Monday 14 August 2017

Silloth - the 19th Century

In 1855, John Ostle, a local farmer, wrote in his journal: “Silloth Bay is a very wild place in dry and windy weather. The sand blows very little short of the deserts of Arabia. There is now at present four farm houses, that is all there is at Silloth”.
The farms can be seen on this 18th Century map; little had changed in the intervening years. Over the next ten years the scene was to change completely. In 1856, the railway from Carlisle arrived and work began on a deep-water dock. A new town was born.
Grandiose plans were made for a port and a sea-side resort which would rival Scarborough as a watering-place for the upper classes. The ‘Carlisle Journal’ issued a special supplement to publicise these.

Within just five years, the new town had begun to take shape, laid-out on a regular grid-iron pattern. The Ordnance Survey map of 1866 shows the first streets to be built. The original farms can still be seen in the top right-hand corner of the map, marked ‘Old Silloth’.
Christ Church was still to be built but most of the town's principal buildings were completed including the baths, The Queens and Solway (Golf) Hotels, the gasworks, and the railway yards with connecting lines to the convalescent home and the salt works.
In 1861, the first census of the town was conducted. Ten years earlier, there had been only four households in Silloth. Now there were 128. Most of the residents came from the local area, the old parish of Holm Cultram and the Aspatria and Wigton district. There were many from Carlisle, West Cumberland and the Lake District. Around 20 per cent came from Scotland. Almost all of the Scots were employed in shipping or on the newly opened docks.
Taken from a glass negative, this is perhaps the earliest surviving picture of Silloth. It must have been taken around 1885. On the shoreline, in the centre of the photograph, are two piles of railway sleepers. These were shortly to be made up into Silloth's first seawall.
Silloth baths opened in 1856. They provided an opportunity for visitors to bathe in sea water without getting cold. Gallons of water were pumped out of the sea at each high tide by a steam engine.
The salt works also opened around this time. The raw materials were imported from Northern Ireland but the venture does not seem to have been a financial success. It closed in the early 1870s. The cottages, built for the workers, had a much longer life; families continued to live in them for almost another hundred years!
Carrs opened their flour mill, on the edge of the new dock, in 1886. It quickly became Silloth's most recognisable landmark. Wheat was imported from North America and many other parts of the world. The flour was sent, by rail, to Carlisle where it was used to make the family's famous biscuits.
One of the Scotsmen who came to Silloth in its early days was William Crabb who was born in Kirriemuir. He set up a chemical works around 1868. The main product was agricultural fertilizer for which Crabb imported phosphate from North Africa and vast quantities of guano (bird droppings) from South America.

A second chemical factory was established in Silloth around 1878. This was known as the Solway Chemical Manure Works and was owned by two brothers, John and William Maxwell, who had previously run a similar operation at Glasson Creek near Drumburgh.
William Crabb retired in 1900 and sold his business to the Maxwells who continued to operate both factories until 1940 when the works were taken over by Fisons.
Christ Church opened in 1870; before this time the Anglicans met in the school. The spire was added a few years later. The building is faced with Irish granite.
The Convalescent Home opened in 1862. It is situated to the west of the town centre near to the beach. Originally, it had its own railway branch and the platform, seen in the picture, enabled ambulance trains to draw right up to the door. It is still open.
In 1886, Armstrong-Whitworth of Newcastle-on-Tyne built a weapon testing range on the west beach, not far from the Convalescent Home. This was always known locally as 'The Battery'. It seems somewhat incongruous to have sited this in a holiday resort but the town guide for 1899 assured visitors that "the noise of explosions which, at first, was rather dreaded in Silloth has not made itself inconveniently heard, many people not being aware when gun practice is going on".
The new town, briefly, had its own newspaper and, in 1892, Joseph Wood published his first  illustrated souvenir for the fashionable resort. 


Friday 21 July 2017

The Airfield at Anthorn

Before the airfield was built, this handsome villa stood on the site. Known as Solway House it was home to the Donald family for many years.

