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Solway Plain - past and present


Skinburness lies about a mile (1.5Km) north of Silloth. The original village has been extended by an area of modern housing and is a popular spot for retirement.

Skinburness village and old marsh road bridge
The Village in the Early 1900s.

Before the harbours at Silloth and Port Carlisle were built, it was an important anchorage for ships. Goods were landed there to be taken by horse and cart to Carlisle or transferred to smaller boats for a journey up the River Eden to the city.

Engraving on sailing ships beached on Solway Coast

It became a naval base during the time of Edward I’s campaigns against Scotland. In 1300, Edward ordered 27 ships from the Cinque Ports, on the south coast of England, to assemble there. They were joined by others from Ireland, Whitehaven, Allonby and many other ports in England. The king established English garrisons in Dumfries and Lochmaben on the Scottish side of the Solway. All their supplies were shipped through Skinburness.

In 1301, Edward granted a Royal Charter to the Abbot of Holm Cultram to hold a weekly market in Skinburness with a fair to be held for fifteen days during June. It had a very short life. The winter of 1305/6 must have been a stormy one. In March 1306, the King received a petition from the Abbot to move the market as “a great part of the road leading to the borough, and much of the borough itself, by divers invasions and storms were wasted and that the inlets of the sea were become so deep that people could not resort hither or inhabit the place as before”. The Abbot was granted leave to move the market to ‘Kirkby Joan’ which many writers identify as Newton Arlosh.

Local historian, Dennis Perriham, has recently suggested that it was after this disaster that the monks of Holm Cultram began construction of the Sea Dyke which ran right around the coast to Dubmill. Today, the dyke, seen on the right, still protects the village from high tides.

Skinburness today with seadyke in foreground

After the excitement of the fourteenth century, Skinburness became again a quiet fishing village although ships were still being beached there for unloading in the mid 1800s.

One of the most interesting buildings in the village is the Longhouse which stands directly above the shingle beach where the boats would come ashore. Today it has been converted to attractive private residences.

Longhouse today with two old postcard views of the building

The small pictures show it in earlier days. It was supposed to be the model for Joe Crakenthorpe’s tavern in Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott. In the novel, it is here that Bonnie Prince Charlie bids farewell to his supporters before boarding the ship which will take him into exile.

The building has had a chequered history. In the late 1700s it was a pub, known as The Greyhound. By 1900, it was a private hotel.

The hotel's proprietor cashed-in on the literary connection and issued these souvenir postcards for visitors.

Souvenir Postcard of "Prince Charlie's Room"

The Longhouse also seems to have been the base for a regular ferry service over the Solway to Scotland. This was operated by a relative of Lucy Carrick who was landlady of The Greyhound Inn.

Advert for ferry service to Scotland.
This advert appeared in the 'Cumberland Pacquet' during June, 1787

Skinburness Hotel, around 1900

The impressive Skinburness Hotel was built, in the 1880s, by Edwin Hodge Banks of Wigton where his family owned a small cotton mill. He enjoyed the lifestyle of a wealthy country gentlemen, keeping his 30-foot steam yacht, The Neptune, moored nearby. He was declared bankrupt in 1889 and vanished from the area.

Interiors of Billiard Room and Lobby
The original interiors from a guide published in 1892

The hotel has since passed through many hands. It was run by the government, as part of the Carlisle State Management Scheme between 1916 and 1971. After this period, it never really regained its original glory.

It has been closed since 2006 and it seems likely it will shortly be demolished to make way for a "retirement village".

The hotel today

The sad state of the hotel today. Picture © by Stephen Rowell

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