The Isle of Man is launching a dramatic bid to put the Island’s heritage firmly on the world stage. It is competing with agencies across the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in a bid for nomination on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List.
Visitors, residents and overseas supporters are being urged to show their support for two groundbreaking bids for World Heritage status, which will be submitted by Manx National Heritage on behalf of the Manx people. The United Kingdom has opened up bids for the first time in a decade and MNH is racing against time to hit the June deadline. The Council of Ministers has expressed its full support for the bid.
Tynwald Hill and its importance as the oldest continuous parliamentary site in the world will form the basis of the Isle of Man’s first application. Tynwald dates back to the 9th century, when the Isle of Man fell victim to Viking raiders who eventually settled peacefully to become farmers and traders on the Island. They introduced the Norse system of law-making and open-air assemblies at which laws were promulgated (read aloud to the people), where the ruling elite’s authority was displayed and where wrongdoers were punished. The legacy of these Norse Kings of Mann was their founding of the Manx Court of Tynwald, which, as a parliamentary system, predates Westminster and all other forms of Government in Europe.
Bids for World Heritage Status have to demonstrate the international nature of the site. During the time of the later Norse Kings, the Isle of Man was at the heart of a large maritime kingdom, together with the Scottish Hebrides, called the Kingdom of Man and the Isles. This kingdom was ruled by a Tynwald with 32 members: 16 from the Isle of Man and 16 from the Isles of Lewis, Skye, Mull and Islay. During the 12th century, the Isles of Mull and Islay (and their 8 representatives) were lost to Argyll, but Tynwald survived with 24 members.
A World Heritage Site has to offer the world something today. The modern Tynwald continues the Norse tradition as an open-air assembly by holding one meeting each year outdoors at St Johns, on 5 July also known as Old Midsummer’s Day, where in the ancient form, new laws are read aloud, both in English and Manx Gaelic. Little is known about the early Tynwald ceremonies, although they are documented in first written history of the Island, the ‘Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles’ for 1077, which clearly document “…a convention of all the Manx people took place at Tynwald”. The Isle of Man can demonstrate a legislative tradition five times as long as America or France – where the current systems of government were only set up just over 200 years ago.
The Isle of Man’s second application will cover the Laxey Valley from Snaefell to the sea, which has a unique and internationally important complex of monuments from the Industrial period. It is an amazing physical record of the growth and decline of industry alongside the growth and decline of a new form of tourism which catered for the workers in the industrial North of England on their holidays. The mines led to the creation of other associated institutions such as the harbour, public houses, the Laxey Coop, the Ruskin Woollen Mill, the Laxey Flour Mills and the Manx Electric Railway. In the 19th century facilities for tourists and local workers were developed such as Laxey Glen Gardens and the Snaefell Mountain Railway.
By the end of the 19th century, the Laxey Mine employed hundreds of men and boys, many of whom worked nearly two thousand feet underground to bring up the valuable lead and zinc ores. At its peak the mine was hugely profitable, giving dividends to its shareholders that were unrivalled by any other British mine. It also boasted a unique range of machinery powered by water. There were turbines, pumps, hoists, man lifts, crushers and much more besides, and the water was collected from all the nearby valleys in a complex system of cisterns and channels, many of which can still be seen today. The crowning glory of all this inventive use of water was the Lady Isabella, or Laxey Wheel, the greatest waterwheel in the world. It links the two themes of industry and tourism as it was built with a viewing platform and was a popular tourist attraction from the time it was built.
UNESCO looks for evidence of traditions continuing to be relevant to the present day and for sites to be protected. In Laxey, the Manx Electric Railway, the Mountain Railway, Laxey Wheel, Laxey Flour Mill and Laxey Woollen Mill still operate today. There is a Conservation Area in place and the Laxey Wheel is in the care of the Manx Museum and National Trust, the Island’s heritage agency. The Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust demonstrate the community support for its heritage – even re-opening the Mines Railway with replica engines and reconstructing the Snaefell Wheel.
If successful, Tynwald Hill and the Laxey Valley will join a list of 28 World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom such as Hadrians Wall and Stonehenge and sites throughout the world.
The Isle of Man’s applications will be assessed by a panel of independent experts appointed by the UK Government, with a list submitted to UK Ministers for approval before going forward to UNESCO in 2011.
Help the Island in achieving World Heritage Status by showing your support in writing to Manx National Heritage at the Manx Museum in Douglas, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or provide your feedback via our links on the Manx National Heritage Facebook page.
UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to:
· encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage;
· encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List;
· encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites;
· help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training;
· provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger;
· support States Parties’ public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation;
· encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage;
· encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Our cultural and natural heritage is an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration. It is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.