The Peggy Story

The Peggy, the Nautical Museum site in Castletown, and the Quayle archive are one of the most significant elements of our collections and holdings. Peggy is the only surviving example of a small wooden yacht once found in their thousands around the western British Isles.  She is very well-preserved, with original paint, masts, tiller, gaff and guns.

The preservation of the 18th century yacht, Peggy, is the largest project we have ever undertaken.  She is one of the oldest wooden boats to survive and one of few that are not naval vessels. Fitted with drop-keels; an experimental innovation in 1789, no other boat survives from that period with them.  Uniquely she has her own dock and boat house, and a wealth of documents associated with her. Her owner, Captain George Quayle, was a person of significance on the Isle of Man and beyond.

The links below gives background information on the boat and explains her history and incomparable significance. This story alone is sufficient to justify our interest in her, but the project is equally an important platform for conservation-restoration both on the Island and internationally.

During 2013 we designed and fitted a new, steel support cradle using a three dimensional laser survey of the hull. Then, in 2014 archaeologists undertook an excavation to make way for the removal of Peggy from her cellar revealing, in the process, her original dock. Finally, in January 2015 Peggy was lifted and then transported to a dedicated conservation facility for examination and treatment. Before us lies a great deal of work to stabilise her timbers and fixings.

The intimate links between Peggy and her boathouse are so very important that the final stages of the project will look at ways of housing her nearby when the conservation work is completed.

For more detail on the Peggy Conservation Project please follow the links to the Peggy FAQs, project blog, below. There you will find pictures and videos, commentary and also links to documents and background information. The Nautical Museum which was formally George Quayle’s eccentric boat house and the home of the Peggy, still poses many questions to architectural historians regarding his methods and intentions. The museum will remain open without the Peggy and now features a dedicated gallery telling the personal story and history of George Quayle and his family and including a scale model of the ‘Peggy’ herself, made by Mr John Gawne of Fistard in 1949.

Black and white line drawing impression of the Peggy yacht, sails up choppy sea

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some of the questions we have been asked about the Peggy. These initial answers will be updated as the project develops.

What makes the Peggy story so special?

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 holdings of Manx National Heritage (MNH), particularly when considered together. 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.

Today Peggy is the only surviving example of a type of small wooden yacht which used to be found in their thousands round the western British Isles.  She is very well-preserved and still has her original paint, masts, tiller, gaff and guns.

She was fitted with drop-keels; these were an experimental innovation at the time (1789) and no other boat survives from that period with them.

Indeed, apart from archaeological finds she is one of the oldest wooden boats to survive intact worldwide, and one of the very few of these that are not naval vessels.

Uniquely she has her own dock and boat house, and a wealth of letters and documents associated with her and her owner who was also a person of significance on the Island and beyond.

Unusually for a small boat, Peggy is on the UK National Historic Ships Register alongside more famous ships like Cutty Sark and HMS Victory, in recognition of her very high historical and evidential value.

When will the Peggy return to Castletown?

Trustees are totally committed to returning Peggy to Castletown and she will return when the conservation process is complete and when a suitable environmentally controlled display space is built for her.  This is currently expected to be constructed in the Stable Yard of the Nautical Museum and initial concept drawings have shown this to be feasible.  The building design will provide the opportunity to display Peggy as if fully rigged.  Our current priority is to develop detailed technical studies, a project plan and a timetable as part of the wider project.  This project has a short to medium timescale assigned in MNH’s Forward Plan which is expected to be in the next 5 years i.e. by 2026 subject to funding.

Where does The Peggy Project fit into MNH’s priorities?

The current MNH Forward Plan has the designation: The Project is clearly stated under “Priority 2: Access and Availability” with a “short to medium” (up to 5 years) timescale with the caveat that capital funding will require Government and community support.

However, in addition to some other smaller scale projects such as Castle Rushen Courthouse refurbishment and the Baillie Scott Thornbank house in Douglas as well as development of the visitor experience at Cregneash, the following major projects are currently taking priority over the design of a new building for Peggy;

  • TT Gallery at the Manx Museum (Due to open Summer 2022)
  • Laxey Wheel Repairs & Conservation & improvements to visitor facilities (Aiming for 2022 visitor Season)

Our reasoning is simple: the Laxey Wheel attracts an average of 37k visitors each year in a normal visitor season, it is the Island’s iconic visitor attraction and alongside the 3-Legs of Man is the most often used symbol to represent the Island.  Aside from the cost of The Lady Isabella’s care and repair, the site itself has had little investment in the facilities that support a visit to this must-see tourist landmark.  The Laxey Wheel has reached that critical point in her lifetime maintenance cycle when she needs significant repair and conservation if she is to continue “turnin, turnin, turnin” as we all want her to do.  In comparison, the Nautical Museum had £90,000 spent on improving accessibility and upgrading the displays in 2014/15.  The Nautical Museum only attracts an average of 6k visitors per year in a normal visitor season. For these reasons, the Laxey Wheel site has been prioritised currently by the MNH Board.

