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How Manx history changed the world

WHAT is the Isle of Man's contribution to human history?

That was the question posed by the BBC to Manx National Heritage (MNH) as part of a new project called A History of the World.

BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting 100 programmes over the next year discussing 100 exhibits chosen by the British Museum in London to represent Britain's influence through the ages.

The BBC expanded the project by asking leading museums in each of its regions, including MNH, to nominate 10 artefacts giving an overview of the area's international impact.

The objects chosen by MNH, spanning more than a thousand years, reflect the Island's Viking heritage, seafaring pedigree, unique native language and motorsport fame.

They are on display at the Manx Museum and the Tynwald building in Douglas, the Leece Museum in Peel and at Andreas Church.

Manx Museum curator Allison Fox said the BBC had singled out the Island's selection — which now appears on the Isle of Man page of its website — as one of the most interesting.

She said: 'It was so important that we were included in this project as a separate territory, because we have a rich heritage but a different heritage from the nations surrounding us.

'One of the criteria was that each object should have a compelling story and ours really do.

'The difficulty wasn't in finding objects we wanted to include but in narrowing the list down. We had to send the BBC a list of 17 items and ask them to pick the 10 they wanted.

'It's great to hear we have one of the best collections — it's a testament to the history of the Isle of Man and the Manx people.'

The objects that didn't make the final cut include one of the remaining Peel P50 bubble cars – the world's smallest road-legal car – on display at the Manx Transport Heritage Museum in Peel.

The other unlucky items, all on display at the Manx Museum, are a painting of one of the earliest RNLI missions to rescue the crew of the St George from Douglas bay, a lifebelt from the Lady of Mann (involved in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk in 1940), a 6,000-year-old axe head, an American frontier-era quilt featuring Manx patterns, the 6,000-year-old Ronaldsway Jar (evidence of the early days of farming in the Island), a cap worn by Manx Martyr Illiam Dhone and a pewter plate and musket shot dating from the English Civil War.

Here, Allison Fox describes each of the 10 artefacts chosen by MNH and the BBC and their significance.

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Peter Heywood's Dirk, Manx Museum

'Peter Heywood was a participant in one of the most famous naval events in history, the Mutiny on the Bounty, together with William Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

'The three protagonists in the

drama first met in the Isle of Man, where Heywood and Christian were the sons of landed gentry and Bligh was a customs officer.

'These connections were later to have tragic consequences, when Bligh took command of the Bounty on a voyage to the South Pacific with Christian as his second in command and Heywood as a midshipman.

'The voyage ended in a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian. He escaped with his fellow mutineers to Pitcairn.

'Bligh and his loyal crew navigated an open boat through uncharted seas to eventual safety.

'Heywood took no part in the mutiny, but was accused by Bligh of complicity and put on trial.

'He was saved from the death penalty largely through the efforts of his sister, who campaigned on his behalf.

'This dirk or ceremonial sword probably dates from after the trial, when Heywood resumed his naval career with great success.'

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Kirk Michael Hoard, Manx Museum

'The Vikings raided and traded all over the world. Their currency was coinage, silver and gold and jewellery – they often wore their wealth.

'This hoard was buried in the Isle of Man around 1065 AD. It contains English, Irish, Norman and Manx silver coins as well as currency rings and jewellery.

'It illustrates that a small island in the middle of one of the main Viking trading routes acted as a "clearing house" for deals in goods and wealth.

'The items were buried for safekeeping, by a Viking never to return.

'Whether the wealth of the hoard was the result of trade in grain, wool or slaves is unknown, but it was a universal currency of coins and precious metal.

'The Isle of Man was a vital offshore finance centre a thousand years ago and the hard cash earned by the Vikings enabled them to settle and trade in much of the known world.'

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Archibald Knox Clock, Manx Museum

'Taking inspiration from the designs on the ancient stone crosses of the Isle of Man, Archibald Knox created innovative and intricate designs which became the hallmark of the internationally renowned Liberty & Co.

'Knox was a multi-talented and prolific artist, who designed everything from silver tea services and clocks to slate gravestones and grocer's bank cheques.

'He became a leading exponent of the British Art Nouveau movement.

'He worked in a wide variety of media producing numerous metalwork and pottery designs for Liberty, watercolours of the Manx landscape and graphic designs.

'He also taught for several years both in England and the Isle of Man.

'His work continues to influence and inspire new generations of artists and collectors of his iconic work throughout the world.'

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Marine's Crossbelt Plate from the HMS Racehorse, Manx Museum

'The sea is treacherous. Many have lost their lives while trying to earn a living or trying to save those in peril.

'Manx resident William Hillary saw these effects in 1822, off the coast of the Isle of Man.

'In December, HMS Racehorse was heading to pick up the survivors of HMS Vigilant, which had foundered near the Island.

'The Racehorse hit rocks off the Isle of Man. Local men raced to the crew's aid but, during the return journey, six crew from the Racehorse perished along with three of their rescuers.

'Hillary witnessed the hardship of the families of the local men. He succeeded in securing pensions for their families, but realised that more needed to be done.

