Buildings of Ireland. The Isle of Man belongs to none of these territories, and so far has no comparable catalogue of its architectural heritage.
This is a pity, because the island contains a wealth of structures, from pre-medieval crosses and chapels, called keeills, to high-quality nineteenth- and twentieth-century churches and public buildings. Among the nationally-known architects who have worked on the island are George Steuart, Peter Paul Pugin, John Loughborough Pearson and his son Frank Loughborough Pearson, Ewan Christian (based in England but descended from an old Manx family), Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and the theatre-architect Frank Matcham.
Alongside these luminaries, Giles Gilbert Scott built Our Lady Star of the Sea & St Maughold RC Church on the seafront at Ramsey in 1908-10.
It’s immediately recognisable as by the same hand as Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral by its simple, sheer surfaces, tricked out with decorative features high up, including a crucifix high on the liturgical east wall (which actually faces west) and a balcony at the top of the hip-roofed tower. Carving dies into the stonework, exactly like the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral. Much of the Horsforth stone tracery is obscured on the outside by protective glazing.
Within, the interior is lit only on the (geographical) south: the opposite wall is blank except for a low Gothic arch opening into the Lady Chapel and the windowless wall behind the altar is dominated by a dramatic full-height painted triptych.
Designed when Scott was in his twenties, shortly after he began work on his great cathedral, Our Lady Star of the Sea is an unexpected, precious piece of architectural genius in the wide-open spaces of the under-developed resort-town.
The Isle of Man is full of surprises.
Service times for Our Lady Star of the Sea & St Maughold are available at http://www.ourladyandstmaughold.org. Background information on all the Catholic churches on the Isle of Man is at http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/parishes/rcath/rc.htm.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.