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

In 1823, a canal was opened from Carlisle to Fishers Cross, a village on the coast, which was then renamed Port Carlisle. The canal was never a financial success and was plagued by problems. The harbour at Port Carlisle was tidal and silted up quickly.

Sir James Graham cuts the first sod of the line
from Drumburgh to Silloth

The canal lasted for only thirty years. In 1853, the directors obtained an act of parliament to convert it into a railway. The work began right away and the line opened in May 1854, connecting with steamer services for Liverpool at Port Carlisle.

An extension was built from Drumburgh to Silloth where a deep-water harbour was planned. This section of the line opened in August, 1856, passing through Kirkbride and Abbeytown.


In the same year, the Liverpool steamer service was moved to Silloth and traffic on the original line from Drumburgh to Port Carlisle became so light that the company decided to economise by replacing the steam engine on this section with a horse!

The Port Carlisle Dandy 

In 1859, the company constructed a special carriage for this horse-powered stretch. It became known as ‘The Dandy’ and continued in service until 1914. It is now in the National Railway Museum at York.

Causewayhead Crossing Keeper 
The keeper of the level crossing at Causewayhead

By 1862, Silloth had begun to develop as a resort and the line was taken over by the North British Railway which had its headquarters in Edinburgh. The line was always popular, bringing hoards of visitors to Silloth from Carlisle and the towns of West Cumberland.

Silloth Docks and railway yard 
The extensive railway yard and docks at Silloth

The NBR publicised Silloth at its stations in Scotland and many tourists arrived from north of the border.

On one day, in 1883, the line carried 8,000 passengers to the Barony Races at Burgh-by-Sands to celebrate the accession of a new Lord of the Manor there.

The line was not only popular with pleasure-seekers and day-trippers. For local people, it provided a connection with the main line services at Carlisle and was the main method of transport for farmers’ livestock and crops.

Crowds awaiting train at Carlisle station 
Crowds waiting for the Silloth train at Carlisle station, Whit Monday, 1933.

In 1922, the NBR was absorbed into the London & North Eastern Railway which continued to provide good services with many special excursion trains in the summer months. The line was nationalised after the second world war, becoming part of British Railways. It closed, as part of the ‘Beeching Cuts’ on September 7, 1964. People still talk about it as if it was only yesterday!

Posters and adverts for Silloth 

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More on the Silloth line at the Cumbria Railways site

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Carlisle and Silloth Bay Railway
Stations on the line: (clockwise from top left) Abbeytown, Kirkbride and Silloth.