'With this in mind, he set about creating the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – saving people from any nation in trouble in British waters.'

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Thorwald's Cross, original in Andreas Church and replica in Manx Museum

'The transition in the Viking world of pagan beliefs to the final embrace of Christianity is depicted on this stone.

'The Vikings brought pagan religion to shores already believing in Christianity and for a short time, both creeds co-existed. But eventually, Christianity won.

'One side of this stone shows the Norse god Odin being devoured by Fenris the wolf at the Battle of Ragnorok – the fight against evil and the end of the world for the Norse deities.

'The other side is filled with Christian symbolism. A figure with a book and a cross, by a fish and a defeated serpent.

'This stone is not only a "page-turn" from pagan to Christian beliefs. It also has that rarest of things, the name of the person who was responsible for it.

'Down one side, written in ancient Norse runes, is the inscription "Thorwald raised this cross".'

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Pagan Lady's Necklace, Manx Museum

'Around 950 AD, a woman was buried with her worldly goods in the Isle of Man.

'From a time when Vikings ruled the land and seas, it is more common to find burials of men with status symbols.

'However, the Pagan Lady was buried in a Christian cemetery with this fine necklace.

'The beads came from Britain and Europe and some were 300 years old when the Pagan Lady wore the necklace.

'The burial demonstrates not only the real existence of powerful and high-status women in a period of history that is usually dominated by men, but also the ancient appreciation of ornamentation, of personal decoration. A question remains over who she was.

'Other burial goods have been interpreted as domestic trappings, so she was the head of the home. But perhaps she was also something else – a wise woman, a healer, a shamen.'

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First World War Knockaloe Camp Bone Vases, Leece Museum, Peel

'During the two World Wars, the British Government was fearful of potential spies and "fifth columnists".

'As a result, anyone considered to be an "enemy alien" was arrested and interned, with most of them being sent to camps in the Isle of Man.

'The majority of internees were Germans and Austrians.

'In the First World War, many of them had lived and worked in Britain for several years, while many of the Second World War internees were refugees from Nazi Germany.

'In both wars, there was a wealth of talent among the internees, who boasted various eminent academics, gifted artists, musicians and craftsmen of every kind.

'Boredom was the internees' biggest enemy, so they found things to do. Most importantly, found things to make using whatever they could find and recycle.

'Feeding more than 20,000 internees in Knockaloe Camp ensured that there were plenty of cattle bones to carve in the camp.

'Internee craft and artwork provided mementoes for those who lived and worked behind the wire and provides an insight into the time they spent on the "Island of Barbed Wire".'

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Mike Hailwood's Suzuki Motorcycle, Manx Museum

'No other motorsport event in the world can claim to have as much heritage as the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcycle races.

'First run in 1907, by the 1930s the races had become Europe's premier sporting event.

'Adolf Hitler saw the propaganda potential of a Nazi TT victory and, in 1939, sent an elite team to win.

In the 1960s, Japanese firms Honda and Suzuki wanted to break into western markets.

'It was at the Isle of Man TT, the world's toughest motorcycle race, that they chose to make their debut.

'Honda's success was largely due to their partnership with Mike Hailwood, the greatest motorcycle racer Britain has ever produced.

'In 1978, after 11 years away, Hailwood made a sensational return to the TT.

'This is the machine supplied to him for the 1979 event, upon which he won his 14th and final TT race.'

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Wooden Transportation Crate, Manx Museum

'How did this humble wooden crate and the Irish Taoiseach Eamon de Valera play a key role in ensuring the survival of the Manx Gaelic language?

'This crate made its journey to the Isle of Man in 1949, sent by the Irish Folklore Commission in Dublin.

'It contained two sets of fragile 12-inch acetate discs which hold more than five hours of rare recordings of the voices of some of the last native Manx speakers.

'The recordings were instigated by Eamon De Valera, who visited the Isle of Man in 1947.

'On his official tour of the Island he met Ned Maddrell, a native Manx speaker, and was so concerned at the vulnerability of Manx Gaelic that he offered to send a recording van to capture the last vestiges of this endangered language.

'Today these recordings have been re-mastered, digitised and published with full transcriptions and translations.

'They have proved a priceless link back to the native Manx speakers for modern Manx linguists and have ensured the survival of the language.'

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Second Sword of State, Manx Museum

Sword of State, original still used once a month in Tynwald, Douglas, replica on display at the Tynwald building, Douglas, second Sword of State on display in Manx Museum.

'A symbol of the oldest continuous parliament in the world, the Manx Sword of State is not tucked away in a vault, but is used at every sitting of the parliament, the Tynwald.

'It depicts the Manx national symbol – the three legs of Man – and despite various upgrades over the centuries, probably has its origins in the 1400s.

'One of the earliest objects to associate the three legs with the Island, there have been three swords of state through the ages.

'One is still used in the parliamentary process today, the second is in the Manx Museum and the third was lost in the 1760s when the Lord of Mann sold his rights to the British Crown.'

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you agree with the choice of exhibits? Would you have put forward other suggestions? Send your comments to newsviews@newsiom.co.im

 
 
 

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