Last edited 10 Jan 2021

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Castle Rushen Quarterdeck

Preparing a conservation plan was the first step in restoring and finding a new use for a small building and former car park on a significant site in front of Castle Rushen in Castletown.

Castle Rushen Quarterdeck.jpg
Castle Rushen with the ‘New Worke’ in the foreground (Photo: Manx National Heritage).

Castletown sits at the mouth of the Silverburn River at the south-east corner of the Isle of Man. It was the capital of the island until this moved to Douglas in the 19th century. It was initially most likely established as a fortified settlement in the late 11th or early part of the 12th century. A two-storey, square plan-form, Norman-style keep was completed by the Norse King Ragvald (Reginald) Crovan in around 1200. Over the following two centuries the castle was besieged by Robert the Bruce, partially destroyed or consciously dismantled, and rebuilt and improved in a succession of phases. Development to keep up with new innovations in defensive and offensive architecture and weaponry, and to maintain accommodation standards for the Kings and Lords of Mann, continued through to the Civil War period, culminating in the creation of new royal apartments and a defensive outwork guarding the barbican entrance.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the castle fell into decline in terms of maintenance, but remained in continuous use and occupation until the early 19th century when it was converted into the first official prison for the island. This use continued until a new prison was built at Victoria Road, Douglas, long after the capital and the lieutenant governor had relocated there. Shortly thereafter the castle was the subject of one of the earliest examples of a planned conservation project. This was directed by Manx arts and crafts architect Armitage Rigby, under the patronage of Lord Raglan, governor to the island, to strip it of most of its later prison-period adaptations and restore it near to its late-18th-century form.

From the completion of these works in 1907 the castle began a new life, primarily as a tourist attraction under the management of the Isle of Man Government, before its eventual transfer to the Manx Museum and National Trust (Manx National Heritage) in 1986. The castle reopened in 1989 following a comprehensive repair programme and an extensively researched reinterpretation exercise executed to a very high quality by the standards of the day. A little over 20 years later the need for a comprehensive review was identified, in the face of changing legislation, higher expectations by the visiting public, dated interpretation and a realisation that, while the social history of the castle was well understood, its architectural development was poorly recorded. It was agreed that the best way of achieving this was through the established process of conservation planning, which had not previously been applied in any structured way on the island.

The timing of the decision coincided with the availability of regeneration funding on the island for the first time. A conservation plan that reviewed development of the castle and its environs in relation to the ‘moderntown was an exceptionally useful tool informing Manx National Heritage’s role as heritage advisor and consultee within the planning process.

The conservation plan, comprehensively researched and written by Paul Drury of the Drury McPherson Partnership, was particularly helpful in offering a new perspective on the development of Castletown around the castle. It identified a probable early outer bailey, still visible within the current town plan, and highlighted the significance and likely survival of archaeology of the civil war outwork the ‘New Worke’, known locally as the ‘Quarterdeck’. It emphasised the historic importance of the Quarterdeck to the setting on the edge of the Silverburn River, which offers views from the castle out across Castletown Bay towards the Langness peninsular and Derbyhaven, once important landing points, and looking back towards the castle from the entrance to the burn, which served arrivals by sea to the historic capital.

Views towards the castle across the Quarterdeck had been recorded from more or less the same position for almost 400 years. The conservation plan recommended that MNH secured the integrity of the setting, which had changed little in more than 100 years.

In the late 18th century a quayside was constructed over the shore of the burn against the north wall of the outer gatehouse of Castle Rushen and extended around the Quarterdeck. In the following few decades the formerly defensive structure acquired new structures atop and lost its crenelated parapet. In 2013 it was an unprepossessing area of car park and the remaining building on it, once the military library for the garrison, was visibly in poor condition. The building is registered (the Manx equivalent of listed), had recently become redundant as the benefits office for Castletown, and was being offered for sale by Isle of Man Government.

The conservation management plan included a policy to physically enhance the parking area and limit parking to disabled users only, but the success of this would be limited without sympathetic re-use of the building. MNH concluded that it could effectively intervene to achieve the conservation plan policy only if it controlled the registered building as well. It entered into negotiations to acquire and redevelop it for beneficial use, and taking the opportunity to extend the town centre regeneration scheme by levering in monies from other funding sources.

A preliminary structural appraisal of the building confirmed that there had been significant movement. Local architects practice Horncastle:Thomas was commissioned to carry out feasibility designs for potential re-use, and a hard landscaping scheme for the parking area that would eliminate parked vehicles, and create an attractive and functional public space.

In 2015 the local Costa Coffee franchise had just two outlets in the capital, Douglas, and had recently opened one in the northern town of Ramsey, which had proven to be hugely successful. Castletown had been in decline as a commercial centre for a number of years, and the local authority and member of the House of Keys were keen to attract new businesses. Costa Coffee was keen to open premises in Castletown and the local franchisee was willing to contribute to the capital investment costs for the scheme. For its part, MNH saw the opportunity to extend the physical regeneration of the Quarterdeck space to contribute to economic regeneration in the wider town. The scheme was generously funded by the Manx Museum and National Trust, Friends of Manx National Heritage, Isle of Man Government and Castletown Commissioners.

The original conservation plan objective was to physically enhance the Quarterdeck area, but it did not prescribe how. Addressing the design for the landscaping together with a scheme for the refurbished building enabled a coherent approach to be taken to retain overall visual integrity. Externally the palette had already been determined to a large extent by the extensive use of Carlow limestone for a regeneration scheme in the nearby Market Square. The Quarterdeck area had been metalled or paved for the best part of 200 years, so Carlow stone, which is geologically closely related to Castletown limestone (no longer quarried), was specified, using in-situ cast concrete seats to distinguish the area as pedestrian and some low impact planters to soften the impact slightly.

Working with the prospective tenant, a design for the building was developed which largely restored its external appearance to how it was in around 1900, with the addition of a lead flat roof extension offering seating with views up and down the Silverburn River and large bi-fold doors giving unobstructed views across Castletown Bay. Partial demolition and reinforcement of compromised internal walls created a large enough internal space.

Before the scheme was completed in 2015 the Coffee Republic franchise announced its intention to open premises on the town’s Market Square. Rather than seeing this as competition, Manx National Heritage viewed it as evidence that regeneration was having the desired effect. Within days of starting work on the building it became apparent that it was in even worse condition than anticipated, due to years of poor maintenance and a failure to manage surface water. Identifying an economic solution to the structural problems relied on MNH’s determination to save the building, the ingenuity of the structural engineer (John Gray Associates) and the availability of additional finance. Notwithstanding its protected status, it is highly likely that this building would have been lost had it been acquired privately. Minor interventions for the landscaping revealed traces of the archaeology close to the surface, confirming the importance of the approach.

Community and customer reaction has been favourable. The business is performing successfully, and the hard landscaping has survived two harsh winters. The project has proved to be a good Manx example of the management of significant change in a protected building.

This article originally appeared as ‘A new view of the Quarterdeck’ in IHBC’s Context 153, published in March 2018. It was written by Steve Blackford, head of properties for Manx
National Heritage.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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