The first runway to be constructed at Anthorn was completed in 1918. In his book on the Cumbrian Airfields, Martyn Chorlton suggests it was intended for training pilots in the use of torpedoes against submarines but there is no evidence that it was ever used for this purpose and it quickly fell into disuse.

In 1938, work began on a new RAF airfield at Silloth and the runway at Anthorn was renovated to act as an emergency landing strip for the new station.

Then, in late 1943, the Admiralty moved in. They took over the old airstrip and requisitioned a large area of land between Cardurnock and Anthorn. John Laing & Son also moved in and began construction of three tarmac runways and a wide range of ancillary buildings. The Royal Naval Air Station, Anthorn was born.
It opened on 7th September, 1944. It was the base of No. 1 Aircraft Receipt and Despatch Unit (ARDU) which had the job of receiving aircraft fresh from manufacturers, modifying them to service standards and despatching them to operational squadrons. The personnel consisted of 74 officers, seven of whom were WRNS, and 950 'other ranks' which included a further 150 WRNS.
The station was now officially known as 'HMS Nuthatch'.

This work continued through the last two years of the war. In peacetime the role of the ARDU changed. Rather than flying the planes on to operational airfields the pilots were now often flying them to other destinations to be scrapped.
The beautiful chapel on the airfield
As well as the permanent personnel on the station, it acted as a temporary host to other squadrons. 772 Second Line Squadron was based there from May 1946 until February 1947 and First Line Squadron 813 operated from Anthorn between May and October in 1948.
The first edition of the 'Anthorn Post' was published in the spring of 1949. It was a magazine written for and by the men and women stationed there. Its pages provide a fascinating glimpse of life on the air station. The striking cover of the first issue was designed by AA3 Abrams for which he received a prize of ten shillings (50p).
Capt. Bowring
In this issue, the commanding officer, Captain F.G.S. Bowring, outlines the work then being carried out on the airfield where about 940 people were currently employed; this represented a fall from the peak of 1,200 at the end of the war. Around 300 aircraft were stored there, in varying states of readiness for service, these included Barracudas, Firebrands, Seafires and Seafuries. The main work carried out involved ferrying the planes to other airfields and test flights of the aircraft before dispatch for active service.
Captain Bowring also remarked on the success of the base's first open day which had taken place in July 1948 and had attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors. He also confirmed that approval had been granted for the construction of a new Married Quarters Housing Estate and it was expected work on this would begin in the summer.
Life on the airbase wasn't all work. The 'Anthorn Post' reports on the many spare-time activities available. At Easter 1949, the Amateur Dramatics group were rehearsing an extract from Noel Coward's “Hay Fever” which they planned to enter in Royal Naval Drama Festival later in the year.

Every Saturday night there was two hours of Scottish Country Dancing and the magazine includes brief reports from the Gliding Club, the Anglers and the Shooting Club. There had been a handicrafts exhibition with sections for both embroidery and perspex constructions.
However, by far the most popular leisure activity was sport. The Cricket team was having a mixed season. They had beaten 12MU (Kirkbride), Garlands, Wigton and the Carlisle Teachers team, but had lost both their matches against Hadrian's Camp, and were also beaten by British Railways. The players were complaining about a shortage of kit, especially bats which were apparently in very short supply.
The Soccer club had also had mixed results but Anthorn's sporting super-stars were undoubtedly the Rugby team. In the 1947-8 Season they had played 18 matches, won 11 and lost 7. Points for 159, against 78.

Unfortunately, only two copies of the 'Anthorn Post' have come to light so far and few details are available on the last years of the airfield's life. The Married Quarters, promised by Captain Bowring were built and these houses still form a substantial part of the village homes. The last aircraft, a Gannet, took off from there in November 1957 and the site closed completely a few months later.

For a few years, local farmers used the land as extra grazing then, in 1962, NATO moved in and construction of a large communications centre began. It was officially handed over to the MOD in November 1964. Its array of masts became the most prominent landmark on this stretch of the Solway.
Today, the Very Low Frequency transmitter there is used for communications with submarines. A separate operation by the National Physical Laboratory operates two atomic clocks which generate the familiar Greenwich Time Signal.


