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In the summer of 1971, an urgent exchange of correspondence took place between John Bethell, a Manchester musician, and the Rev Matthew Haygarth, the Methodist Superintendent Minister of the Castletown (IoM) Circuit. The nature of their business was the sale of a property in Port Erin, Isle of Man - not that of a house or commercial premises, but an empty Methodist chapel. This transaction, with all its complicated minutiae, had been difficult enough, but now came that ill-defined moment when the departing incumbents had to give way to the new owners.
In a letter of 24th August, 1971, the evidently stressed Rev Haygarth writes: 'I understand that they are intending to do the removing beginning about 7.30pm on Thursday evening, so that if you have opportunity to be about there at that time you will be able to see whether the premises can be suitably cleared... I will try myself to get across, though cannot yet be quite sure of my movements. Things are in a bit of a turmoil this week.'
After the chapel finally changed hands, a preliminary exploration by the helpers uncovered a pianola with a single piano roll. This, though, was a minor curiosity compared with the discovery of more than twenty chamber pots. Interminable sermons might explain the need for these facilities, although speculating on the circumstances under which they were used is perhaps a stone safer left unturned. Now clearly evident after thirty years, yet unseen at the time among the dust and fluster of the removal, lay a significant turning point in the history of Port Erin...*
So began the history of the Erin Arts Centre in Port Erin. John Bethell's vision in 1971 was to transform the empty chapel into a centre for music, drama and the visual arts which would benefit and involve the Island community.
The roll-call of artists and performers - Island based as well as international - who have appeared at the Centre is astonishing. Many of the most distinguished names of the late 20th century have passed through its doors and John Bethell's original vision has become an international venue of the highest calibre.
Our Archive section contains a large number of photographs of artists
past and present from the Centre's extensive collection.
Erin Arts Centre
President: Raymond Leppard CBE