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

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Silloth Line

In the nineteenth century, north-west Cumberland was served by three different railway companies.
The line to Silloth opened in 1855 when the old canal to Port Carlisle was filled in. It followed the line of the canal as far as Drumbrugh and new tracks were laid to what was a completely new town and port.
By 1900, Silloth had a large goods yard and a station with a platform long enough to accommodate the busiest excursion trains.
In the 1920s and 30s, after the line became part of the LNER, cheap Day Trips from Carlisle were very popular. On Bank Holidays the trains were packed and the green crowded with visitors.
The company advertised the resort throughout its network and provided special camping coaches for family holidays.
Some Silloth railwaymen
After World War II, day-trips from Carlisle were still very popular but general traffic on the route was much reduced and very little freight was carried.
In 1954, the steam engines were replaced by new diesel units.
The goods yard was used to store redundant trucks and emergency supplies of coal.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The End of the Line

In 1963, Dr Beeching's plan for 'The Reshaping of British Railways' was published and the Silloth line was one of those scheduled for closure.
Cartoon from the 'Carlisle Journal'. Willie Whitelaw was the local MP.
After the formal procedures were completed, it was announced the line would close on September 7th, 1964.
The excursion train at Silloth signal box. (Photo: Gordon Akitt)
Just a few weeks before this, a special steam excursion was organised by a group of railway enthusiasts.
On the last day of operations, Jimmy Piercy, the British Transport Police officer was in charge at Silloth.
The diesel train was replaced by a steam locomotive. Jimmy Lister (left) from Carlisle was the driver, Archie Brand (right) was the guard and Mike Bulman the fireman.
The platform at Silloth was crowded with people waiting to say 'good-bye'.
The train had to halt outside the station as the line was blocked by a group of protesters organised by Kate Roberts, the prospective Labour candidate for the constituency.
Finally, the police cleared the line and the train pulled in.
Dusk was falling as the train left for Carlisle arriving there at 9.30pm.
Next day, the station was emptied of its furniture and work began on lifting the tracks.

Pictures of the last train courtesy of Judith Warmsley. 
Click on any picture for a larger version.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Reservists

Some years before the outbreak of war, a branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve was established at Carr’s Flour Mill in Silloth. In the late summer of 1914, the whole group were called up and posed for this picture. Theodore Carr is in the centre; the lad, third from the left in the back row is Duncan Chisholm. The names of five of the others are now inscribed on the town’s war memorial in the grounds of Christ Church.

Salt water ran in Duncan Chisholm’s veins; his father was captain of the Silloth steam tug ‘Petrel’. Like the other lads, he probably joined the reserves out of a sense of adventure and the promise of a free week’s holiday on a training ship each year. He could never have expected that, within a few months, he would be dressed in khaki and fighting in a bloody battle over a thousand miles from home.

The Silloth men were not the only ones to be called up. All over the country, reservists reported to naval dockyards and bases. There were far more of them than the navy needed and it had nowhere to accommodate them. At this point, Winston Churchill came up with one of his very worst ideas; he decided to place these surplus sailors under army command. They were to be known as the Royal Naval Division.

Eight battalions were formed, all named after famous naval commanders. Most of the Silloth reservists were assigned to the Collingwood battalion. Training took place in the south of England and was slow; the men were issued with old rifles from navy stockpiles.

Turkey was then part of the Ottoman Empire which had joined the war on the Germans’ side. When the fighting in France and Flanders reached a stalemate, the allies decided to open a new front with the idea of gaining control of the Turkish shipping lanes. In February 1915, the Navy started an attack in the Dardanelles. Landings by British, Australian and New Zealand forces took place in April on the Gallipoli peninsular.

The allied troops dug in but came under heavy attack from the Turkish artillery; very little territory was secured. Reinforcements were required and the men of the Royal Naval Division were to form part of these. The men were shipped out to Egypt to prepare for landings in early June, 1915.

Before he embarked for the Mediterranean, Duncan Chisholm must have been granted a few days leave. He came home to Silloth and his family insisted that he posed for a portrait in his new khaki uniform. 
The far-away look in his eyes has been captured perfectly by the photographer – Annie Gibb. Annie was quite remarkable. At this time, it was very unusual for a woman to be involved in photography and it was virtually unknown for one to set up in business on their own account as she had.

