Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

Fortress, To Port

Workington is historically a part of Cumberland, a historic county in North West England; the area around Workington has long been a producer of coal, steel and high-grade iron ore. Between 79 and 122, Roman forts, mile-forts and watchtowers were established down the Cumbrian coast.They acted as coastal defences against attacks by the Scoti in Ireland and by the Caledonii, the most powerful tribe in what we now call Scotland. The 16th century book, Britannia, written by William Camden describes ruins of the coastal defences at Workington.

The fort, now known as Burrows Walls, was established on the north bank of the mouth of the River Derwent, near present-day Siddick Pond and Northside. Another fort or watchtower would have been on How Michael to the south side of the river, near present-day Chapel Bank. In 122, the Romans begin building Hadrian’s Wall from Bowness on the Solway Firth to Wallsend on the North Sea. The discovery of a Roman fort around the parish church in Moresby to the south, and fortifications to the north at Risehow (Flimby), Maryport and Crosscannonby support the argument that the coastal wall extended down the whole Solway coast and formed a key part of the empire’s defences.

For many years Burrow Walls was believed to be the fort Gabrosentum or Gabrocentio, found in The Notitia Dignitatum for Britain, which lists several military commands (the Dux Britanniarum, the Count of the Saxon Shore (Comes Litoris Saxonici per Britannias) and the Comes Britanniarum). The word Gabrocentum has its origins in the Welsh or Ancient British gafr meaning “he goat” and the word hynt (set in Old Irish) meaning “path”. Today, many scholars believe it is more likely to be the fort known as Magis.

The Curwens, who were Lords of the Manor of Workington, were heavily involved in the First War of Scottish Independence. The Curwen family motto, “Si je n’estoy” (“If I had not been there”), is said to come from the words of Sir Gilbert (ii) de Curwen, whose late arrival with fresh troops recruited from his estates turned the course of the Battle of Falkirk (1298), giving King Edward victory. It has been suggested that Gilbert waited until he knew who looked like winning before joining battle, because he had family supporting both sides in the conflict. It was at this battle that William Wallace was defeated and subsequently executed. In 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert I of Scotland. In 1307, The Calendar of Patent Rolls of King Edward I of England records his preparing for war against Robert the Bruce. He requests lords of the manor to provide ships, barges and ‘find them in men and necessaries’ to continue the war. It read:

…to get ready empty ships and barges at Skymburneys, Whitothavene and Wyrkinton, and elsewhere by the shore in that county, and find them in men and necessaries to go to the parts of Are to repress the malice of Robert de Brus and his accomplices. Writ de intendendo in pursuance to the men of that county…Appointment of John du Luda, as captain and governor of the fleet from the port of Skynburnesse, Whitothavene and Wyrkinton ”

The Curwens appear to have provided material and physical support to both sides during the Wars of the Roses. Sir Thomas (ii) Curwen (c. 1420-c. 1473) was commissioned by King Henry VI to mobilise his forces to resist the rebellion of Richard, Duke of York at the beginning of the Wars. During the Wars the throne changed hands between the two houses and most able-bodied men, especially in the north of England, would have been forced into the conflict. King Edward IV of England of the House of York, later granted honours to the Curwen family, in acknowledgement of “great and gratuitous service”. The war ended with the victory of the Lancastrians who founded the House of Tudor, which subsequently reigned over England and Wales for 118 years.

In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots sailed across the Solway Firth from Dundrennan Abbey, Scotland and landed on Workington’s shore. She was cared for in Workington Hall for three days before being escorted to Cockermouth from where she was collected and taken to Carlisle Castle. This was the beginning of her 19 years of captivity which ended with her trial for treason and execution.

A wagonway from Seaton Colliery was opened in 1732, reaching the River Derwent at the downstream end of Low Cloffocks where coal hurries were constructed from which vessels were loaded. The Harbour Accounts of the 1730’s show that there were buoys, marker posts, beacons, dredging work and new stone paving. These facilities were extended by a tidal cut of 1763-9. On the south side were a series of staithes linked by wagonways to local collieries. This was extended seawards by the Dock Quay of 1798, and the Merchants Quay on the other side of the cut.

It was at Workington that Henry Bessemer introduced his revolutionary steel making process. During the 18th and 19th centuries more than thirty pits were in operation, and Workington remained the centre of steel production in northwest England for 100 years. A favourite local saying referred to the railway tracks made in Workington and exported through the Port to other countries as “holding the world together”. As an area with a large quantity of haematite iron ore, Workington rapidly became an iron producing town and the Lonsdale Dock was built in 1864 to handle the trade. Opened in 1865, the dock was capable of accommodating vessels of 2,000 tonne dead weight.

Rapid growth of the iron and steel industry in West Cumberland called for increased port facilities and so, after the First World War, the Lonsdale Dock was improved and extended. The new dock was renamed the Prince of Wales Dock, being officially opened on 30th June 1927 by HRH the Prince of Wales.

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