History of Allonby

A History of Allonby - Opening of the Village Hall


History of Allonby. The name Allonby appears to be first recorded as 'Alenby' in 1274 meaning "Alein's settlement", from the first name "Alein", derived from the Anglo-Norman French "aguillon", goad, spur, with the Northern Middle English "by", farm, settlement, a development of the Old Norse "byr".

Allonby's past has seen it's involvement in salt making, smuggling, shipbreaking, weaving, horse riding and the fishing industry.

The Romans arrived in Britain around 55 BC and by 122 AD the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall between Wallsend on the Tyne (North East England) and Bowness on the Solway coast. This wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Roman Empire.The Cumbrian coast of the Solway was an extension of this Roman defence system against sea attack, the coast being fortified with a series small forts and look-out posts from Bowness to St Bees.

The first settlers in the area, to set up permanent settlements, were probably the Anglo-Saxons arriving some time after the demise of Roman rule in the 5th Century.

During the first Viking raids of Britain from late the 8th Century the Solway coast appears to have been over looked, until the beginning of the 9th Century when the Celtic people of Ireland expelled the Viking settlers from Dublin. Looking for somewhere new to live, the Vikings set sail and headed north. It is said that they landed at Allonby and settled here peacefully.

Salt has been extracted from sea water along the Solway coast for nearly 700 years from around the 12th Century. The saltpans that can still be seen at Crosscanoby date from around 1650.

During the 17th and 18th Centuries, smuggling on the Solway coast was rife and many illicit loads such as spirits, tobacco and textiles from Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, were landed between the Allonby and Skinburness by gangs of smugglers.

The Religious Society of Friends or Quakers established a Meeting House in Allonby in 1703 from a converted cottage, which was later extended. The Quakers formed formed a large and influential section of the local community. The Fish Yards for example, run by the Beeby family, was a very prosperous enterprise and from the late 18th Century until the mid-19th Century, Allonby was an important centre for herring fishing. These buildings later became a riding school. There was also a smoke house where some of the herring were turned into kippers. A Quaker reading room, built in 1862, occupies the site of the former weaving sheds.

The village has a long history of being a sea-bathing resort, going back to the 18th Century, when the fashion for bathing, and even drinking sea water, was considered a health cure. The Baths was built in 1835 and housed a suite of hot, cold, and vapour baths.

By the mid 19th Century Allonby was a popular destination for Cumberland's elite and by the late 1800s, Allonby had ten inns, serving a population of only around 400 people.

By the early 1900s ships were being built with iron hulls, making ships with wooden hulls redundant. Many of these were towed by tugs up the Solway to the shores of Allonby, from as far a field as Africa and Scandinavia, to be broken up and the wood used for pit props in the coal mines of the north. Some of these old beams can also be found in the structures of local houses.

In 1857, a new town was built 8 miles north of Allonby, named Silloth, the name derived from Selath, or 'sea barn'. These barns were used by the monks of Holme Cultram as part of their salt making industry.

The site for Silloth was chosen to give better access to the sea for the city of Carlisle and with it came a railway running from Port Carlisle. By the 1900s Silloth was a popular resort offering visitors, sea bathing and boating, with a fine promenade and vast public green. The town even boasted hydro medical baths which offered a range of therapeutic sea water treatments.

The popularity of Silloth as a tourist resort and the railway appear to have drawn visitors away from Allonby. However with the advent of the motor car, the pull of Allonby's picturesque situation proved a popular destination once more and by the 1950s, the first caravan sites appeared.

For more a more detailed history of Allonby, it's people and it's buildings visit Solway Past and Present.

The Holme St Cuthbert Histroy Group have produced two fine paperback books which are available through their website.

See also John Pearson's memories of Allonby.