The story of George Quayle and The Peggy
Director’s update March 2020
The Peggy, the Nautical Museum site in Castletown, and the collection of the Quayle family archive holdings in the Manx Museum were identified about a decade ago as very significant elements of the overall holdings of Manx National Heritage (MNH). The key to this significance is the story and legacy of the Quayle family at a key period in Manx history, namely the British taking control of the Island through the Act of Revestment in 1765.
Recognising this significance stimulated a programme of research and investigation by MNH staff and external specialists with the initial focus on the yacht Peggy, allowing her significance to be more fully understood, and the practical risks to her properly assessed. Peggy is on the UK Historic Ships Register as one of the earliest surviving boats of her kind and therefore very special indeed.
From this research and study, it became clear that the main risk to Peggy was of structural collapse caused by the corrosion of the iron nails holding her timbers together. This corrosion was caused and made worse by the high level of salt and humidity entering the basement in which she was housed. This was actually a former farm building converted by George Quayle to use as a boathouse in 1789. The corrosive conditions in which she was held and a predicted series of abnormally high tides for Castletown in 2014 and 2015 contributed to the decision to remove Peggy from the Nautical site before further, possibly catastrophic damage could be done. It was also a problem not being able to fully assess and monitor her condition in the confines of her basement location.
The plans for the removal of Peggy in turn necessitated works to the Nautical building and the removal of ground outside the boathouse. This was informed by a Conservation Management Plan (CMP), undertaken in 2013 by the Drury McPherson Partnership, – who had also recently undertaken the CMP of Castle Rushen. Based on our new understanding of the significance of the site, the decision was taken to tackle the earth removal as a controlled archaeological excavation. To our surprise, this revealed the remains of a complete dock with timber guillotine gates – designed to fit the Peggy. This excavation work was generously supported by the Friends of Manx National Heritage (FMNH) and revealed a number of fascinating archaeological finds. Most of these have since been processed with some currently receiving specialist conservation at the laboratories of the York Archaeological Trust and some now on display in the Nautical Museum.
Peggy was moved in 2015 to a specially conditioned industrial unit in Douglas purchased by MNH and fitted out with the support of FMNH.
In view of the projected length of time Peggy would be away from Castletown, the decision was made to retain the Nautical Museum site as an operational attraction, and it was partially refurbished with a new entrance and a new gallery. A number of more generic nautical objects and exhibits were relocated to the House of Manannan in a conscious move away from the previously somewhat eclectic “Nautical” Museum to focus more on the George Quayle and Peggy story.
The way forward
The removal of the Peggy was always going to be the start of a long process as it had been impossible to examine her in the basement where she had been abandoned since the 1800’s.
Since 2015 a number of specific pieces of analysis have been undertaken, experts in the field have had the opportunity to see her, and detailed recording (including 3D scanning) has been completed.
Prior to the move in 2015 we had talked about “repair and restoration” and assumptions had been made that the iron nails holding the planks together would be drilled out and replaced. This has since been investigated in more detail and the conclusion drawn that such a process would be fundamentally damaging. Paint analysis has informed our ideas about the appearance of the boat and the undesirability of disturbing her modern overpaint. Possibly more significantly for her future display, the importance of the boat as a yacht with two masts and sails like a schooner has also been emphasised - leading to the view that she should be seen “rigged” in some way to illustrate this.
Initial concepts were drawn up by a local architect who looked at all the spaces within MNH ownership at the Castletown site in the light of our emerging ideas. These suggest that a tall, lightweight structure is technically feasible in the centre of the current site. Such a structure could house the Peggy in a controlled environment and thus allow her to be retained as close to her original location as possible and preserved as close to her current condition as possible with minimal intervention. No further design or costings have been commissioned at this stage.
The potential of replicas will be considered as we plan ahead including static scale models, cosmetic replicas for display or even full-scale operational replicas. The latter can allow valuable research and great opportunities for public engagement, but they also come with considerable costs, safety and logistical issues and can run the risk of distracting attention and resources from the original. These factors will be carefully considered as part of the wider interpretation strategy.
From a curatorial and professional view, we can confidently say the Peggy and the site where her owner lived and worked in the 18th century are of considerable local, national and international significance – when considered together. This significance is further enhanced by the existence of a major collection of archive documents from the family which has never been fully examined or researched. For example we have the accounts for the construction of the Peggy and the boathouse. We do not however own all of the buildings that form the totality of the site so the future development strategy will need to reflect this. Any new construction would need to be accompanied by the restoration of the 18th century and later buildings – as well as a technical solution identified for the flood issues associated with the dock.
The current MNH Forward Plan has the “Quayle Legacy Project” (the internal working title for the project) clearly stated under “Priority 2: Access and Availability” with a “medium to long” (5-10 years) timescale with the caveat that capital funding will require Government support and will need to wait until the Laxey Wheel visitor facilities project is secured.
Some issues to consider
The Peggy has captured the imagination of those who have seen her or heard her unique story and there is obvious public interest in our plans for her. MNH Trustees had a full discussion on the Peggy and the Quayle story at their meeting in December 2019. This took in the current and future arrangements for the Peggy, and considered the place of the Quayle story alongside their other priorities.
The MNH Board is confident that the approach taken to protect and conserve Peggy, is completely appropriate in terms of conservation philosophy and scientific methodology, and utilises the most advanced expertise, research and recording techniques available. Peggy is now not at risk and is not deteriorating. She is also being closely and accurately monitored using sophisticated laser scanning and modelling technology.
The work done by MNH in the last decade has confirmed that the international significance of the Quayle legacy lies in a unique combination of assets, namely the history of the family, the career of George Quayle, the archive in the Manx Museum, the site where the family lived and of course the yacht, Peggy. All of these factors need to be considered collectively, and interpreted in the context of the 18th and early 19th century history of the Island which includes the Act of Revestment and the role of the Island in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. George Quayle was banker to key individuals in this trade including Capt. Hugh Crow, one of the high profile Manx skippers sailing slaving ships out of Liverpool.
MNH is wholly committed to returning the Peggy to an appropriate home in Castletown as part of an integrated approach which tells the full George Quayle story to both local and international audiences. We will move to the detailed planning for this within the next three years as and when other priority projects are funded and completed. However, MNH will only be able to fund the investment required by submitting a robust business case to the Isle of Man Treasury and through targeted fundraising efforts and public support.
FMNH has generously supported this work since the beginning and has agreed to continue generating funds for this purpose. I am very grateful for this support and I look forward to working with you so that the Peggy and her story will continue to be enjoyed by visitors today and for generations to come.
Edmund Southworth, Director