”we have arrived at the last squeak of the Manx language proper. So I think what we have now to do is to make a new start, making Anglo-Manx dialect the basis. In its turn this will probably become obsolete, but meanwhile the catastrophe will be deferred by your stories, and, perhaps I may add, mine.” [T. E. Brown]
The Lancashire-born owner of the Laxey Woollen Mills, Egbert Rydings, came to call himself a proud Manxman and to be hailed by T. E. Brown as co-founder of a new Manx dialect literature.
Born in Failsworth, Lancashire, in 1832, Rydings had learnt the silk-weaving trade before he married a woman from Orrisdale in 1860. He moved to live on the Island, at The Firs, Laxey, and established the St. George’s Woollen Mills in Laxey in 1881. The Mill was set up under the influence of John Ruskin, who Rydings regarded as his friend and teacher. Following Ruskin, Rydings set up the Mill without machines and instead produced his “Manx Ruskin Homespun” fabrics. The mill ran “with varying success” until old age brought him to sell in 1911, less than six months before his death at the age of 80 on 12th April 1912.
As well as his livelihood, the Woollen Mills importantly brought Rydings his friendship with the Manx National Poet, T. E. Brown. After Brown came to him for fabric for his daughter’s dress in 1889, their friendship grew as they helped and encouraged each other in their literary work in the Manx dialect. It was Brown who suggested that Rydings write the stories of Manx Tales, so impressed was he by Rydings’ mastery of the dialect. Brown would comment in the preface to the book that: “I feel that Mr. Rydings is easily my master in this dialect, and that I can learn much from him.”
Despite the masterful Manx dialect tales, which Brown saw as the foundation of a new Manx literature, Rydings never lost his Lancashire accent. Involved in the Laxey community through his membership of the Commissioners, church, school-board and the committee that brought the tram line to Laxey, Rydings was a dedicated believer in Manx life, community and culture. Both in his life and in the stories, it is easy to understand this Lancashire man coming to be proud to call himself a Manxman.
[Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage]
Works by Egbert Rydings