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The Heritage of the Solway Firth
The Heritage of the Solway Firth
James Irving Hawkins
The Solway Firth is a major estuary and has been a communication route and a source of food for the inhabitants of its shores from the Mesolithic period to the present day. In times of war and border unrest the Firth and its major rivers have been used as natural lines of defence.
This book contains a collection of photographs and information gathered from many individuals and organisations.
Friends of Annandale and Eskdale Museums
colour & b&w photographs, line drawings
There was a time when the Solway Firth was bustling with activity.
Cattle drovers from the Highlands forded the treacherous waters on their journeys to markets in England. Small ships sailed to and fro between the ports on the Scottish and Cumbrian shores. Larger ships sailed from Carlisle and Annan to Liverpool and other ports on the Irish Sea and beyond. Fishing smacks and trawlers ventured on the often stormy waters and in-shore fishermen pursued the ancient craft of haaf-net fishing.
Today, we may have turned our backs on the Solway. Ships and boats are no longer built at Annan and Maryport. Port Carlisle has long-closed and Carlisle’s canal which linked it to the sea, was filled in a century and a half ago. There is very little transport by sea. The Solway Junction Viaduct which offered a rail link across from Bowness to Scotland disappeared in the 1930s.
James Hawkins in this well-illustrated book published by the Friends of Annandale and Eskdale Museums takes a nostalgic look at the maritime heritage of the Solway..
Annan itself was once the home of a significant shipbuilding industry. The firm of John Nicholson and Co. built majestic tea-clippers for the East India trade. One very fine vessel, the Elizabeth Nicholson weighed in at 904 tons and was reputed to have made the run from Foochow to London in 92 days. Nevertheless, she ended her days as a storage hulk alongside a wharf in Shanghai. The last clipper to be built in the Nicholson yard was the Sarah Nicholson. She was launched in 1865 and then the carpenters and apprentices upped tools and went to work in a yard at Newport in South Wales.
A painting of 1868 by Carlisle’s William Henry Nutter shows how industrial change came to Annan. When the picture was painted the regular steam service that connected Annan with Carlisle and Liverpool had ceased. Nutter shows the local fishing boats sharing the wharf with a schooner. In the background the Solway Viaduct is nearing completion. Even though the viaduct did not open until the following year a train is steaming across it. Before the railway was opened to commercial traffic trains bearing heavy loads of sandstone were used to test the structure.
The Viaduct, 1783 metres long, was built to transport iron ore from West Cumberland to the Lanarkshire steel producers. It was only later used for general goods and passenger traffic.
In 1881 the Viaduct was seriously damaged by ice. The frost had been so severe that large areas of the Solway had frozen over. As the thaw set in, massive slabs of ice, some of them two metres thick and over 20 square metres in area, were borne along at nine knots by the ebb-tide. It was three years before the Viaduct was repaired and carrying traffic again.
Under thirty years later, in 1921, the railway was closed. In 1934 demolition began. For four years an old schooner, the General Havelock was used to transport the scrap. When her work was completed, she was sold for just £5 to be used as firewood.
Such has been the fate of so many aspects of the Solway.
The lighthouse at Barnkirk Point was burnt down in 1975. The east Cote Light was originally on rails so that it could be aligned with other lights to mark the Solway Channel. The Solway Lightship was anchored off the Robin Rigg shallows until the 1930’s.
Even the fishing is disappearing. In 1896 Annan could boast a fleet of 51 shrimp trawlers, 30 whammel boats, 13 herring boats and 24 small boats. In 2000 Annan was home for only three shrimp trawlers and one whammel boat. Within three years they had disappeared as well. The old, traditional ways of fishing are fast diminishing. Gowesk netting, stake nets, trap nets and poke nets and haaf nets are all threatened by modern developments.
The modern world may have turned its back on the Solway, but James Hawkins has drawn together an exceptional range of photographs. They centre on Annan and its port and ship-building but they also display the life and prosperity that the Solway once brought to both Cumberland and the south of Scotland – Steve Matthews, Bookcase
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