Martyn Chorlton: Cumbria Airfields in the Second World War (Countryside Books, 2006)
Ken Delve: The Military Airfields of Britain, Northern England (Crowood, 2006)
The Anthorn Post, Easter and Summer 1949 (Carlisle Library, Local Studies Section) Radio Station.

Sunday 19 March 2017

St Paul's Church, Causewayhead

St Paul's was erected in 1845. The church cost £850 to build. The money was raised by the local parishioners (mainly the farmers) with financial assistance from the Church Building Society. The church was designed with seating accommodation for 357 worshippers. An inscription above the door within the porch tells us that all the pews are "free and unappropriated for ever".

Mannix & Whelan's Directory of Cumberland of 1847 describes the building as "a neat Gothic edifice" and tells us that the first "officiating minister" was the Reverend Isaac Bowman.  The living of St. Paul's was originally in the gift of the vicar of Holm Cultram and was worth £220 a year.

St. Paul's is built of red sandstone as in the Early English style. It has a south porch and a west facing turret containing one bell, which is used to summon people to worship. Inside, the church is beautifully simple, consisting of a chancel, nave and a small vestry.

In the period 1889-90 the church was renovated throughout and at this time a two manual organ was installed at a cost of £700 (an interesting comparison with the original cost of the church). The organ pipes are decorated in a similar fashion to those at Christ Church, Silloth.
The 1890s decor
The floor of the chancel is tiled, but the nave has a plain sandstone floor. The pews are raised up on wooden blocks. On either side, the east window is flanked by depictions of the Ten Commandments.

Bulmer's History and Directory of West Cumberland (1883) makes reference to the "many beautiful stained-glass windows, rich in scriptural symbolism". The splendid east window is in triple form and portrays at its centre St. Paul, in medallions, the symbols of the four evangelists. The window is by John Scott of Carlisle and dates from 1852. It commemorates John Messenger of East Cote, "a zealous promoter of the building of the church".
In the sanctuary, the north and south windows are lozenge quarries with various motifs (the artist is not identified). On the south wall of the nave: Christ the Sower (unsigned, but thought to be the work of John Scott); the window is in memory of Ann and George Bailiffe-Bowman. 
The second window in the nave is in memory of Dr Hugh Hutton (1911-1996) a much respected physician in Silloth for many years and a staunch supporter of St. Paul's. The window was commissioned by his widow and is the work of the artist Peter Strong.
The third window in the nave depicts - in a medallion - Christ giving sight to a blind man. It is the work of John Scott and it was created in memory of Betty Messenger, who died in June 1864. Completing the array of windows in the nave, comes the fourth which has two lights. These depict St. Mark and Christ the Light of the World. The artist is G.J. Baguely. The window was given by Canon Robert Walker and his wife Margaret Elizabeth in 1903.
In the west wall, the first window portrays St. Andrew and it is the work of Powell Bros. of Leeds, Installed in 1889 the window commemorates Henry Thomas Tandy who died in July 1894. The second depicts - in a medallion - Christ as a boy in the carpenter's shop. The window is in memory of John Albert Redford with the date June 1863 and is by John Scott.

Continuing on the north wall of the nave, the first window features - in a medallion - Christ and the daughter of Jairus, the daughter who "was not dead, but sleepeth" whose "spirit came again". The window is in memory of John Holliday, who died in January 1864, the work of John Scott. The second window from the west, also by John Scott shows - in a medallion - Christ blessing the children. The window is a memorial to J Hayton and is dated 1853. The third window portrays the Figure of Hope. It is in memory of John Henry Wise and is the work of G.J. Bagueley.

