Pullyman: Now, that was a busy TT!

Michael Cowin

Michael Cowin

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Fifty years ago I was working in a shop in Strand Street.

I had started my new career a couple of years earlier at the grand old age of 23.

At the time, I was working in the office at the abattoir in Lake Road and earning the princely sum of £8 per week.

I was interviewed by my boss to be Mr George Ridgway, who was obviously a man who could make quick decisions.

It took him all of three minutes to offer me the job and a wage packet of £8.50 per week. I was equally as quick to accept.

My initial training included scrubbing the back yard, cleaning the windows and removing dog muck from our bit of pavement before it was walked into the shop.

In the days before the Chester Street car park was built there was a fair few folk living in the area.

Many people lived ‘above the shop’, and the many pubs were also home to the resident licensee and his family.

They all had dogs. Believe me, I know.

When I started in the ‘Street’ the usual opening hours for shops were 9am to 6pm with half day closing on Thursday.

Practice week was the start of the ‘season’ and summer hours were 9am to 9.30pm. In those days, we were closed on Sunday, but times would change.

If you take a stroll along the prom, try and picture what it looked like 50 years ago.

Boarding houses, private hotels and hotels with bars that were open to the public.

The nearest apartment blocks were the Corporation flats in Lord Street.

And if you went back inland from the prom, practically the whole of the rest of Douglas was wall to wall boarding houses, and believe me, 50 years ago, they were all full, all summer.

If you ask any shopkeeper in the UK when is your busiest time the answer will be Christmas. Fifty years ago in the Isle of Man, the answer would have been the TT.

Now most of today’s fans will be here on their bikes.

They will complete lap after lap of the course, punctuated with stop-offs at convenient vantage points where they will buy mugs of tea, carefully study each other’s pride and joy, and ask each other technical questions about things they know the answers to.

They will explore all corners of the island and when their turn comes, they will arrive in good time at the Sea Terminal to check in for their journey home.

The Steam Packet’s passenger fleet is made up of two vessels, the fast craft Manannan and the multi-purpose work horse the Ben-my-Chree.

But 50 years ago, the Steam Packet armada was an impressive seven passenger ships. At the busy TT time, they would run what can only be called a shuttle service from Liverpool and Fleetwood to the island.

These were the two main gateways, and were supported by regular, but not as frequent, services from Dublin, Belfast, Llandudno and Ardrossan.

From memory, the passenger capacity for the Ben my Chree, is now in the region of 650.

The capacity of the Manannan is not listed on the company website, so at a guess, if we said that it is the same as the Ben, that would give a total capacity of 1,300.

The passenger certificates for each of the seven vessels of 50 years ago, in round figures, show a minimum of 2,000 to a maximum of just under 3,000.

A total of more than 10 times the capacity available today.

Now don’t forget that most of these racegoers were on foot in Douglas, and when the day’s racing was over, the shops, the pubs and the cafes were ready and waiting.

It is impossible to describe just how busy the town was in those days, but on the Saturday of the big Exodus the queue to get aboard the Steam Packet ships stretched from the two piers, along the Prom, until it reached the War Memorial.

And that queue lasted all day. That’s what I call a busy TT.

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