Records : The nineteenth century

Pages 259-264

Register and Records of Holm Cultram. Originally published by T Wilson & Son, Kendal, 1929.

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Before 1800 the acredales had been redistributed and fenced in, and there was a movement to enclose the commons for cultivation. This was assisted by the high prices ruling in the war-time of 1790 to 1815. The Holm Cultram Enclosure Act was passed in 1806 and the commissioners' award dates Nov. 10, 1814, affecting about 6000 acres in the Hards as well as Colt Park, now for the first time brought into cultivation. It was a period of great activity in agriculture, and the new movement was represented by the Workington Agricultural Society, at the head of which was John Christian Curwen, M.P. He took an interest in a friendly way in the Holm, and from his reports we quote extracts showing the progress he noted.

1810. "The soil in Abbey Holme is superior to that of Dumfriesshire but wofully different in management; in general this tract of the country has made the least progress in improvement. The enclosure of the commons may, and I hope will, produce a considerable change. Some few farmers have begun to adopt a different system. The land is well adapted for sheep. The wheat crop is generally light, the barley tolerable, the oats abundant; of green crops they have a woful lack. I scarce saw a field of turnips for twenty miles …"

1813-14. Mr. Rigg of Abbey House was awarded a premium of five guineas by the Workington Society for the best managed farm in the Holm.

1815-19. Mr. Curwen's report. "The changes which have been effected in the Abbey Holme since my last Report are truly astonishing. I do not believe a greater improvement in system was ever effected in so short a space of time. On my first attendance at their Agricultural Meeting in 1812 there were few turnips in the district; those which were grown were ill cultivated and foul to an extreme. The fallows were not half worked; the sown grasses on land so ill cleaned could not fail of being in a great measure stifled and destroyed by weeds … On my inspection of the Holme last year, the quantity of turnips was increased tenfold and the cultivation of them not exceeded by any management in the kingdom … The clover crops were wonderfully augmented … I do not hazard much in pronouncing that in the course of the last seven years one fourth has been added to the produce of this district." He then goes on to mention Mr. Barnes of the [Wolsty] Close, Mr. S. Rigg and Mr. Harrison of the Abbey, Mr. Mann, Mr. Skelton of Skinburness and Mr. Penrice as especially praiseworthy farmers; "but when we refer to the valuable early instruction derived from Green Row (see p. 257) by many of the present practical agriculturists, our wonder ceases. The knowledge of general utility as well as classical erudition is taught and enforced" [by Joseph Saul].

"The Upper Holme has not as yet made the same advance in cultivation. The quality of the soil is considered to be much less valuable, being chiefly composed of sand. Inferior as such soils may be regarded they are capable of the greatest improvement where the vicinage of marl, clay, loam or any other adhesive earth or lime does not from expense preclude the use of either … On these light soils, sheep would be found the most profitable stock … The only improvement at present is the want of sufficient fences; the earthen mounds or baulks oppose no obstacle to sheep, but if furze or gorse were either transplanted or sown upon them, and after the second year kept constantly clipped, the fences would soon become not only sufficient for the purpose of confining, but of affording great shelter to the flocks."

After recommending deep ploughing, cleaning the fallows and weeding hedgerows and borders, attending to manure and applying it to green crops, he continues:—"An important improvement has taken place by an increased attention to stock. Mr. Saul of Greenrow has been among the foremost to introduce the improved Durham or short-horned cattle … He also introduced the breed of Southdown sheep … Before a free use of salt (fn. 1) … sheep could not be kept on strong wet soils without great fear of loss … flocks may now be kept in perfect safety on lands where it was by no means prudent to hazard them." He then instances Mr. Barnes and his shorthorns, Mr. S. Rigg and Mr. Wise and their Galloway cattle, "and some good stocks (so far as the word 'good' is applicable to longhorned cattle), but until recently the greater proportion of stock has had little attention paid to its interests or improvement. Soiling is practised … Mr. Holliday has carried it to the greatest extent … On some farms beans are well cultivated; tares are pretty generally sown for the soiling of horses when the first crop of clover fails …

