The Water Fountain standing in the centre of Cleator Moor Square was a gift from the Town, when it was decided that a Water Fountain would be a fitting tribute to John and Marian Stirling on the occasion of their Golden Wedding in 1902. The cost of this Fountain was just over £200 – a vast amount of money in those days.
On The Large Circular shaft the following inscriptions were scribed:
Erected by the public of Cleator Moor to commemorate the Golden Wedding of John and Marian Stirling, as a token off the high esteem in which they are held. 1852 –September 14th – 1902. Their love for the people of the district has been made manifest by man acts of large hearted kindness.
Good name in man and Woman is the immediate Jewel of the souls, Othello: Act3, Scene 3.
Opened by Jonas Lindow Esq.. Sept 9th 1903 W Gaythwaite Chairman of Committee F.A. Ciappessoni Hon Sec.
Sir John Stirling is one of the big names associated with iron ore in Cumberland, and he made one of the largest fortunes out of it. But Stirling’s search for a fortune was a close-run thing.
He had leased the two Todholes (“Toddles” in the 1847 directory) farms, and set to work boring for ore. Borehole after borehole drew blank, and Stirling was about to give up — he had already told his foreman to get rid of the boring crew — when the last borehole struck the red gold.
It started what was to become the top-producing Todholes quarry, which took most of its vast output of rich hematite out by cheap opencast working. Later Stirling took over the Montreal royalty, and at one time was getting out a quarter of a million tons of ore a year.
Profit was the name of the game at all times, and the Stirling miners had the bit between their teeth. The manager even ordered the undermining of the pit offices which one day just sank out of sight and were never seen again.
Social services and public utilities could not keep pace with development, and the area had an aura of impermanence about it, as if the place and its people knew the prosperity would not last. At the start of the boom there was practically no schooling available for children, most of whom, however, were expected to start working at the age of ten.
Cleator Moor grew up within the ancient parish of Cleator, and while the old parish church continued its ancient way, Methodists and Catholics built chapels and church. Cleator Moor grew quickly despite its lack of a water supply. In fact its greatest need was for water. The only regular supply was carried in by barrel on a trolley by Robert Gilpin who made a small fortune as a water carrier, selling it by the can after fetching it a mile from the beck at Nanny Catch.
In the early 1880’s an end was signalled to the golden days of the iron ore boom, as other sources of ore were found worldwide. Demand for Cumbrian ore fell away. The good days, and the high wages paid to the miners, had priced it off the market.
Trying to compete with the rest of the world, prices for Cumbrian ore tumbled from 32 shillings to 12 shilling a ton, and wages were cut in proportion. Unemployment rose, and with nothing but parish assistance to fall back on (and precious little of that available), the miners began to look for work elsewhere.
“Men saw in the evening sky the word ‘Kimberley,'” wrote J. R. Thompson in 1932, “and then began the historic rush for South Africa.”
It was, one of the greatest migrations ever experienced in Cumbria, Frizington, Arlecdon and Cleator Moor emptied and whole rows of houses were abandoned. Many families just left without care for, or reference to any paper work about the houses they were buying or had bought; and there was not much point in trying to sell because there was nobody left to buy.
Many of those emigrant miners returned, but those who had taken their families with them were gone for good. Also gone for good were the golden days of the iron ore boom.