1740 - 1926 Maryport Rise and Progress of the Port
from Sea Breezes June 1927

Maryport Rise and Progress of the Port

Maryport Shipbuilding Broadside Launch Jackson P48
Maryport Shipbuilding Broadside Launch Jackson P48

Maryport Rise and Progress of the Port

Acts of Parliament of the years 1749, 1756 and 1791 refer to the Harbour as that of Ellenfoot, but in an Act of 1812 the name appears as Maryport. Between the years 1791 and 1812 a change of name had been effected, and the then owners of the soil, Humphrey Senhouse, Esq., had caused the change to be made in honour of his wife, Mary – Maryport.

The progress of the port from its earliest days has been largely the outcome of the wisdom and the pecuniary assistance in the development of a fishing creek into a harbour for the export of coal in the first instance and later on into a large port used for the export of pig iron to Rotterdam, steel rails to all parts of the world, and the import of foreign iron ore from the Spanish and Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, from India and the West Coast of Africa.

The early days of the port were not without signs of future importance. Britton and Brayley, in their “Description of Cumberland,” published in 1810, mention that “Maryport, like most of the towns of the western coast of Cumberland, derives its origin and consequence from the coal trade. Sixty years ago, the beach was occupied by only one house, called Valentia, and about half a score of miserable huts that served to shelter a few fishermen. The small hamlet from which the town arose was named Ellen, or Ellenfoot, from its situation. Wooden piers with quays have been erected on each side of the river for the convenience of the shipping, which rapidly increases. Between 90 and 100 vessels are now belonging to the port, some. of which are of 250 tons burden. They are chiefly engaged in the exportation of coals to Ireland and in the importation of timber, flax and iron from the Baltic.”

Pennant, who, in 1774, published his “Tour,” made mention of Maryport as “another new creation, the property of Humphrey Senhouse, Esq., and so named by him in honour of his lady. The second house was built only in 1750. Now there are about one hundred, peopled by thirteen hundred souls, all collected together by the opening of a coal trade on this estate. For the conveniency of shipping (there being seventy vessels of different sizes, from thirty to three hundred tons burden, belonging to the Harbour) are wooden piers with quays on the river Ellen, where ships lie and receive their lading.”

Maryport Harbour Paddle Steamer Tug Towing Sailing Ship Etching
Maryport Harbour Paddle Steamer Tug Towing Sailing Ship Etching

In the olden days coal had been raised in the neighbourhood and brought down to the mouth of the River Ellen in panniers on the backs of donkeys and ponies. Later, from 1740 onwards, coal was shipped, and the records show that in 1781, twenty-two small cargoes were loaded in that year.

Jollie’s “Cumberland Guide and Directory,” published in 1811, tells us that “the coal trade was the chief staple of this part of the county, and during the present war, the shipping has embarked much in the transport and timber trade. The works of an iron furnace, shipbuilding, saltworks, a pottery, a glass house, a cotton mill and extensive muslin manufactories (carried on by Messrs. Bouch & Tolson) have added much to its population.”

Maryport harbour coaster and general trader ships Sea Breezes June 1927


Prior to the year 1833 the port was owned and managed by the Lord of the Manor, Humphrey Senhouse, Esq. The reasons for a change are not discoverable, but in that year an Act of Parliament was obtained under which a Board of Trustees, for the management and control of both the town and harbour, and the first election of the Board took place. The Board was comprised of members elected by the ratepayers and shipowners, together with representatives of the Senhouse family, the owners of the soil.

In 1834 a drawbridge was constructed from near the Queen’s Head Inn across to the Glasson side of the river. Further up the river there was a bridge across the river used by pedestrians, pack horses and ponies for crossing the river from Paper Mill Green. Further up again there was a ford for crossing at low water. This ford was part of the highway from Carlisle to Whitehaven, which at Bank End, kept the low land adjoining the beach and by King Street made its way to Paper Mill Green and to the ford, and thence across the Bent Hills to the existing (then and now) road onwards to Workington and Whitehaven. The deepening of the Harbour as far as Paper Mill Green and beyond the ford made it necessary to stop the ford and substitute a stronger bridge across the Harbour, and this was sanctioned by an Order made by Quarter Sessions.

By 1828 the export of coal had reached 40,000 tons. The trade was an increasing one. More and larger ships were being brought into use. The river at its outlet to the sea was widened, rough quays of timber construction were built on the north side, and subsequently the same thing applied to the south side.

The then” New Dock,” a tidal dock, now the basin of the Elizabeth Dock, had been constructed in 1836, but the trade increased much faster than the accommodation.

Maryport old harbour seaward at low water Sea Breezes magazine June 1927
Another view of the Old Harbour, Maryport, looking seaward, at low water. The silting at the entrance is significant and the early outer wall seems poor. The lighthouse is not built so the light in the chandler's shop may be the only attempt to guide ships safely in. Sea Breezes June 1927

1843- Admiralty Survey and Report.

In 1843 Commander Denham, R.N., F.R.S., Marine Surveyor, by order of The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty made a survey of the Solway Firth and the Cumberland ports, and in his report made a number of suggestions and recommendations for the improvement of this port.

The following additions and extensions were in the years immediately following carried out to accommodate the increasing trade. The extension of the South Pier, which at the time ended near the present Inner Lighthouse, the extension being carried out by a timber structure to assist the formation of a direct cut or channel course to low water mark by the flow of the River Ellen, the directing force of the river being at that time spread over the strand or beach, the pierhead standing about 400 yards inside low water mark.

To secure additional berths for vessels it was recommended that a dock with gates be constructed as a continuation of the Tidal Dock (known then as the New Dock, and now as the Basin of the Elizabeth Dock), and the extension of the North Quay by the construction of a jetty as an extension, and thus the formation of the New Harbour, between the old North Pier and the New Jetty.

