The Solway viaduct – a bridge too much for Port Carlisle

The Solway viaduct was an amazing concept  – it was also the final nail in the coffin of Port Carlisle as a working port.

The following is an extract from my book, Port Carlisle, a history built on hope. You can read more about it in this post.

And you can buy in on Amazon here (search for it on Amazon if you are outside the UK).

Cut off entirely, by the Solway viaduct

What the Port Carlisle Railway had that others wanted was access to Carlisle, and a city station.

What no one much was interested in by the time the railway opened in 1854 was access to the Port.

As the money men and developers of both the canal and the railway had always been city manufacturers and city politicians, their loyalty to Port Carlisle was pretty thin.

They needed access to/from the sea: where was a matter of practicality and cost – after all, it was only for those reasons that an otherwise obscure spot called Fisher’s Cross had been chosen in the first place.

Once the manufacturers decided to focus on Silloth, they lost interest in and neglected Port Carlisle.

solway viaduct, Port Carlisle a history built on hope,
The line ran along the top of this embankment

Had nothing else happened to further damage the Port, it’s unlikely history would have been any different. The harbour had a sand problem it would have taken great expense to  resolve. Which made Silloth look a better bet. The harbour was tidal, which also made Silloth look a better bet.

So perhaps in the overall scheme of things, the Solway viaduct didn’t make a great deal of difference.

That isn’t to say it did no harm.

But first, a little rewind

The idea of viaduct wasn’t entirely new. Someone came up with the idea of a bridge from Bowness to Annan in 1830, in an anonymous pamphlet, Remarks on the Utility and Practicability of the Formation of a Rail Road between Whitehaven and Carlisle.

 It was met with scorn. The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Advertiser called the idea ‘sublime, utopian, stupendous and bordering on certain of the Munchausen achievements’. Likening it to the idea of a bridge from Scotland to Ireland, the paper suggested the engineer move it down to the Robin Rigg sandbank, so vessels running aground there could shelter beneath it.  

And in 1836, the idea popped up again, under the pointed headline: ‘Another railway from Preston to Glasgow!’ The Kendal Mercury this time reported on (another) plan to build a £3million railway between those two places, saying it deserved praise for boldness, if not for feasibility. It would include a ten-mile ‘embankment’ over Morecambe Bay, and a viaduct over the Solway from Port Carlisle.

The paper assured readers that it wasn’t hoaxing them, calling it ‘one of the wildest speculations of the present speculation period’.

  • If you want to read more, you will have to buy the book 🙂