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Solway Plain - past and present

The history of Silloth Docks

In 1857, just after the railway arrived at Silloth, a timber jetty was built. This allowed vessels to load and unload. A regular steamer service to Liverpool was established by the Silloth and the construction of an enclosed dock commenced. This opened in 1859.

Engraving of Silloth Docks
This engraving was published by Hudson Scott and Company of Carlisle in 1856 three years before the docks opened. "Artist's Impressions" are nothing new!

Trade in the early days included timber from the Baltic and Canada, flour and grain from Continental Europe, while coal was the main export. The Liverpool steamer carried cotton for the Carlisle mills and other regular passenger services were established between Silloth and Dublin, Belfast, the Isle of Man and, for a time, London.

By the late 1870s, North American wheat began arriving mainly for Carr’s, the biscuit makers in Carlisle.

In 1879, the dock entrance gave way and put the harbour out of action for several weeks. Repairs were carried out but, in 1882, work began on a new, larger dock which was completed with the help of the newly invented ‘Steam Navvy’, the first mechanical excavator. The picture on the right shows the work in progress.

The new dock opened in June 1885 and, two years later, Carr’s flour mill was built alongside it.

View of new dock
The new dock in September 1897. The large, white sailing ship is the 'Sierra Cadena' which had arrived with 3,000 tons of grain from San Francisco. The steamer is the SS 'Byron' from Baltimore with a cargo of wheat for Carr's Flour Mill which can be seen in the background.

The next twenty years were the port’s heyday. Wheat came from Australia, America and ports on the Danube and Black Sea. Timber arrived from Canada, the Baltic and Romania while ore came from Spain. The fertilizer factory imported phosphate from South Carolina and, later, Tunisia together with bones and guano from South America. Coastal trade included coal to Ireland, flour to Belfast and slate from North Wales.

Coal hoist and docks
A coaster is moored in front of the hydraulic coal lift at the eastern end of the new dock. Railway wagons, full of coal from the West Cumberland pits, would be hoisted up the gantry and tipped over into the ship's hold. The sailing vessel is the Norwegian barque 'Telefon'.

As the twentieth century progressed, things changed. Ocean going ships got bigger, fewer were able to dock at Silloth and coasters became the main callers. Sailing ships disappeared, the last large vessel visiting in 1914, although a few coastal schooners remained into the 1930s. The daily steamer service to Liverpool ended in 1917.

Postcards and advert of Yarrow

The Yarrow was built in 1893 and operated a regular service for passengers goods and cattle to Douglas in the Isle of Man and Dublin. In the late 1920s, she was sold to Palgrave Murphy of Dublin and renamed the Assaroe. Under her new name she continued to operate the route until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Crew of SS Yarrow, 1912
The Crew of the Yarrow in 1912. The stewardess is Sarah Mahony Cunningham who came from Dublin. The lad at the top of the ladder is thought to be Duncan Chisholm Junr who later became the ship's chief engineer.

Three pictures all from 1907.

On the left the 'Ailsa' has run aground at the port entrance. The 'Yarrow' is can be seen in the distance, unable to enter the harbour, the steam tug 'Petrel' is ferrying the passengers ashore. On the right is the fully rigged sailing ship 'Nereide' just arrived from Portland, Oregon, USA with 2,800 tons of wheat for Carrs.
Below the 'Sagamore' shortly after arrival from Braila, Romania. Her unusual design was known as a whale-back or turret and she caused much interest during her stay in port. Behind her, the 'Ailsa', now safely docked, is unloading her cargo of Baltic timber.

The Sigurd
The 'Sigurd' arriving on June 23rd 1914 with phosphate from Sfax, North Africa.

Silloth’s location made it a safe strategic port for World War II. Government and military supplies including large quantities of petrol and diesel were handled along with coal mined in Northeast England and destined for Ireland via this safer route.

Research and text by Stephen Wright

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