Papers of the Isle of Man War Rights' Union

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The deposit consists of five pieces of paper secured together. The documents relate to four resolutions of the War Rights' Union; a passive resistance pledge as to payment of unjust rates, a meeting in which three resolutions were carried unanimously, a public letter from the Executive Committee advising business tenants and a leaflet highlighting a public meeting of the War Rights' Union in Douglas (February 1916).

Administrative / Biographical History

The creation in 1915 of the Isle of Man War Rights’ Union of Tenants and Occupiers of Business Premises was a civilian reaction towards the collapse of the tourist industry on the Island. Rents of boarding houses had been reduced to the level of private dwellings and despite anticipation of rate relief Douglas Corporation insisted on the rates remaining at their pre-war level. The only relief offered was in the form of the house furniture, even then borrowers had to undertake to pay 5% interest. Local journalist Samuel Norris (1875-1948), began to organize public meetings from December 1915 intent on forcing the Manx Government to recognize public concerns about livelihoods and homes at risk, given the heavy reliance on the tourist industry.

Norris set up the War Rights’ Union to campaign for rate rebates and aid from the Manx Government. In addition the Union was to protest against certain actions of the Government and Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan (1857-1921) which were seen as harmful to those involved in the tourist industry. The War Rights’ Union also opposed the scheme of loans approved by the Tynwald Court in the interim report of 22 June 1914 describing it as unjust, impracticable and unacceptable.

The War Rights’ Union established four resolutions. From the Manx Government and legislature it wanted a fair rent court, fair rates based upon fair rent assessment and protection from landlords (by preventing mortgagees from calling or raising the interest on same during war). Compensation for reduced visitor numbers due to reduced steamer sailing was demanded along with an early release of details for next season’s steamer and travel services. Finally the Union wanted members of several authorities (Douglas Council, Boards of Guardians, Asylums and Highway Boards) to actively oppose the unfair rate assessments in the hope it would encourage the Manx Government and legislature to sympathize with the Union’s cause.

A committee was established to interview the Deputy Governor, the Assessment Board and local governing bodies. The Mayor of Douglas was requisitioned to call a conference at once (including representatives of the out-towns and villages) of all those in sympathy with promoting an appeal and scheme of relief for the boarding-house keepers through the war. The Isle of Man War Rights’ Union sought the similar offers of assistance freely offered elsewhere in the British Isles.

Honorary Secretary Samuel Norris was joined on the Union’s Executive Committee by Reverend R.B. Jolly, Vicar of St Thomas’ Church, Douglas, Mr S.C. Hulme, Local Superintendent of the Prudential Insurance Company, Mr Joseph V. Mayer of 'Fairhaven', Mrs F.C. Poulter of the 'Belvedere', Mrs Hendry of 'The Rothesay', Mrs W. Thomas of 'Oaklands' and Miss Priscilla Taylor of 'Pandora'. The campaign to lobby for its objectives was unsuccessful leading the War Rights’ Union to adopt a policy of passive resistance in the form of rate refusal. In 1916 this resistance grew and broadened into the 'Redress, Retrenchment and Reform Campaign'. With Norris at the forefront and several labour leaders joining the campaign, a demonstration demanding ‘Raglan must go!’ disrupted the annual Tynwald day ceremony on 5 July 1916. A petition to the Home Office was even submitted and Norris used his journalist connections to highlight the cause in the press. Samuel Norris served 28 days in prison in 1916 for his efforts in the rate refusal campaign. By late 1918 with the end of the Great War and Lord Raglan’s resignation as Lieutenant Governor the War Rights’ Union campaign subsided. The Committee was disbanded as the Island consciously tried to resuscitate the tourist industry.

Conditions Governing Access

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Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from P. Skillicorn's 'Crisis of Home Rule: The Mounting Pressures of War on the Society and Institutions of the Isle of Man, 1916-1924' (MNH MS 10239), S. Norris' Manx Memories & Movements (1938: chapter 20), the Manx newspaper Mona’s Herald (12 July 1938) and Robert Fyson, ‘Norris, Samuel (1875–1948)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [ http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/73034, accessed 24 Sep 2015].

Isle of Man newspapers available online at http://www.newspapers.gov.im/Default/Skins/IOMDemo/Client.asp?skin=IOMDemo&enter=true&AppName=2.

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), September 2015.