In this report of Commander Denham there is a reference to the necessity of a harbour or port light. Up to that time a man named Currey, who had built a house on the site of the premises now known as Harbour House, used to put a lighted lamp in one of the windows of his house, and it was the only port light.

The old method of transporting coal from the mines (panniers on the backs of donkeys and horses) had been abandoned long ago, and horses and carts had taken their place, long trains of which were constantly passing along the streets to the Harbour. A tramway had also been constructed from the Unerigg and Grasslot Collieries to the south side of the Harbour. But a greater impetus was given to the coal trade by developments of coal winning and by the construction of the Maryport and Carlisle Railway, opened for traffic at the Maryport end in 1840, followed a few years later by the construction of the Whitehaven Junction Railway.

The ever-increasing coal mining industry and other, though smaller, industries were flourishing, especially those incident to the building and equipment of sailing ships. By 1851 the population of the town was 5,698. Two years later the ships arriving at the port numbered 2,690, and the exports of coal reached 269,000 tons.

1853-The Elizabeth Dock.

By 1853 the question of better facilities became urgent. A new dock, the first floating dock in the county, was decided on. The construction of the dock was not very smooth sailing.

The Act of 1833 had given the Trustees unlimited borrowing powers, but there was no provision or stipulation for the repayment of the money borrowed. The promoters had a free hand for borrowing, but the limitless powers proved a vast hindrance. The pre-dock harbour mortgage debt was over £35,000. An appeal to the public for loans yielded only £6,000. That was not a large contribution towards the cost of a dock. Much dependence was placed on the surplus revenue of from £2,000 to £3,000 per annum. The work was proceeded with, but before long the prospects of a completion of the work seemed remote. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pocklington Senhouse came forward and offered to provide, or obtain through friends, a named sum if the other trustees (twelve in number) would do the same. A considerable sum for a small community was secured, and the work was pushed on until once more a financial crisis was reached.

The promoters were confident that if the dock was completed and opened for traffic, the trade would be so largely increased that any difficulty in raising the money needed to complete would be dispelled. Strenuous efforts were made to raise the needful capital, but were only partially successful. Appeals were made to the coalowners, but the response was not great, Mr. F. L. B. Dykes and Mr. John Harris alone responding.

In the end the Bank was approached. The money could be had conditionally on collateral security being given. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pocklington Senhouse gave security for one-half of the amount needed. The other trustees, or some of them, became security for other financial assistance.

Eventually the dock was completed, and opened on October 20th, 1857. It was a veritable day of rejoicing. The town was decorated for the occasion and illuminated at night.

The first ship to enter the dock was the steamer Cumbria, then employed as the Liverpool cargo boat, with Lowden’s Ann in tow. The tug Senhouse followed, with Kerr’s Thomas at her stern. The tug Rambler was next, having in tow Mirrison’s Henry.


By that time the dock at Maryport was near completion. Judged by the increase of traffic which followed the opening of the Elizabeth Dock it proved a success from the very first. Little more than four years after its opening, an agitation for more accommodation was set agoing.

1878-The Senhouse Dock.

The estimated cost of the dock, including land, railways and appliances, was nearly £100,000. Borrowing powers up to £110,000 had been sanctioned, and the first sod was cut by Mrs. Elizabeth Pocklington Senhouse.

The construction of the dock proceeded apace for a time. Then difficulties were met, and in November, 1881, came catastrophe. The Solway was lashed to fury by a south-westerly gale, the seas came rolling in amain, and in one night the sea wall, so far as it had been built, was destroyed, the site of the dock flooded, and the contractor’s plant scattered topsy-turvy, the timber floating about in the bottom of the dock or being washed out to sea. The estimated cost of the damage was £70,000.

Again the anger of the elements against the project which was designed to curtail the area over which the sea had held dominion was attested. Again, by storm and tempest, destruction threatened the existence of the new works, but fortunately the threat was only partially accomplished. The damage was all the same considerable.

Once more, as in the case of the earlier dock, financial aid was given from Netherhall. Mrs. Pocklington Senhouse and her son, Mr. Humphrey, gave collateral security to the Bank for a considerable loan. Later, the Bank requisitioned the advance, and the guarantors had to take over the obligation, but at last the work was completed.

The Dock, known as the Senhouse Dock, was opened for traffic on the 27th May, 1884, one of Maryport’s red-letter days. In the early morning the people were approaching the town from country districts. The trains brought large crowds. The town was decorated as it had never been decorated before. There were bands of music and processions of Friendly Societies and school children. The leading citizens boarded the s.s. Alne Holme, from the North Quay, and she, attended by a number of other steamers and sail ships in tow, steamed out to sea and re-entered the port. Her yards were manned by men of the Royal Naval Reserve; as the steamer passed through the dock gates and the only barrier (a blue ribbon) was broken, Mrs. Pocklington Senhouse, on board the Alne Holme, declared the dock open for traffic amidst the plaudits of thousands of spectators who lined the dock sides and the piers, and a solitary gun from the pierhead joined in the glad acclaim.

The leading townspeople had formed a committee to arrange for the proper celebration of the great event. A luncheon was provided, many speeches made, and the whole town joined in a great “joy” day.

In 1884, the year of the opening of the Senhouse Dock, the tonnage of imports and exports was 378,807, and the revenue £9,952. Six years later (1900) the imports and exports totalled 1,038,754 tons, and the gross revenue was £34,503. Since then the trade has fallen off considerably, and for the year ending March, 1926, the imports and exports were 400,375 and the revenue £21,359.


Maryport Harbour Many Sailing Ships Tied Up To North Quay
Maryport harbour many sailing ships tied up to North Quay and South Quay with Shipping Brow and Senhouse Street behind.