The communion table in the sanctuary was provided by Molly and Jake Tomlinson, upon their retirement from farming in 1970. 
Rev Redford's observations
The oak lectern was presented by Mr C E Boyd in memory of the Reverend Francis Redford the first curate of St. Paul's in around 1850 and subsequently its rector. He was largely responsible for Silloth's reputation as a health resort. He published his observations of its meteorological features, rainfall, hours of sunshine, prevalent winds and the amount of 'ozone' in the air, claiming the area had a similar climate to the Isle of Wight.
Causewayhead rectory was built around 1851 "in the Elizabethan style". Cannon Robert Walker lived there as  rector from 1898 until 1936, he had six children. His daughter, Gladys, married the Rev. Hodges, who was vicar of Allonby between 1932 and 1946. Two of his sons were army officers and served in the first world war. 
Canon Walker with three of his sons.
For forty years, the organist at St. Paul's was "Blind Tommy" Foster. He lost his sight when he was only three months old but was a talented musician. He played all the hymns and psalms from memory and had a wide repertoire of classical pieces such as the 'Te Deum' and Mozart's 'Exulate Jubilate'.

Causewayhead Mission was built in the late 1800s as a Sunday School with a reading room and library attached. It has now been converted into two private houses.

In 1892 a large piece of land for burial purposes was donated by the Earl of Lonsdale. Consecrated in 1893 this land forms the cemetery opposite St. Paul's churchyard and is under the authority of Allerdale Borough Council. Here are many graves of young airmen who died while stationed at Silloth during the Second World War.

The churchyard is now "closed" and is also in the care of Allerdale Council.

In 1949 the parish of St. Paul's was united with Christ Church, Silloth and services at Causewayhead were finally suspended on 15 May 2016.

Reverend Canon Bryan Rothwell told the Cumberland News that over recent years, it has become more difficult to maintain two buildings in the parish, it was no longer viable because of the number of people attending and the finances involved. "It's been something that has been discussed over many years with the congregation and we have come to the decision that now was the right time to say goodbye to the church" he said.  If the Church Commissioners agree to make the church redundant then the local diocese will take over responsibility for the building and try and find alternative usage or potentially sell it.

Sources: "A Short History of St Paul's Church" by John Gray, formally available as a guide for visitors to the church. Other material and pictures from Holme St Cuthbert History Group.
Photography by Gordon Akitt, Copyright 2017.

Monday 29 February 2016

The Allonby Smugglers

Writing about smuggling poses a particular problem for the local historian. The only contemporary accounts are of events when the smugglers were caught. The successful ones are never mentioned.
In 1731, eighteen casks of brandy were found on the shore, near Dubmill Point. Two local men, Joseph Simm and Daniel Miller reported this to the authorities. They were asked to keep watch on the contraband. While they awaited the return of the customs men, two of the smugglers, John Sharp and John Osborn, turned up and gave them a beating. The two informers brought assault charges against the smugglers. A jury of local men dismissed the charges!

In 1764, Customs Officers found ‘a very considerable gang of smugglers, armed with guns and pistols, escorting about forty horse loads of brandy and tea’ on the road between Allonby and Hayton. The smugglers managed to beat off the officials and escaped.
A smuggler's pannier or belly flask. It would hold about two gallons and could be hidden under a man's coat or disguised as a woman's pregnancy.

Such reports are quite rare in the area, although there were many, many cases on the other side of the Solway. Throughout Dumfries and Galloway there is a great deal of folklore about the trade and a large number of caves where the contraband was allegedly stored. For any more information, it is necessary to ‘read between the lines’ elsewhere.

The 1841 Census for Allonby lists twenty-six men as either sailors, mariners, fishermen or boatmen. It is difficult to imagine they could all make a living purely from catching fish. Even more telling, in a village of around three hundred souls, there were five innkeepers, two wine and spirit merchants and, most telling of all, two full-time customs officials.
The Customs Vessell 'Ferret' was stationed at Skinburness.

There is also a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that one highly respected, Quaker family were involved in the illicit trade. The Beeby’s fish yards could just have been a ‘front’ for a whisky smuggling operation.

Most of this evidence comes from Mary Beeby’s own ‘Memorandum’. In it, she gives details of two shipwrecks in which her father, Daniel, was involved. The first occurs off the coast of Islay in the Hebrides. This is not a herring fishing area but the island is world-famous for its malt whisky. After carrying out emergency repairs to the vessel, it was able to return safely to Maryport with both crew and cargo unharmed.

The second shipwreck was in Ireland. After being caught in a violent storm, the ‘Assistance’ put in for repairs at Dunfanaghy – not a million miles from the famous distillery at Bushmills.