"It has lately been an object with the Board of Agriculture to ascertain what measures would most successfully stimulate the practical husbandman … I recommended to the Board … the regulations and system pursued by the Holm Agricultural Society …"

A meeting of that society in 1827 is described in the diary of the author's father. "August 2nd. Attended the Agricultural Meeting in the Holme at Greenrow. Met 30 or 40 gentlemen at breakfast. Viewed first Mr. Saul s stock and green crop. Good common turnips from compost. Jonathan Ritson called our attention to the potatoe crop, which he considered worse in working so much; it destroys the numerous small fibres, and consequently injures the crop. Proceeded to Newhouse, where good turnips and barley were to be seen, but mugworts gave some offence to the cognizant. Next Balladoyle; the stock good, but the grass most excellent; his crops throughout even and good; the farm in very first order. Some ploughing viz. hedging the fallow on Mr. Roper's farm was exceedingly and deservedly admired. The next farm was Nicholas Little's that came under our inspection; his turnips were healthy, regular and clean. At Abbeyhouse yearling bullocks and cows attracted attention and drew forth expressions of admiration from the company which by this time was fairly numerous; barley and wheat very heavy, turnips and potatoes entirely clean and most luxuriant. Jos. Wise's farm might be said the same of as Mr. Rigg's; a double liming has brought a fair crop of wheat; many of his swedes transplanted; they should always be firm in the ground when put in, and when they have well taken root loosened a little. Thos. Rigg showed by far the best turnips. The gentlemen then took the most direct route to Skinburness, where dinner was partaken by about a hundred."

In 1842 a Holm Cultram and District Farmers' Club was established, the meetings held monthly at the Wheatsheaf Inn. There was also the Agricultural Society which had its exhibition in the Cloister Garth at Abbeytown, with a very modest prize-list; two for roots (19 entries); three for grain (29 entries); two for pigs (11 entries); seven for sheep (22 entries); six for horses (18 entries); four for galloways (16 entries) and six for shorthorns (17 entries). Most of the entries were from residents within the district.

The population of the Holm changed very little until the nineteenth century was well advanced. Under Henry VIII it contained 1500 'houseling people' or communicants (petition to Cromwell); adding children, the total must have been what it was about 1800. Since then the numbers have been:—

Year. Holm Abbey. East Waver. St. Cuthberts. Holm Low. Total.
1801. 590 371 589 637 = 2187
1811. 600 393 678 767 = 2317
1821. 758 502 701 811 = 2772
1831. 861 481 740 974 = 3056
1841. 868 470 766 933 = 3039
1851. 972 473 822 922 = 3189
1861. 982 526 821 1538 = 3867
1871. 933 495 753 1906 = 4230
1881. 915 452 748 2092 = 4230
1891. 906 421 753 2522 = 4602
1901. 799 414 669 2393 = 4275
1911. 793 378 674 2649 = 4497
1921 784 348 674 2960 = 4766

The chief increase is shown in Holm Low, which includes Silloth; and the rise there is partly explained by the development of the place not so much as a port but as a residential area made possible by the railway, opened in 1856.

In 1854, owing to the inadequate state of the harbour at Port Carlisle, a railway from Drumburgh to Silloth was proposed, mainly by business men in Carlisle. Application was made to Parliament for an act entitled the Silloth Railway and Dock Bill, with a capital of £145,000. This was opposed by the Maryport and Carlisle Railway Co. and others, but in the Holm the feeling was generally friendly. At the first meeting of shareholders, August 15, 1855, it was stated that the landowners had nominated Mr. Heskett of Plumpton Hall, and the directors Mr. Dickinson of North Mosses as their valuers respectively; but the cost of the land greatly exceeded the estimates. Many owners asked prices above the present value; the site of Silloth cost the company about £62 an acre. The dock was originally intended to be 100 yards west of the present Cote Lighthouse; when soundings were taken in 1837 and 1844 about 21 feet of water was found a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse, but in 1854 the depth had decreased to 6 feet. In fact, the filling up of the channel, which has given so much anxiety to the district council, defeated the bill.

