.And now a report from Bob Phillips,  LCT trustee and recently retired.
THE PORT OF SILOTH                                                      My career as a civil engineer was spent entirely in the ports industry employed by Associated British Ports. All ports have their own unique location, size, features and trades which makes them individually fascinating. Most of the facilities comprise modern structures and equipment, but many ports still have working structures which are of the same vintage as the waterway structures with which we are familiar. Therefore, whilst not having a canal based background, I do relate to boats, ships and trade, and more particularly the types of structures to be found in ports and canals, and it was this, plus the basic charm of the Lancaster canal, that drew me to become involved with the Trust last year.The smallest port with which I have been closely involved is Silloth, located on the Solway Firth in the north of Cumbria. Whilst it is modest in size, I always had a real soft spot for the place. Please note this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it has a golf course, currently rated at No.62 in Great Britain and Ireland, adjacent to the    port! I hope you will be interested by the following brief history of the port.
The growth of Carlisle in the middle of the 19th century established the need for its own deep water port as the volume of trade and size of ship      outgrown the capability of port     Carlisl ewhich was linked to the
city by an 11 mile long canal.
Silloth was identified as a suitable location. The Silloth Dock Act enabled construction of the new port to start in 1855, together with a railway linking it with Carlisle. A timber pier extending 1,000 feet into the Solway opened to traffic in 1857, by which time the railway had also been completed

The Marshall Dock, named after the thel local Member of Parliament who had been one of the main supporters of the development, was opened in 1859. It had a more or less constant water level retained behind one set of mitre dock gates which allowed ships to stay afloat at 
all states of the tide. With there being only one set of gates it was not possible to lock vessels into the port, so they arrived and sailed close to high tide when the gates would be opened. Trade was initially with ports around the Irish Sea and included transhipment of goods from larger ports such as Liverpool. Imports included raw cotton, fertiliser etc.

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timber, slate and livestock with exports being coal, agricultural, manufactured and cotton goods.

Regular shipping services were established to Belfast, Dublin, the Isle of Man and Liverpool.

The 6th April 1879 was a catastrophic day in the history of the port, when after a series of winter storms the dock entrance and gates collapsed. It was recognised that the location of the entrance was too exposed, so the decision was made to construct a new dock inland of Marshall Dock. This was completed in 1885 and is to this day still known as New Dock! The Marshall Dock effectively became a tidal harbour and offers more, although not full, protection from the weather to the New Dock entrance, which again comprised one set of mitre gates.

The original gates at the New Dock entrance had been constructed from greenheart, a tropical hardwood which is extremely durable in a marine environment. They were replaced in the late 1960s by a pair of steel tank gates, with each leaf having a mass of about 80 tonnes. Little did I know when I took over responsibility in 1995 for engineering at the port just how intimately I’d get to know them. Dock gates at the entrance to a port are more important to a port than the front door to your house, as houses do have a back door, which is a feature absent with ports. In other words, if the gates fail the port becomes either unusable or in the case of Silloth becomes a NABSA port (Not Afloat But Safely Aground). Many small ports do operate in that condition, but not all vessels are happy to proceed in that way, so something to be avoided at Silloth.

My own ‘catastrophic’ event at Silloth happened on a late Friday evening in July 1998. I was in a relaxed mood as my wife and I, with our three young boys were heading off on holiday to Whitby on the Saturday. That all changed when I received a call from the Silloth Harbour Master at about 10pm to say that the south gate anchorage had failed. I made a couple of calls to inform the people that needed to know and headed off to Silloth, arriving just before 1am. The Silloth team, all 3 of them, had managed to secure the gate with ropes and the gate operating machine. It was in a precarious position across the entrance, but was stable until the next high tide at about 8am on the Saturday morning. Having spent the night trying to sleep in the office, at high tide we did manage to winch the gate back into its recess and make it secure and stable.

My colleague Roger joined at this point and we formulated a plan for the repair. The top anchorage comprised a pair of steel bars, approximately 75mm in diameter which supported a U strap around the top gudgeon. This needed to be replaced, but extensive excavation in mass concrete and masonry was also required to gain access, all to be replaced upon completion. I’d thought about it overnight as to which contractor might be able to undertake such work. Fortunately, my contact at this company was in work on the Saturday morning and he arrived in Silloth late morning. He agreed they could do the work starting




replacement materials for the new anchorage. The work was completed in about 10 days which I thought was a great effort.

Fortunately, the weather was fantastic, so my colleague Roger got a great suntan supervising the work in Silloth and I did the same in Whitby! To me it was the early days of mobile phones which got very well used on the beach in Whitby!

Subsequently, the north gate anchorage failed 6 months later, just 3 days before Christmas. The weather couldn’t have been more of a contrast and the remedial work was delayed until the new year, with Silloth again becoming a NABSA port. The cause of failure was fatigue in the steel anchorage rods, exacerbated by the change from timber to steel tank gates 30 years previously. This was assessed as something the port could not tolerate going forward so a completely redesigned anchorage for both gates was subsequently constructed which was an expensive exercise in the context of Silloth.

1887 saw the opening of Carrs flour mill which initially milled wheat imported in sailing ships from Australia. The mill is still very important to the business of the port with imported wheat often arriving from Europe and at times Canadian wheat after transhipment in Liverpool. I remember on a tour of the mill about 10 or 15 years ago seeing the quality control laboratory where the full range of home bread making machines, which had recently become readily available and popular, were being tested. Carrs had developed a significant business supplying pre packed flour mixes for use in these bread makers. The laboratory manager had very clear opinions on the relative performance of the different brands!

During the 20th century, trade patterns continued to change and evolve, but coal exports to Ireland and serving its productive farming hinterland with import and export of agricultural commodities of all descriptions continued. A substantial lairage was built to handle cattle imports from Ireland.

From the early 1920s the 1,000 foot timber pier started to deteriorate due to structural decay, storms and vessel impacts. It was progressively reduced in size, until it was totally removed in the 1970s when it was replaced by a shorter groyne and breakwater to offer protection to vessels navigating the Marshall Dock entrance and to slow siltation in the entrance caused by the movement of beach material from south to north.

In common with many of the ports and canals, the Port of Silloth was owned and operated until 1948 by the railway company which underwent several name and structural changes. In 1948, along with all the other railway companies in the country, it was nationalised. It was following this that the railways, the former railway owned ports and the canals were separated from each other, with the canals coming under the British Waterways Board and the ports under the British Transport Docks Board. The ports were privatised in 1983 and became Associated British Ports, who remain the owner and operator of the port today.



The railway linking the port with Carlisle was closed as part of the Beeching cuts in 1964

     The most significant trade currently in terms of tonnage is the import of fertilizer for distribution to farms typically within a radius of 50 miles or so from the port. A new facility to handle the import of molasses was constructed in 2005 and supplies the Caltech plant located on land adjacent to the port. This plant produces Crystalyx, a high energy food supplement which resembles a large block of toffee and which cattle and sheep lick, thus obtaining necessary vitamins and other supplements to their feed. The Carrs flour mill continues to require imported wheat and other traffics have recently included construction materials, wind turbines and blades, paper pulp and logs. Some fishing and shrimping vessels also work out of the port.


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