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

At the start of the century, in the Edwardian era, Silloth was still being promoted as a health resort for the well-to-do.

Silloth, Criffel Street, early 1900s
Criffel Street in the very early 1900s.

Martin’s guide book for the period proudly claimed “the amount of Ozone found in the atmosphere is much greater than at any other place in the British Isles. . . this, combined with the almost complete absence of fog, renders Silloth a particularly desirable place for invalids.”

Silloth, the green and baths

Fresh air, long walks and sea bathing were the town’s main attractions.  Already, Silloth may have seemed a little old-fashioned. Blackpool tower had opened 1894. Despite its limited range of facilities, the town could attract large crowds at times during ‘the season’. At other times, the streets were pretty deserted.

A notable feature of photographs from these years is just how well-dressed the visitors are. There isn't a working man in sight! Formal dress was even worn on the beach.

Silloth Beach Scene, early 1900s

The main entertainment for visitors to the town was provided by a troop of Pierrots who performed, on the green, in an area known as 'Happy Valley'.

This view of the Pierrots on stage is taken from a glass negative and must date
 from around 1910.

The First World War took a heavy toll in the lives of local men; many more were injured. The conflict, however, had little real effect on local life. Visitors arrived in large numbers and the Pierrots continued to perform every summer.

Silloth Pierrot Troop
David Fuller with his "Merry Men and Maids"

After the war, the character of the town and its visitors changed completely. The middle classes deserted Silloth for more fashionable resorts in the South of England and on the continent.

Silloth was forced to re-invent itself. It started to do what it still does today - providing a great day out or a cheap holiday for the working man and his family.

Silloth, Criffel St., 1930s

At Bank Holiday weekends and during Carlisle Race Week, vast numbers of day-trippers arrived by rail. Visitors who stayed longer mostly boarded with local families many of whom let rooms in their homes.

Boats at landing stage

Boating trips were very popular with these trippers. The local fishermen hired out their boats for trips on The Solway. In the picture, the three boats (left to right) are the 'Venettia', the 'Trip' and the 'Foam'. All three belonged to the Baxter family who also built the landing stage.

Bathers on the beach

Bathing was always popular and dress on the beach became much less formal. It was in these years that Silloth's most fondly remembered attraction first appeared - the donkeys!

Silloth, Gray's Donkeys
Donkey rides on the green. This picture was taken in 1934, 'Donkey' Gray, the proprietor, is standing on the right.

Silloth Pavilion The Silloth 'Follies'
During the 1920s, the area of the green known as Happy Valley, where the Pierrots used to perform, was converted into a theatre - The Silloth Pavilion.

The natural hillside was covered with tiered seating.

Charles Beanland and his 'Silloth Follies' (right) took to the stage every night during the summer season with extra matinees at 11am and 3pm, if wet!

The Pavilion was demolished in the early 1950s.
Crowds at Carlisle Station By the 1930s, the cheap day-trips on the railway had become even more popular.

The scene on the left shows Carlisle Station on Whit Monday, 1933. The crowds are waiting for the Silloth train!

Click on 'Play' in the video frame below to watch them arriving at Silloth and taking a trip to the docks where they watch the hydraulic coal hoist in operation and see the 'Asseroe' setting sail for the Isle of Man and Dublin.

In 1938, work began on building a large RAF airfield just outside the town. Throughout the Second World War it was used as a training base for bomber crews. A large Maintenance Unit (22MU) was also located there. Here a civilian work-force fitted armaments, radios and navigation equipment to planes which were then flown south to the operational bases.

Aerial view of Silloth Airfield

After the war, the airfield was sold-off and became the site for many new industries and the Lido holiday village.

Lack of any maintenance during the war years had left Silloth's sea defences in a dangerous state. Many of the pine trees and been washed away and the green was frequently flooded.

Silloth Sea Wall, 1949

In late 1949, work began on a new sea wall and promenade which was completed in late 1950 and officially opened in June 1951.

August 1949

May 1950

June 1950

September 1950

Silloth Amusements, 1950s

Silloth baths had closed shortly after the First World War. In the 1920s, the building was converted into a tea room. By the 1950s, it had become what is still the town's most popular all-weather attraction - The Amusements.

Silloth, West Beach

The West Beach, with its refreshments huts, remained the most popular place for families and picnics. A new attraction was the paddling pool on the green.

Silloth Paddling Pool

multi-view postcard


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The town in the 19th Century
History of Silloth Docks
The Railway - Sport - Shopping

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Silloth - the 20th Century