Mary says the local people ‘behaved with great kindness . . . those of respectability deterring others who might otherwise have been disposed to have taken liberties with the property of strangers’. After a month ashore there, the crew re-shipped the cargo and returned home safely. It is difficult to imagine a cargo of fish lasting that long!

It is also rather strange that, in both these cases, Mary refers to the ‘cargo’ rather than the ‘catch’.

It is said that, on the other side of the Solway, the smugglers often used barrels with false bottoms to hide their cache. The fish yards had their own cooperage. It would have been a simple job for Richard Harker to produce such items; salted fish on top, illicit spirits below.
The Beeby family's fish yards can be seen centre left on this old postcard.
Some of the Beeby family wills also make interesting reading. John Beeby died in 1768 and an inventory of his personal possessions was compiled. They were valued at £527, about £74,000 at 2012 prices. In addition to these items he owned a lot of property in Allonby and several houses in Maryport. It is puzzling how a man listed as a timber merchant could have achieved such wealth.

When his son, another John, died in 1789 he was £321 (£42,000 today) in debt. It was around this time that Mary Beeby’s family moved into the John’s house and fish yards. We can only guess at the family dramas surrounding their move.
Around the 1860s, most of the family seem to vanish from the local records. 

This was when the government finally equalised the duty on whisky in Scotland and England. The Beeby’s property in Allonby seems to have descended to Ann Satterthwaite. There was a complex court case over the will of a William Beeby which ended when the Court of Chancery ordered the entire estate to be sold. In July 1871, the whole lot was auctioned in the Ship Hotel; it made a total of £5,405 – just over half-a-million pounds at 2012 prices.

This article was originally written for Peter Ostle's book “Allonby – A Short History and Guide” but was not included in the final version due to pressure on space.

The text of Mary Beeby's Memorandum is available at

Wednesday 28 October 2015

The Cumberland Pig

During the first half of the twentieth century, the Cumberland Pig was immensely popular with local farmers. Its floppy ears, flat face and smooth silky coat distinguished it from other, lesser breeds. It was a source of the legendary Cumberland Ham and provided the distinctive flavour to Cumberland Sausage.

Almost all the farms would keep at least one pig. Slaughtered at the ‘back-end’ of the year, it would provide the farmer’s own family with a supply of good tasty ham and bacon through the winter. There might even be enough left to send a few sides of bacon to the local market!
Eamont Peter Pan
Bred by Mrs Carleton Couper, Carleton Hall, Penrith.
First Prize Winner at Royal Lancashire Show, Lancaster Show, Brampton Show, Cockermouth Show and awarded The Silver Challenge Cup for Best Cumberland Pig
The county’s biggest pig farms were around Carlisle, Penrith and along the Eden Valley but Kirkbride was also an important area for pig farming. Thomas Wills of Angerton House there was a well-known breeder.

In 1915, he attended a meeting of farmers in the King’s Arms Inn at Wigton. The meeting was convened by Mr T. B. Schofield, the government’s local livestock officer and Mr Steel, the Wigton vet. Mr Schofield told the meeting that his department were spending hundreds of pounds each year buying boars. These were then made available to small farmers for breeding purposes. However, the Cumberland Pig did not qualify for the scheme although the farmers were anxious to use it. The problem was that there was no ‘Pedigree System’ and so the breed was not officially recognised.

    Gate Mary Bred by Mrs H.M. Boyns, Hatton Lodge, Soulby, Kirkby Stephen.Second Prize Winner at Yorkshire Agricultural Show.

The meeting resolved to form a Cumberland Pig Breeders Association and to establish a ‘Herd Book’ which would register all pure-bred Cumberlands and so make them eligible for the government’s breeding programme.

The farmers present at the meeting pledged £75 to get things going and appointed a council to oversee operations. Over the next few years, more than one hundred farms signed up for the Herd Book.

