The History of Castletown
Castletown was once the capital of the Isle of Man and dates back at least as far as 1090. It was the site of Tynwald, or Manx parliament, which makes the claim of being the longest continuously running parliament anywhere, having originally formed on the Isle of Man in 979. Tynwald used to meet in Castletown in the House of Keys, except on Tynwald Day when it always convenes on Tynwald Hill in St John's . The title of House of Keys moved to Douglas , along with the Tynwald itself, in 1874. The original parliamentary building in Castletown is today called the Old House of Keys . The Manx National Heritage run the building as a museum, having extensively refurbished it in 2000. It has been restored to match its condition of 1866. This historic date was chosen because it is when the house became a democratically elected body.
The town gets its name from Castle Rushen which sits looking over the market square and harbour. Rushen is a magnificent example of a medieval castle, possibly the best in the the UK. The first foundations of the castle were probably laid during the reign of King Magnus III, the last of the Norse kings of Mann. He died in the castle in 1265 and was buried at nearby Rushen Abbey . The castle started as a central square keep and was continuously developed over the years spanning the 13th to the 16th century. Updates included a perimeter wall and towers added as a major reinforcement of the keep. Robert the Bruce inflicted heavy damage on the castle in 1313, although this was later repaired. The castle was held in Royalist hands during the Civil War , with the 7th Earl of Derby James Stanley setting up a secondary royalist court there. He left his wife Countess Charlotte in charge while he went to fight, and die, for his King in England. The countess resisted the Parliamentarians staunchly until her own garrison mutinied against her.
With its role as a defensive stronghold largely redundant, the castle fell into disrepair during the 18th century. It was then converted for use as a prison towards the end of the 18th century. It continued in this role until a purpose built Victoria Road Prison in Douglas was opened in 1891. John Kewish was the last person to be hanged on the Isle of Man, he died at Castle Rushen in Castletown on 1 August 1872. It wasnít just common criminals that endured the deteriorating conditions at Castle Rushen, the building was also used as an insane asylum for locking up the mentally ill. Although it was a prison and not a hospital, the criminally insane were not held there. These offenders were instead sent to institutions in Scotland and England. Castle Rushen features today on the reverse side of the Manx £5 notes issued by the Isle of Man Government.
Castletown is home to the King Williamís College , an ancient school established by the Bishop Barrow Trust in 1833. The main historic upper school site is just two miles outside of the town, in a former country residence. Castletown has long been, and still is, a fishing port. Trade also used to pass through the port but the commercial traffic ended in the 1970s. Since then the area has witnessed an ongoing expansion of both its financial and industrial business. A narrow gauge steam railway, the Isle of Man Railway , still runs to Castletown from Douglas and Port Erin . The islandís main airport is just to the north-east of the town. Telephones first appeared in Castletown in 1901.
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