Built by internees – but now ruined

Abandoned house in Laxey'', which was built by wartime internees

Abandoned house in Laxey'', which was built by wartime internees

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An unassuming bungalow in Laxey which has been in a ruinous state for years is one of a few round the Isle of Man built by wartime internees.

The property, partly obscured by rampant foliage has lain empty for perhaps 30 years but sparks nostalgic memories for one island resident.

Eve Berridge, who lives at Crosby, used to visit her grandparents at the house at Fairy Cottage, when she was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

‘My sisters and I spent many happy times there during our childhoods when there were open fields behind the cottage. It is (or was) called Berberis. Its history is very interesting,’ she said.

‘My grandfather had an ice cream and coffee shop at the bottom of Well Road Hill, in Douglas, called Nield’s Ice Cream shop. He was able to employ builders from the internees from the promenade internment camp to build the cottage.’

Mrs Berridge said her aunt, local author Vera Martin mentioned the house and the connection with the Douglas promenade internment camp in her books called That’s the Way it Was - volumes one and two.

‘I don’t know who owned the cottage after my grandparents died as our family was living in Barrow at the time,’ she added.

‘But my husband and I came back here in 1979 and to my knowledge, nobody has lived in the cottage in all that time and it is totally overgrown. Heartbreaking really.’

Lonan commissioners’ clerk Peter Hill said they were aware of the property and it was one of those on their lists of run down houses.

Used in the more recent past as a holiday home, the house had been abandoned when the owner died a few years ago, he said.

‘I believe it fell into the hands of his children as executors and they were debating what the best thing was to do with it,’ he said.

‘I put them in touch with a local planning consultant who could give them advice on options for developing the site.

‘There’s really no scope for a garage or parking and the site itself is quite small so I don’t know whether it would be possible to get planning permission to build another property on it.’

Mr Hill added that while the matter was still active his powers were limited particularly as the parties involved all now lived off island.

‘It’s in an appalling state but I believe the next of kin works in Birmingham so it has probably dropped rather off his radar. Our last involvement was a few years ago to put him in touch with one of our contractors to tidy the garden up then, at his request, we pu him in contact with the planning consultant for advice.’

Mr Hill said he had suggested approaching the owner of the property behind to find out if he was interested in buying the land to extend his garden.

‘It’s still on my ‘‘active’’ list but it’s not a priority at the moment because it doesn’t really seem to be causing a problem to anyone,’ he said.

‘No-one has come to ask about it but if they did, I would put it back up to the top of my list.’

Internees were accommodated in the island in both world wars, famously at Knockaloe, in the First World War, as well as in Douglas, Peel, Port Erin and Port St Mary and Ramsey in the Second World War when internees provided working parties often for farms and quarries.

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