Port Carlisle baths

Port Carlisle baths – a puzzle solved

Port Carlisle baths – or Victoria baths, to give their full name – opened in 1844, as an attempt to make the village ‘the most-popular of all the bathing resorts on the coast’.

I ‘had’ to correct someone on an online genealogy site a while back, who understood that one of his ancestors had owned the baths (they hadn’t, but may have been tenants), and that the baths’ purpose was to ‘de-louse’ sailors. No doubt a well-intentioned story, handed down the generations and mangled in the process.

In fact, the baths were meant to be a tourist attraction, and in that (initially, at least) they succeeded. In the summer of 1845, local newspapers were describing Port Carlisle as a ‘thriving watering place, crowded with visitors’.


Port Carlisle baths were built by public subscription. This opened in 1843, when £5 shares were sold, in order to raise £500 to build the baths and get them up and running.

Port Carlisle baths, Cumbrian Characters, Peter Irving,
Peter Irving the ship owner bought at least two shares in Port Carlisle baths

The first manager was William Wood, the next a ‘Mrs Murray’ – with the premises being advertised ‘to let’ at various times.

The (surviving) Port Carlisle minutes book of the 1840s says it was agreed (in 1843):

that the baths be let for 12 months to William Wood of the Old Binnacle, at his offer of £22. 1/4 rent to be paid in advance. 

In November 1845, the committee recorded:

Ordered that Mrs Murray’s offer of £26 be accepted and she to be informed.

In 1850 February, shareholders got the good news that they were to receive a dividend of four per cent. But with the canal closing in 1853, to be converted into a railway that didn’t open for ten months, the village surely saw a huge drop in visitor numbers. And while the baths were still going in the summer of 1867, Port Carlisle as a seaside resort had been overtaken by Silloth.

Port Carlisle baths – the puzzle

In my book, Port Carlisle, a history built on hope

I wrote:

A photo of Mary J Irving in the boiler room is a puzzle. The only Mary J on the census is the wife of Edward Lawson Irving.  

The puzzle was that Edward Lawson Irving (1852-1933) was variously (and simulataneously) a seed and manure merchant and a sharebroker. And the only census where they ever lived in Port Carlisle is that of 1901, when they are down as living at ‘Orchard House’.

Edward Lawson Irving’s occupation is give  as ‘assistant —-‘ with ‘local’ written over the key word, obscuring it. Mary Jane Irving’s occupation is blank.

So, if Mary Jane Irving was running the baths (as it were), the census doesn’t confirm it.

Puzzle solved

It took some recent delving into the UK and Ireland Masters and Mates Certificates (1850-1927) on Ancestry to inadvertently find the confirmation needed.

For among the sailors I looked up, one was Ernest Kirkbank Irving (1881-1945). Who was the son of Edward Lawson Irving and Mary Jane Irving (née Harrison).

And on two documents dated 1902, Ernest gives his ‘permanent address’ as”

Bath House, Port Carlisle, Cumberland (parents).

The Irvings

In 1891, the Irvings had been living in Stanwix. But Edward had grown up in Port Carlisle – his parents were Peter Irving and Jane (Simpson). Ship owner Peter was one of the key people behind the rise of the village (as told in my book!). They are listed as holidaymakers in Port Carlisle in August 1891. And in 1894, his business went into receivership, under the Bankruptcy Acts. Perhaps that prompted the return to a place where the family as a whole still owned property.

However, while their address in 1902 was Port Carlisle Bath House, by 1907 they had moved to Seacombe, Cheshire.

A railway from Port Carlisle to Bowness?

Ten years earlier, Edward Lawson Irving had taken legal action against the Solway Junction Railway Company, which looks to have been seeking new ventures after the collapse that winter of large chunk of the Solway viaduct.

Edward’s gripe was that the company had never paid interest to debenture holdures and shouldn’t be spending funds on a railway from Port Carlisle to Bowness.

“I am bound by the ties of family and property to take great interest in the prosperity of Port Carlisle, and I should be glad to see the navvy and the contractor’s wagon giving life to a somewhat dull locality; but, however pleasing, if not profitable, this might be to me personally, I cannot allow my rights as a debenture holder of the Solway Junction Railway Company to be interered with for the purpose.”

What use a railway from Port Carlisle – a ‘dull locality’ indeed by then, after its brief heydays – to Bowness would have been to anyone, I’m not sure. 

Footnote 1933:

At The Baths, Port Carlisle, on the 16th inst, Edward Lawson Irving, aged 79 years.