A Brief History of St Georges

A Brief History of St George's

On 26 October 1761 a 'more commodius place for the public worship of God' was discussed with the then Bishop Hildesley.  Some monetary donations followed and trustees were appointed to make a start on a chapel at what is now known as St Georges.  Then in 1765 came disaster.  The Revestment Act of 10 May 1765 returned the sovereignty of the Isle of Man to the British Crown, importantly together with control of the customs duties.  The Act dealt a blow not only to smuggling but to legitimate trade in general.  The merchants of Douglas were devastated, and building work was stopped.  Bishop Richard Richmond revived the chapel project ten years later in 1775.  He appointed new trustees to again open subscription and donation lists which meant that the work could be resumed in 1776 with a more extensive scheme proposed.  

During its construction the chapel was presented with a silver communion service marked ‘Douglas’s New Chapel 1777’.  Tradition has it that its donor was John Murray, fourth Duke of Atholl.  Bishop Richmond died in 1780.  His estate was insolvent, and the money collected for the chapel could not be distinguished from his private finances.  The unfortunate trustees had already given money to the Bishop on personal bonds.  As the building was almost completed, they were now committed too far to stop.  

The chapel was finally completed on 24 November 1780.  The size of the chapel, big enough to seat 1,300, was more impressive than its architecture.  There was a single roof, the marks of which can still be seen in the tower.  A semicircular apse at the east end contained the chancel, with an ‘ear’ in which the chaplain’s family sat.  At the west end it had a dominant plain square tower with little ornamentation.  However, the interior was well made and had correctly proportioned fluted wood columns, lead Ionic capitals, Renaissance cornices and woodwork.

The new chapel, now called St George’s, was consecrated by the new Bishop, George Mason, on 29 September 1781.  It has been suggested that the choice of patron saint may have been a compliment to the Bishop.  The Bishop had appointed the first chaplain of St George’s, the Rev Charles Crebbin, who was also vicar of Santon.  

The Organ

There was another subscription list some years later to help the chapel by making ‘a present to it of an elegant organ’.  William Crebbin, one of the trustees, had an acquaintance in Dublin named John Parkinson.  Parkinson knew a William Ruxton who had for sale an organ which had belonged to ‘a musical society which subsisted here’.  It was known that the Messiah had been first performed by Handel in 1742 in Dublin.  Tradition has had it that this organ was linked with Handel’s rehearsals for that performance, but this is almost certainly not so as its installation was seemingly not completed until after his performance and departure from Dublin. 

The organ was purchased in November 1778 for £100 (Irish) and shipped to the Island in early 1780 at a cost of £12 8s 0d, to be fitted in the west gallery of the now nearly completed St George’s.  It was rebuilt by Michael Heathcote at a cost of eleven guineas.  It stood more than twelve feet high by nine feet wide, and included an open diapason, a stopped diapason, a principal, a flute, a sexaquialter, a cornet, a clarion bass, a trumpet treble and a hautboy. In 1833 the organ was rebuilt and a second manual and pipes were added.  When the chancel was rebuilt in 1864, a new organ, retaining some of the original pipes, was installed by the London firm of Gray & Davidson.  In 1885 a new organ screen was erected in memory of the late wife of the Rev Beauchamp George.  In 1893 the organ was again rebuilt, this time by Alex Young of Manchester, and a third manual was added.  In 1952 a new organ with an electric pneumatic action, console and blower was built by Jardine of Manchester, possibly still retaining some of the original pipes.  In 2003 a new organ and pipe-work, built by Harrison and Harrison in their specially designed workshop just outside Durham, were installed.

The Parish of St George

St George’s was closed for a time during 1828 whilst certain internal improvements were carried out.  These included work on the galleries and a new vestry, as well as a new altar place, Bishop’s throne, pulpit and reading desk.  In 1844 further changes to account for a ballooning Douglas population, including wings, and a gallery with exterior staircase, together with an interior layout rearrangement in 1847 saw some significant improvement.  Major structural alterations were carried out in1864, including a chancel, vestries and organ chambers.  Two large windows were given in 1852 by the High Bailiff and Vicar General Samuel Harris in memory of his father, and were reset in the new chancel, and in 1865 a new central window was presented by Henry Bloom Noble, Douglas' greatest benefactor.

St George became a Parish in its own right and acheived church status on 28 January 1878.  In 1880-1882 further replacements and refurbishments were made, but by 1892, the church could still not accommodate growing numbers of parishioners and tourists and Sunday morning services were held in the churchyard during summer months. 

Renovation was carried out extensively in 1896, but then in 1908 further renovation was carried out with a new chancel and extension before it reopened in 1910.  

The various men’s clubs associated with the church had played football in the late 1800s, but it was not until 1919 that St George’s Association Football Club was founded.  During its early years the club’s famous battle cry of ‘Fine day and the vicar out!’ centred around the Rev William Charles Jordan, an amateur England international who played for West Bromwich Albion.

The present church hall at the end of Hill Street was built as a community centre and Sunday School and was completed in 1934.

The movement of population further away from the lower Douglas area caused a decline in the support of St Barnabas’ in Fort Street, so the church was closed in 1957, and the union of the benefices and parishes of St George’s and St Barnabas’ occurred.

1969 saw a redecoration of the whole church, and since that time the church has seen the benefit of various re-ordering schemes to remove pews, and install modern furniture such as a new movable font, altar table and pulpit.  Many of the original features still remain and the church remains the Civic church for the town of Douglas.

St George's is now the oldest church building in Douglas, and has been welcoming visitors since it was consecrated in 1781. This beautiful and historic building is a living place of worship and prayer and enjoys modern facilities including a very efficient heating system and a sophisticated audio-visual system. It is very popular as a concert venue. Most importantly, it is home to a vibrant worshipping community with a church family ranging from new borns, through teens and on to people of, shall we say, maturer years.

A full history of St George's Church written by C. W. Gawne MA, PhD, FInstAM from which this summary is taken, can be found here.