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William Cubbon

Epithet: Journalist, librarian and director of the Manx Museum (1865-1955)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

It was at the age of twelve that William Cubbon was taken by his father James on the family fishing boat to Liverpool, giving the boy his first taste of life away from his native Isle. William was reared in a family which regarded their locally-made household goods as the best quality obtainable and believed that their place of origin was the most important spot in the world.

This love of things Manx never left him, a philosophy which led him to devote his life to the study and preservation of the Island's history and environment, particularly during his career at the Manx Museum. At a time when such opinions were unpopular amongst many of the Manx and upholders of Manx culture were frequently mocked and derided, William Cubbon maintained a passionate devotion to his Island and was an avid advocate of Manx nationalism in its widest sense. Realising that the Isle of Man formed part of the heritage and culture of the Celtic world, his interests were wide-ranging.

William's working life began in 1880 as a printer; first as an apprentice compositor, later as foreman and in time, moving to actual journalism, he eventually became acting editor and manager of the Isle of Man Examiner. In 1900, he became joint proprietor of the Manx Sun, until it was taken over by the Isle of Man Times in 1906. From then he worked on the editorial staff of the Times until 1912, when he became Douglas Borough Librarian. During the war years 1914-18, he was put in charge as manager of the Labour Exchange.

As Douglas librarian, William began to gather together what was to become the Manx national archive. His dream came to fruition in 1922 on the establishment of the Manx Museum, when he was appointed its secretary and librarian with Philip Moore Callow Kermode as director. The collection of documents amassed at the Douglas Library became the basis of today's array of books, manuscripts, photographs and official records, available to the public as the Island's archives. After the death of Mr Kermode in 1933 [2], William became director, a post he occupied until 1940 when he was 75. His connection with the Manx Museum remained, however, with his being retained as a consultant for a period, and he worked for the museum as a volunteer almost until his death.

William Cubbon is held as an authority on Manx subjects, particularly on the Norse/Manx aspect of the Island's history. It was in this respect that, in 1930, he was created a Knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olaf, by the then King of Norway. Cubbon had cooperated with Professor Carl Johan Sverdrup Marstrander of Oslo in the latter's studies of the Norse influence on the Island. In 1939 he was awarded an honorary MA degree by Liverpool University, mainly for his two-volume publication, Bibliography of the Literature of the Isle of Man. His other major oeuvre was Island Heritage, a series of essays on the Island, written when he was 80 years of age. Its foreword referred to 'the author's unrivalled knowledge of his native land and his intense patriotism and to the fact that his zest had not flagged with the passing years'

William Cubbon's articles on many subjects include Early Schools and Scholarship of Man, 1926, Excavation of Cronk yn How (an early Christian and Viking site), 1928, The Treen Divisions of Man, a set of maps, 1930, Watch and Ward, 1930, Excavation of a Bronze Age cemetery at Knocksharry, German, 1930, Literary Treasures in the Manx Museum, 1938, An Antiquity of Tynwald and the House of Keys, 1945, The Royal and Ancient Order of Bucks of Douglas, 1764-1816,1945.

Publications he edited were a book of Manx poetry in 1913, the 1511 Manorial Roll of 1924 and the Journal of the Manx Museum.

William Cubbon died in Brentwood at the home of his son Harry, in his 89th year. The Mona's Herald commented at the time 'Mr Cubbon's scholarship was of a lofty order and there was a bold and forthright expression of view which was characteristic of this grand Manxman'.

But the tribute in the Examiner made much of the fact that only one public building flew the Manx flag at half-mast - the Manx Museum. It continued 'He was the greatest unhonoured Manxman of his day, honours eluded him in his own country, though others recognised his work'. The obituary in the Isle of Man Times concluded 'Mr Cubbon was sanguine, generous, with a sense of humour, had the gift for inspiring and bestowing affection'.

His body was cremated in Brentwood and the ashes interred in the family plot in the Douglas Borough Cemetery.

Biography written by Leslie Quilliam.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.152-3.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 28 May 1865

Date of death: 1 January 1955

Name Variant: William* Cubbon


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