Even the Romans utilised the presence of the sea and its shoreline as added defence in the building of Hadrian's Wall, their great frontier sweeping along the Solway Firth and down the west coast as far as Ravenglass.
The west-facing Solway coast affords expansive views and glorious sunsets over the Irish Sea, which can be enjoyed from the promenade walks.
To the north of Maryport is evidence of the salt-panning industry of Crosscanonby (the village was named after the Augustinian canons of Carlisle cathedral). Inland are the coal mining towns of Crosby, Dearham and Broughton Moor. To the south is the coastal village of Flimby, also a coal mining area but formerly a monastic holding of Holm Cultram Abbey. Towards Cockermouth is Great Broughton on the banks of the Derwent, and lastly Tallentire, its name suitably meaning ‘end of the land’.
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The fishing village of Allonby enjoys some beautiful far-reaching views over to Scotland and the Isle of Man.Its sand and shingle beach follows the edge of a wide crescent-shaped bay that is ideal for windsurfing and kite surfing. Behind the dunes and the ‘greens' is an assortment of grand Georgian architecture and humble fishermen's cottages, linked by narrow cobbled lanes and passageways.
The ancient township of Aspatria (pronounced ‘Spi-atry' by locals) is now described as ‘milk town’.It has one of the most modern creameries in England on its doorstep, with several local outlaying farms supplying milk on a daily basis.
The Romans stayed for around 250 years before being recalled to Rome around AD 410. Thereafter, the area was left to Romano-British tribes, later colonisation by Viking settlers who infiltrated rivers along the coast and founded settlements such as Flimby and Crosscanonby, and the Normans, who built the beautiful churches at Dearham and Crosscanonby. Both churches display stone carvings that portray the transition from pagan cults to Christian worship.
The town of Maryport owes its existence to the mining of coal and the foresighted patronage of Humphrey Senhouse of Netherhall. In the early 18th century, the area was little more than a fishing hamlet at the mouth of the river Ellen, known as Ellenfoot (owned by the Senhouse family). In 1749, Humphrey Senhouse obtained an Act of Parliament to develop a new town and harbour (to rival Whitehaven), which he named ‘Maryport’ after his wife. The town expanded rapidly in a planned way that incorporated elegant features such as cobbled Fleming Square surrounded by graceful Georgian architecture. By 1800 the town had 3000 inhabitants and 90 ships.
Maryport was built to capitalise on the discovery of nearby coal deposits. Initially the coal was brought in by packhorses to be loaded onto ships for export. The 19th century saw completion of the Maryport to Carlisle railway and new ship docks (Elizabeth and Senhouse Docks), which enabled large quantities of coal, iron ore, steel rails, timber, cotton, cattle and other goods to be brought in and out of the port. In the peak year of 1845, over 300,000 tons of coal were shipped out of Maryport. Shipping and shipbuilding were primary industries, and many master mariners lived in palatial Georgian houses near to the docks. Between 1765 and 1914, over 280 ships were built in Maryport’s shipyards. The town was the birthplace of Thomas Henry Ismay, one of the great shipping magnates of the time and owner of the White Star Line (which built the ill-fated Titanic). Other local shipping names include the Hine Brothers (who founded the Holme Shipping Line in 1873) and the Ritsons who constructed the first iron ships at Maryport.
Joseph Piele (1684–1790)
Joseph was born at Bank End Farm (at the far end of the Promenade). He went to sea at 17 and for a time was the shipmate of Alexander Selkirk (the original Robinson Crusoe who was marooned on the island of Juan Fernandez for 4 years). Joseph lived to be nearly 107 years old and died after his horse reared up and threw him to the ground. His long life witnessed the reigns of 7 monarchs from Charles II to George III. A plaque commemorating his long life can be found on the northeast wall of St Mary’s Church in Maryport.
Salt making was a highly important industry, as salt was needed for preserving meat and fish and for medicinal purposes. There were many saltpans along the north Cumbrian coast, but the ones at Crosscanonby are among the best preserved in England and were probably built around 1650 by the Senhouses of Netherhall.
The Mutiny on the Bounty
Maryport is associated with Fletcher Christian who led the Mutiny on the Bounty. On 28 April 1789, Fletcher Christian and other sailors on the Bounty overthrew Captain Bligh and some of his crew and cast them adrift on a boat. The mutineers eventually reached the Pitcairn Islands where most were murdered. It is uncertain whether Fletcher Christian was killed or whether he escaped back to England, but it is believed that he and a few other crew members founded a colony on the Pitcairn Islands, which is still inhabited by his descendants today.
The author, Wilkie Collins, used Ewanrigg Hall near Maryport as the setting for his novel, The Woman in White. He came to Maryport with his friend, Charles Dickens, in 1857 and stayed at the Golden Lion Hotel.
Douglas Clarke (1891–1951)
Douglas Clarke, five-times World Wrestling Heavyweight Champion in the 1930s and given the accolade of the Strongest Man in the World, was born at Ellenborough, Maryport.
Elizabeth Dock was the first non-tidal or ‘wet’ dock in Cumberland, with gates that could hold in the water between high tides.