Silloth

SILLOTH: a port and coastal resort in Holm Cultram parish, Allerdale below Derwent Ward, Cumberland.

Silloth became a separate CP in 1934, its territory (1324 acres [536 ha]) being carvedfrom HOLME LOW CP (see separate article) and Skinburness Marsh.  The old village of Skinburness was included in Silloth CP.

Origin and growth of the town: Silloth was the creation of the railway.  It was founded by the Carlisle and Silloth Bay Railway and Dock Co, established in 1854 with the intention of providing Carlisle with a port for ocean-going ships.  A railway linking the city to Silloth was built in 1856 and a wet dock constructed 1857-9.  From an early date, the promoters recognised that the potential of Silloth as a seaside resort could fill the gap left by shaky revenues from the port.  A new town was laid out by 1860 and by 1871 Silloth was described in the census report as a ‘watering place [to which] many visitors resort during the summer months’.  The town’s population had risen to c.2,000 by 1901.  In its heyday in the early 20th century, Silloth drew on middle-class visitors from the border counties and excursionists from the industrial workforce in West Cumberland and Carlisle.  The town’s population stood at 3081 in 1951.  Economic stagnation during the 1950s and 1960s, as the port declined (and the railway station closed in 1964), resulted in a fall to 2662 by 1971.  However, economic revival in the later 20th century saw numbers rise again to 2932 by 2001.

Economic activity: 

The town’s fortunes centred on the port and on tourism, the latter often dominating the local economy.  The construction of the floating dock & harbour in 1857-9 not only enabled trade to grow, it also linked Silloth to the wider Irish Sea region: there were steamers daily to Liverpool (until 1917), and twice-weekly to Dublin (still operating in 1929); as well as regular services to Isle of Man. A new dock was opened in 1885 and the port flourished between then and the First World War.  Early industries included salt-making, a chemical works (from c.1868, processing imported phosphate and guano) and mineral water manufacture.  Solway Chemical and Manure works, a second fertilizer manufacturer using imported phosphate, was established from 1878 and closed 1962. Carr’s Flour Mill, built 1887, processing grain imported from North America, ensured the survival of Silloth as a port. (The mill has a 1904 cross-compound steam engine still working).The port underwent a revival in the late 20th century, with increased flour imports, and revivals of the cattle trade and fertilizer manufacture.  In the early 21st century the port handled c.80 ships yearly, importing grain, raw materials for fertilizer manufacture, paper pulp and molasses for animal foodstuff.

By 1866 two hotels had been built on the front: the Solway Hotel and the Queens Hotel.  Public baths, drawing sea water by stream engine, had opened in 1856 and the resort also sported a pavilion on the dunes and a cricket ground.  By 1899 there were a bowling green, golf links, tennis courts and a refreshment room on the Green (the Silloth Cocoa House Co. Ltd). In 1901 there were 10 hotels and 117 lodging houses/apartments in Silloth and further tourist accommodation, including the Skinburness Hotel (a hydro built in the 1880s), at Skinburness.  The late 20th century saw the growth of caravan parks along the coast.Sand dunes along the shore were used for weapons testing at the Battery from 1886; the Marsh towards Skinburness was used as a training ground for Royal Artillery.

Places of worship: 

Christchurch (Anglican) built 1869-70; tower and spire added 1878. Congregational church, built 1862; Wesleyan Chapel erected 1875; Primitive Methodist Chapel erected 1877; Presbyterians, who had previously met in the Oddfellows Hall, built a school chapel in 1886.  A Mission Room in Solway Street was built in 1887.

Institutions: 

National School founded 1857 (building converted into Solway Coast AONB Discovery Centre, opened 2002); Board Schools in 1901; new infants school 1896. In 1901 there were also 2 private schools.

Silloth Baths opened 1856; closed after the First World War and converted into a tea room in 1920s and to an amusement arcade in 1950s. Sanatorium for Cumberland and Westmorland (now Silloth Nursing Home) erected 1862, with a children's ward added in 1882.  Oddfellows Hall had been built before 1886.  A theatre, the Silloth Pavilion, was built on part of the Green in 1920s but was demolished in 1950s.

Additional sources used: 

J D Marshall and J K Walton, The Lake Counties from 1830 to the mid-20th century (1981), pp. 196-9; http://www.solwayplain.co.uk/silloth1.htm; www.solwayplain.co.uk/docks.rtf; http://www.solwaycoastaonb.org.uk/dhistory.php.

Compiled by: Eric Apperley/AJLW

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