Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

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”.

18th century map

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.

Carlisle Journal plan of new town

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.

Click on the map for a larger printable image.

1860 0S Map


Pie chart from 1861 census 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. They included the Dock Master, William Carruthers and William Geddes who was the Superintendent of Lights and Buoys in the shipping channel. Thomas Geddes, 84, must have been a relative. He was the Light House Keeper and lived there all alone. Isabella Gowan, 30, was awaiting the return of her husband from sea; he was the Mate on the Packet Ship.

Early view of Silloth green
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 in the 1890s.
Click on any of the pictures for a larger version.

Criffel Street

Eden Street

The Green and Christ Church

The Baths

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!

Silloth Salt Works
The Salt Works
Silloth Salt Works Cottages
The Salt Works Cottages

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.

Carrs' Flour Mill
An early view of the Flour Mill and New Dock. The building on the right was the Mill Manager's House; it was later converted to offices.

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.

Crabb's Chemical and Mineral Water Works

William Crabb also established the Silloth Mineral Water Company which made lemonade and other soft drinks for the growing tourist market in the town.

This business was originally located in a lean-to building at the fertilizer works, on the left of the picture above.

Later it was moved to purpose-built premises in West Silloth and was finally taken over by Arnisons who ran a similar business in Wigton.

The earthenware bottles, seen on the right, are highly prized by collectors.
Silloth Mineral Water bottle

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.

Maxwell's Chemical Works

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.

Silloth, Christ Church

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.

Silloth Convalescent Home

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".

Silloth Battery
The Battery. It is thought this photograph was taken in 1895 when the Crown
Prince of Afghanistan visited the site.

Silloth, Eden Street, 1902
Eden Street in 1899. The businesses beside the Solway Hotel are Tindall's confectioners and Over's Cycle Hire shop. The Waverley Hotel can be seen in the middle distance. The site on the right-hand corner of the view is empty; Martin's newsagents and fancy goods store was yet to be built.

Silloth Gazette

The new town, briefly, had its own newspaper and, in 1892, Joseph Wood published his first  illustrated souvenir for the fashionable resort. A few years later, Martins published their guide book.

Click on the covers of the booklets to take a look inside or go to our downloads page to save a PDF file of the Martin's Guide.

Wood's Souvenir Brochure


version of this
The town in the 20th Century
History of Silloth Docks
The Railway - Sport - Shopping

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Silloth - the 19th century