Next year a new bill was sent up, and passed, not without strenuous opposition. One landowner spent £160, it is said, in opposing; and in his will left a farthing each to John Steel and John Grainger of Southerfield as active supporters of the measure, and a clause to the effect that his successor was to lose the estate if ever he travelled on the Carlisle and Silloth railway. The first sod was cut by Sir James Graham, and the line was opened for traffic on August 28, 1856. The foundation stone of the Marshall Dock, so called after Mr. William Marshall, M.P. for East Cumberland, was laid on August 18, 1857, and the dock was opened on August 3, 1859; the diary of the author's father records that 12,000 people were present.

Some twenty years later, the railway was taken over by the North British Co. at the rate of £75 of North British Stock for every £100 of Carlisle and Silloth Stock. On April 6, 1879, the outward wall of the dock collapsed. Not before 1882 a new dock, on the landward side of the old dock, was commenced by the North British R. Co. and opened in 1885; the cost is said to have been £100,000. The house called the Cumberland Hotel was the first of the new town, planned by Messrs J. W. & T. Hay of Liverpool.

After the erection of the pier at Silloth in 1855 a gradual encroachment of the sea took place to the north towards Skinburness, costing large sums in weiring, from 1860 to 1890, to prevent the washing away of the bank. The marsh north of the highway opposite East Cote, on which a herd was kept and cricket was played in summer, was wasted away, and through the erection of a large concrete groin at the eastern boundary of his estate by C. H. Joliffe, Esq., the erosion was so increased that in 1892 the road was endangered. In that year the District Council, aided by a grant of £74 from the Seadyke Charity, built a defence of railway sleepers bolted together and covered with sods; a few years later a concrete wall and apron were put in, from the design of Mr. G. J. Bell, the County surveyor, who erected a similar work to protect the road at Dubmill; in 1898 a similar protection was extended towards Rye hills; and in 1902 the wall was carried further east. Landowners joined in the cost; the Seadyke Charity spent £463 from 1896 to 1904 on concrete and repairs.

In 1906 the North British Ry. Co. built a timber groyne near North House. Soon afterwards Mr. Joliffe's bank was partly washed away, endangering the road, and the District Council proposed a concrete wall, 4 ft. 6 ins. high with an apron 15 ft. wide and rising 4 ft. above the wall for a length of about 4200 feet, towards which the County Council, Mr. Joliffe and the Seadyke Charity each promised £1000. But before the work was begun there was another wash-out, and further work needed, which Mr. Dawson of Cleator contracted to carry out for £4695, towards which the County Highway Authority agreed to give £250 more, and a loan of £7500 was asked from the Local Government Board. The Government Inspector, however, found the new plans insufficient, and Mr. Henry Adams of London was called in as expert. His recommendations were carried out in autumn, 1910, only to be found inadequate in 1911. Mr. J. Campbell Boyd, now appointed engineer, advised further strengthening, which was done by 1913 for about £5850, over about 3500 feet from North House corner.

Meanwhile, the sea-currents had brought deep water close to the land. In April 1912 the original wall was threatened, and under Mr. Boyd's direction it was underpinned with a 'toe' wall of concrete to a further depth of 6 ft. for 2000 feet from North House; timber groynes and concrete pitching on the beach were added in front of the wall, at an additional cost of about £4500. The storm of November 1911 destroyed 160 yards of the sea-wall at Rye hills, and in 1914 the District Council instructed Mr. Boyd to restore the works and build a new wall near to the land; this the owners of adjacent bungalows continued. But up to this date the expense of protection from the sea in recent times had cost nearly £16000, of which over £12,000 had to be found by the ratepayers.

We began our story with this problem of coast-erosion, and we conclude without bringing the puzzle to a solution. The Seadykes have always been a burden on the Holm, and the inhabitants feel that it is more than a local question; that the duty of preserving the ground is of national importance, and that it ought not to be left to the unaided efforts of a small and by no means wealthy community.


  • 1. For many years Mr. Curwen advocated in Parliament the repeal of the duties on salt, which were as high as £30 a ton. The tax was reduced to 15s. and finally wiped out altogether.