Context 153 - March 2018

38 C O N T E X T 1 5 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 8 STEVE BLACKFORD Bringing Peggy home After the death of its eccentric owner, the 18th-century schooner Peggy lay hidden for 200 years in a cellar. How best can she be displayed in the buildings that were her home? In a modern climate-controlled industrial unit on the outskirts of Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man, is a small clinker-built boat called Peggy . This boat is little known outside of the Isle of Man and a small community of nautical history enthusiasts, but she is of international significance, as recognised by her inclusion by National Historic Ships UK (NHSUK) in the National Historic Fleet (NHF).The NHF includes 207 vessels, mostly over 33ft in length.These are ships of pre-eminent national or regional significance, illustrating changes in construction and technology which may merit a higher priority for long-term conservation. Peggy , remarkably well preserved, is the last survivor of her class and the world’s oldest schooner. Constructed in 1789, Peggy is without doubt one of the most important accessioned objects within the management of Manx National Heritage (MNH, the island’s heritage agency). Before moving to her current home she had spent over 200 years blocked up in her boat cellar, where her eccentric owner had left her sometime in the first decade of the 19th century.The permanently humid environment and intermittent flood conditions in the boat cellar over those two centuries took their toll on Peggy and it became essential to remove her to a facility for conservation. The undoubted importance of Peggy as an historic object in her own right is in conservation terms dimin- ished by her removal to a modern building where only limited supervised access can be offered.The other part of Peggy ’s story is at the Nautical Museum, Castletown, also owned and managed by MNH, where the boat cellar is part of a larger complex of buildings on the bank of the Silverburn River. Hitherto poorly understood, a recent conservation management plan has underlined that the sum of the significances of Peggy and the Nautical Museumwas greater than the parts.The plan is intended to guide decisions about the future of both. The boathouse, with boat cellar beneath, belonged to George Quayle, an eccentric Manxman from a privileged and well-connected family who was variously a gentle- man, politician, banker, soldier, sailor, inventor and, allegedly, smuggler. The extant building represents his early hobby (or obsession with) the sea. It is the ultimate development of earlier buildings on the site specifically to accommodate Peggy when she was built complete with a beautifully constructed private dock and sea gate. Quayle’s pi è ce de r é sistance was his Cabin Room, con- structed above the space created by extending an earlier building to form the boat cellar.This space – accurately recreating the appearance, if not the proportions, of a Captain’s Cabin of much larger naval vessels of the time – was where he met his friends and did business, but it was not for the great unwashed. The extent to which Quayle revealed its hidden panels and secret passages can only be speculated, but they have fuelled the stories, so far unsubstantiated by any other evidence, of his smuggling activities. Once part of the same complex, now in private ownership on the boundary of the site, are two houses: one (Bridge Court), the primary home of the Quayle Peggy in the Conservation Facility (Photo: Manx National Heritage)