Tom Wills of Angerton House served as a council member for the new association along with his neighbour Joseph Robinson of Wampool Farm. J. Carr of Whitrigg House, The Graham brothers of Whitriglees and Greenspot, and J. Mark of Angerton were also registered breeders. The Lowthers, Liddles, Nichols and Robinsons were other families from Kirkbride who appeared regularly in the Herd Book.
From the 1929 Herd Book
John Routledge of Old Silloth Farm was a very successful breeder of Cumberland Pigs. In 1921, he showed a boar which won the Breeders’ Association Show at Penrith and was then sold for 90 guineas. In 1923, he sold a champion sow for 81 guineas. His best breeding sow was ‘Seabreeze of Old Silloth’ whose litter of eleven six-month old piglets was sold for 320 guineas. John was vice-chairman of the Holm Cultram Agricultural Society.

He died in January 1924 when he chocked, ironically on a piece of pork, while dining with friends at the Criffel Hotel. His widow, Margaret, continued to breed the pigs for many more years.
Janet II
Bred by Mrs Carleton Couper, Carleton Hall, Penrith.
Second Prize Winner at Royal Lancashire Show.

T J Armstrong of Doucie Farm, Calvo.
P R Foster of Allonby
Thomas Hodgson of Mawbray Farm
J Hornsby of Holme Lea, Silloth
W Penrice of Park House, Silloth
John Slack, Holme Low, Silloth

A sad end to the story . . .
In 1955, the government’s Advisory Committee on Pig Production produced a report which indicated that housewives were then demanding a leaner type of meat. They recommended that farmers should concentrate on only three breeds: the Large White, the Welsh and the Landrace. The breeding stock of the Cumberland began to decline and, even before the report was published, there were only three breeding boars registered in the county.

The last individual, a sow belonging to a Mr Thirwell of Bothel Craggs died in 1960 and the breed became extinct.

In 2008, a Penrith animal conservation centre "recreated" the Cumberland pig based on DNA analysis and selective breeding. Farmers who had worked with the last surviving originals agreed that the new pig was a good match in appearance. After years of selective breeding, a sow was born with a 99.6% DNA match for the Cumberland. However, it proved infertile.

Cumberland News & Wigton Advertiser, 16/10/1915
Wigton Advertiser 26/1/1924
Cumberland Pig Herd Books. (Local Collection, Carlisle Library)

Monday 24 August 2015

Allonby Disasters

In the early years of the twentieth century, Allonby saw two events which might have proved to be major disasters. In both cases the village had a lucky escape.
In March 1903, the barque 'Hougomont' ran ashore. She was bound from San Francisco, via Cape Horn, to Liverpool. She was driven north by heavy weather and was standing off Maryport when she dragged her anchors and was swept into Allonby bay.
Crowds of spectators gather on the shore
The Wigton Advertiser reported: “Telegrams were sent by the postmaster and Mr Twentyman for the lifeboat from Maryport. . . heavy breakers landed with awful crash over the decks and rigging of the helpless barque. . . the surging mass of storm-driven billows presented an awe-inspiring spectacle, never to be forgotten . . . the main topmast and fore topmast broke off . . . the men hung on for dear life but no lifeboat could be seen.” Eventually the lifeboat arrived and the crew were all rescued. 
The cargo was washed ashore, it included 32,000 cases of tinned pears and peaches plus 24,000 cases of salmon. The locals examined the crates, the tins had no labels. The only way they could tell which was which was by shaking them. If the contents moved it was fruit!

Crowds arrived from the surrounding towns and village to see the spectacle and help themselves to a few tins too.
The ship was later towed into Maryport docks for repair.

Two years later, there was another near disaster. Until then the beck had been crossed by a iron bridge built as part of the Maryport-Wigton turnpike road.
The old bridge
On 28 November 1905, a traction engine approached the bridge hauling three large wagons containing Caris & Fox's Venetian Gondolas – a steam-powered fairground ride.

The beck was swollen at the time due to recent heavy rain and, when the engine was half-way over, the bridge collapsed. The engine crashed through the railings into the beck. The driver and his mate jumped clear and nobody was hurt.
Sometime later, a new stone bridge was built and this still carries the coast road over the beck.

Click on any of the pictures for a larger view