The Collingwood battalion of the RND came ashore at Sulva Bay on June 4th and advanced slowly under heavy fire. Duncan was among them together with three of the other Silloth lads – Edgar Sisson Swan, Sam Borthwick and Joe Johnston.
Two were members of the Silloth Rugby team; Borthwick played at half-back and Johnston was a three-quarter. Swan had been a golfer. By the end of the day, Borthwick had been wounded and Duncan and Joe were posted as ‘Missing’. Duncan must have turned-up later but the other three all died from their injuries.
The war memorial bears the name of two other RND men: Gordon Brown and Petty Officer John Jefferson Underwood who both died later in what became known as the third battle of Krihia. The allies never gained control of the Gallipoli peninsular and all their troops had been withdrawn by Christmas.

Duncan survived to fight another day. In 1918, he was in action on the front line in France where he was gassed in a German attack. He was brought back to England and spent some time in hospital near Wigan. While he was there, his father died suddenly, working on his allotment, but Duncan was too ill to attend the funeral.

Another of the Silloth reservists who survived the Gallipoli landings was Thomas Stanwix, a farmer’s son from Blitterlees, just outside the town. Years later, his family turned their farm into a holiday camp.
He made it through the early stages of the Gallipoli landings but, in August 1915, suffered “severe, multiple shell wounds in the forearm, nose and thigh”. He was taken to hospital in Malta and, eventually, back to the Royal Naval Hospital in Portland.

After recovering from his wounds, he saw action on the western front and was again wounded in May 1918. He was then promoted and became involved in the logistics of supplying the front-line troops.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal but never talked much about his experiences. He used to say that, when he returned home, he had to undress and bath in the byre to get rid of the lice and mud before he went into the house.

After the war, Thomas Stanwix joined the police and moved to the North-East. Duncan Chisholm became second engineer on the S.S. ‘Asseroe’, which sailed regularly between Silloth and Dublin. When this service was suspended, in 1940, he went to work at Carr’s Mill.

They were lucky. Over 34,000 British troops died during the ten months of the Gallipoli campaign; 78,500 were wounded. The Australian and New Zealand forces lost around 11,500 men with a further 24,000 badly injured. Total casualties for the Turkish forces have been estimated at 175,000. The song ‘and the band played Waltzing Matilda’ calls them the forgotten heroes of a forgotten war. They won’t be forgotten in Silloth.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Holm Cultram Abbey

In 1150 Holm Cultram Abbey was founded by Prince Henry of Scotland who gave the land to monks from Melrose Abbey to settle.
These Cistercian monks organized the clearing of forests and draining of large tracts of the Solway marshes, making the land of the Holm district habitable and profitable. By 1200 the Abbey was well under construction. When finished the Abbey and associated buildings covered ten acres of land.

Throughout the thirteenth century benefactors on both sides of the Solway lavished gifts on the Abbey, the main motivation being a hope that they could buy their way into heaven.
This plan shows the outline of the original abbey church with the present building indicated by the thick black lines. It is claimed that the original church was larger than Carlisle cathedral.

The monks were very successful sheep farmers and became the largest supplies of wool in the Northwest of England with an estimated flock of over 6,000 sheep. The Abbey became immensely wealthy and was raided and plundered by the Scots on many occasions. Robert the Bruce caused the worst devastation in 1319, despite the fact that his father was buried there.

These photographs of the abbey church date from around 1900. Note the plaster ceiling on the interior view.

In 1538 the Act dissolving the Greater Monasteries was passed. Holm Cultram Abbey along with 1,600 acres of land and all its possessions was surrendered to Henry VIII.

The Abbey Church was not destroyed, as many were, because it served as a parish church and as a refuge against the Scots. Over time the Abbey church fell into disrepair due to lack of local authority and money.

In 1703, when Bishop Nicholson visited Holm Cultram he was shocked at the state the Abbey was in. He appointed Trustees to organise its restoration. The nave was reduced in size and the side aisles were removed. Between 1833 and 1973 further remodelling has taken place.

Over eight hundred years, the Abbey had a troubled existence but survived all attempts to destroy it. It became a parish church somewhat reduced in size and circumstances but still a place of great beauty, peace and serenity.
All this changed on Friday, June 9, 2006, a very hot day, when the abbey church was badly damaged by fire. Crews from Maryport, Silloth, Wigton and Aspatria were called to the scene.
They entered the church wearing breathing apparatus but were unable to prevent the fire spreading to the roof which collapsed completely around 7pm. Although the damage to the interior was extensive, all but one of the stained glass windows were saved.
Following the fire, six teenagers were arrested, five were released but one, 17-year-old Shane Walker of Solway Street, Silloth, was charged with arson and the theft of £5 from the church. He appeared at Carlisle Crown Court on November 7 and was sentenced to four years detention. Judge John Phillips told him “Not only have you destroyed a national treasure – you have also severely damaged an entire community.”
Restoration work on the church began in 2007 and was completed in 2014 at a cost of several million pounds.