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


Herd of Shorthorn cattle passing through Kirkbride For most of the twentieth century, the Solway Plain was predominately a dairy farming area.

Most farmers, would have had between eight and twelve cows. The most popular breed was the Shorthorn while some farms kept Ayrshires, they were a familiar site on the area's roads as they went back to the farms at milking time.
Cows passing along coast road in Allonby
Young girl, sheep dog and milk churns.
Elizabeth Pearson and Bess
waiting for the milk lorry.
Until the 1950s, the cows were hand-milked. The milk was carried in buckets to the dairy to be cooled. The milk ran over a zigzag cooler into a dish which had a gauze and cotton wool disc in the base through which the milk drained into the churn. This pad caught all the dirt, hayseeds and other debris and had to be changed morning and night.

The milk, in ten-gallon tins, was taken to the milk stand and stood, in the lea of the hedge or a building, as protection against the sun. It was picked up by lorry and taken to the dairy factory at Aspatria. 

Young woman carrying two buckets of milk Mary Carrick

Before the Second World War, the railways were used to convey cattle to the auctions.

At Edderside the cattle were taken to Bullgill station for transport.

In winter two people were required to do this; one man in front with a stable lamp and the other to chase the animals along. The man in front had to close any open gates and turn the cattle in the right direction at road junctions.

Some cattle were sent to the auction mart in Annan, on the Scottish side of the Solway.

They were loaded at Bullgill. The men had to leave at four o’clock in the morning, as it was a five or six mile walk.

One of the main events at Annan was the bull sale. Often these animals were reared and looked after by the farmer’s wife and a good price was eagerly awaited.

Farmer with Ayrshire Bull
Dick Armstrong with his Ayrshire Bull at Newtown

Most farms also had a flock of sheep. For them an important annual event was going to one of the Scottish markets to buy lambs. This meant getting to a railway station early in the morning. Time was needed to see which lambs to buy and assess what to pay for them.

Lambs at feeding trough

Lambs, having been chosen and bought, were sent by rail to Aspatria station and walked to their destination. The lambs were then penned into an area and fed on turnips and mashed haver until they were fat and ready to sell again. The farmer used a turnip cutter to slice the turnips into large chips, which fell into a swill and were then emptied into long troughs.

During the last war sheep were taken to various markets in the county to be ‘graded’. This process established the average weight of the animals, by feeling along the back of the lamb to see how much meat would be on the carcass when butchered. This was to ensure that the population all had a fair share of meat.

Grading sheep in auction ring
Grading Sheep at Wigton Auction Mart, 1940s.
Auctioneer, Robert Hope.

At the market three people were appointed to do this: one from the Ministry of Food, one butcher and the third representing the farmers. Each passed an opinion on what the average weight of the lambs might be and eventually agreed a figure. The sheep were duly slaughtered and the meat allocated according to the number of customers the butcher had.

Not only farmers kept pigs. Many villagers also raised one in their back yard. Once a year a butcher came to slaughter one of the pigs, which kept the family in ham, bacon and lard for a full year. This happened in a cold weather month (month with an ‘r’ in it) as there were no fridges and the flitches of bacon and hams were cured in salt, on sandstone shelves. Black pudding and yards of sausage were made. Some of the excess was given to neighbours and they in their turn, at their pig killing time, returned the kindness.

Large White Pig
Large White Pig
Cumberland Pig
Cumberland Pig
Click for larger image

The Cumberland pig was the usual pig kept for killing, but because the bacon was so fatty the breed became extinct and the Large White and the Landrace became popular.

Cattle in show ring at Silloth
Silloth Show, 1958
Agricultural shows were and still are a very important part of life, which often involve the whole family. A number of shows are still going but the ones held every year at Silloth and Aldoth no longer take place.

Joe Armstrong had to get up early in the morning and walk his cattle to the show and prepare them ready for judging at 10 o’clock.

The show ended late afternoon with a grand parade of the winning livestock around the show ring and then many would have a long walk home.
Prize winner Marigold  Watering a horse in front of a cattle truck
Most local farmers exhibited at these shows. Winifred Allen (neé Pattinson) and Norman Bell (above left) proudly display the cups won by 'Marigold'. The Armstrongs were also regular participants, (above right) at Workington and (below) at Cockermouth Shows.
Joe and Kathleen Armstrong grooming cattle for the show ring

A marquee housed the ‘Industrial Section’, consisting of all classes of vegetables, baking, knitting jams, chutneys and handicrafts, all to be judged and awarded prizes. In the afternoon hound trailing took place and it has been known for a few bets to take place. There was also Harness racing and Sulky trotting racing which attracted some serious betting

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