In this context, it is also important to recognise that the Peggy is currently secured in a controlled environment safe from risk of fire, vandalism, woodworm, corrosion, and tidal flooding as she was before 2015 when we removed her from the boat cellar.  She is more accessible to visitors and we now know much more about her and her condition.  This adds further depth to her already compelling story.

Although the design of a building for Peggy is further down the priority list than those projects discussed above, work is nevertheless ongoing on the various elements that make up the Project including work on the papers of the Dukes of Athol in the Manx Museum Archives.  These may provide a model for the Quayle archive as well as valuable context for the wider Quayle story.

Why did MNH take the Peggy out without a plan to put her back?

A programme of research and investigation by MNH staff and external specialists had been undertaken to fully understand Peggy’s condition, significance and to evaluate risk. The combined effects of rot, woodworm infestation, and the rusting of her fixings had left Peggy very vulnerable to physical collapse. This corrosion was caused and made worse by the high level of salt and humidity in the boathouse. The aggressive 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. In addition the greatest risk to her of all was of fire in the historic boathouse within which she sat. Due to the sensitivity of the site and buildings, none of these risks could be mitigated in situ, so Peggy had to be removed from the boat house as a matter of urgency. Peggy was moved in 2015 to a specially conditioned modern unit in Douglas purchased by MNH Trustees and fitted out with the support of FMNH.

The plans for the removal of Peggy in turn necessitated works to the Nautical museum buildings 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 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 are now on display in the Nautical Museum.

Until we knew more about what was needed to stabilise Peggy’s condition, it was not possible at the time of her removal, to confirm a specific plan for her return to Castletown but as we said then and reiterate now, Peggy will return to Castletown and plans are currently being worked on to that end.

What conservation work is being carried out on the Peggy and what is the aim of the work?

Since 2015 MNH’s in-house specialist team has commissioned a number of specific pieces of analysis, external experts have had the opportunity to see her, and detailed recording (including 3D scanning) has been completed.

Prior to the move in 2015 we had considered “repair and restoration”; one option being that the iron nails holding the planks together could be drilled out and replaced. Further detailed investigation concluded 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 significant 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.

Peggy is being very slowly dried, a process now nearing completion. By this means further fungal and insect infestations can be avoided and the rate of corrosion of her fixings, reduced. Options for intervention/ treatment have been proposed, tested and refined in consultation with experts across the UK and beyond. The aim of the work is to preserve Peggy’s historic timbers, fixings and finishes as found, in recognition of their outstanding significance to international maritime heritage.  Find out more in our Conservation Blog.

What is MNH’s plan for the future of the current Nautical Museum?

The Nautical Museum was opened in the 1950’s. Based on our assessment of significance and the discoveries made in the last decade we are now looking to develop the emphasis to focus on telling the story of Peggy and her owner in the wider, personal, social, political and economic contexts of the life and times of Castletown/IOM in that era, including the links to smuggling and slavery.

The story of the Peggy, her inventor; George Quayle and life in Castletown at the time of her creation is a compelling one, and an international one. That the Isle of Man was part of a backdrop of worldwide events, including the trading of human beings as slaves, is an incredibly powerful story with huge potential to engage across generations and personal interests.

What is MNH’s plan for the return of the Peggy to Castletown?

The current plan is to return Peggy to a purpose designed, environmentally controlled display building most probably constructed in the current stable yard of the Nautical Museum and to display Peggy, appearing fully rigged.  The aim is to achieve this in the next 5 years.  Concept designs have been developed.  Funding will be a combination of bids to Treasury, Trust Reserves and fundraising within the Manx Community and beyond.

How many visitors does the Nautical Museum attract in an average year a) with the Peggy there b) after Peggy was removed?

a. In an average year in the last decade when Peggy was on the site = 6,389

b. In an average year after Peggy was removed = 6,192 (pre-Covid)

How many people have been on the guided tours of the Peggy in her conservation facility?

969 people are formally recorded on the Peggy tours in her conservation facility since 2015.   In addition invited guest tours and school workshop visits have been undertaken. (updated April 2021)

How many visitors do the other seasonal visitor sites e.g. the Laxey Wheel attract in an average year for comparison to the Nautical Museum?

  • Laxey Wheel = 37,484
  • Castle Rushen = 30,429
  • Cregneash = 15,769

How much is the project expected to cost and where will the money come from?

Without detailed architectural plans and engineering solutions it is difficult to estimate costs and unwise to make wild guesses. However, we know that the project can be broken down into different components. These include removing existing displays; repair and conservation of the 18th century buildings; installing new services including visitor facilities such as toilets; making the premises accessible to users with disabilities; displaying Peggy in a new specialist structure; specialist conservation of the dock and watergate passage to make the site flood-proof; conserving museum and archive material for display; installing high quality museum displays to tell the story of Quayle and his boat in context; and then relaunching and staffing the site.

We feel it wise to budget in the region of £5m at this stage based on the scope of the work listed above and the initial concepts for the building and the specialist environmental controls needed.  This will require a combination of funding sources including, the initial seed-funding from MNH’s Reserves, a bid to The Treasury and a specific fundraising campaign for the balance.

Project Documents

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