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



From earliest times, the great majority of the population of England worked on the land. People did almost everything for themselves – fed themselves, clothed themselves, and made all that was necessary for their everyday lives. Even as late as 1500, some 80% were either farmers or farm labourers.

There had always been a few specialists. Every local area had its miller, blacksmith, cobbler  and its carpenter. These trades, frequently passed from father to son through the generations.

Little's joiners shop J.J.Heskett, Allonby Shoemaker
The Littles had a small joiners business in Mawbray Yard J.J. Hesket was Allonby's cobbler in the early 1900s

In Mawbray the blacksmiths were first the Carrs then, for three generations, the Wilsons and then Tom Graham who was also landlord of the Lowther Arms.

Tom Graham, Mawbray Blacksmith
Tom Graham with two of his regular customers.

Forming the iron tyre Firing the iron tyre
One of the Blacksmith's regular jobs was making iron tyres for the wooden wheels of the farm carts.

The Osbornes, as well as being a family of joiners and carpenters, also had stone-masons in the family, living in Hailforth; also in Hailforth were the Beatty family, nail-makers for at least three generations.

Many people had their own cow, most kept a few hens for eggs and nearly everyone grew some vegetables. Some kept bees, as honey would always sell well, and others grew soft fruit. Much of this produce was for the home, but any surplus could be traded locally or taken to the nearby markets for sale.

Beekeeper at hive Beekeeper taking swarm
Beekeepers near Kirkbride, 1930s.
Some people made their living on the sea shore. Robert Glaister Little (right) was a rabbit warrener, he leased the sea banks from the manor. Rabbits love sandy soil so he was always busy. Bill Storey gathered gravel from the foreshore and broke it up for road making. Rabbit warrener and dog
Loading gravel into horse and cart

Horse-drawn milk cart
Jobby Stephenson and his horse, Darkie, delivered Silloth's milk right up to the 1970s.

The Baxter family were fishermen in Annan, on the Scottish side of the Solway. In 1914, James Baxter piled his whole family, his wife and four sons, onto two of their boats together with all their household belongings. They crossed over to Silloth and set up a new home there.

Silloth landing stage and notice offering day trip to Annan for three shillings

Foster's camping field at Allonby with wooden chalets Moordale Caravan Site

By the 1950s, many local farmers had discovered a new way of making a living; they set up caravan sites on some of their less fertile fields. Two of the first were Foster's in Allonby (above left) and Moordale (right) just outside Silloth. The washing and toilet facilities were a bit primitive but nobody cared about that!

Despite all these changes, agriculture remains the dominant way of making a living on the Cumbrian Solway Plain.


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They continued to fish the local waters, but providing day-trips for holiday makers was their main source of income during the summer months. They built the landing stages seen below. The notice advertising their service was snapped by a visitor in 1938.
Making a living