The Industrial Coast

Eskdale Mill dating back to 1578 at Boot. (Visit Cumbria)
Fishing boats at Workington Docks.  (JT)
 Miners Memorial at Whitehaven, overlooking the harbour. (Jan Fialkowski/Visit Cumbria)
 Millom Discovery Centre, including the local mining history, at the railway station. (Visit Cumbria)
The Ratty today - now serving the tourism industry but the first line was built to serve the mines and mills. (Visit Cumbria)
Barrow Dock - famous for ships and submarines
The Sellafield nuclear site from the air with the railway along the coastline. (Visit Cumbria)

Farming and fishing plus the harvesting of trees has been happening in West Cumbria for thousands of years and there are still traces of ancient British farms dating back to the Romans and beyond. Farming is still important to Cumbria and the famous Herdwick Sheep can be seen in some of the fields. Their name comes from the norse settlers and the tough "herdies" have survived many threats over the years.

Linked to Farming is milling which dates back to at least the 12th Century and probably back to Roman times. There are a number of old working mills in the area, one being at the village of Boot, near to the present terminus of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. At Eskdale Mill, visitors can see flour made the traditional way and it has been made on this site at least as far back as 1578.

Fishing has taken place along the coast for many years and fishing boats can still be found in harbours like Workington and Maryport. The Vikings introduced Haafnetting to the Solway coast over 1000 years ago and this traditional shallow water fishing still takes place.

Other ancient industries include quarrying for building stone and roofing slate, and forestry for fuel and as a building material. There is evidence of brick and tile making dating from 100 AD at Parkhouse Tilery and Kilns at Muncaster. This Roman site included 5 kilns and was excavated in 1959. It is now covered over again and is only marked by a small sign.

Mining has been a vital part of the local economy and even featured in the world economy during some centuries. There is evidence of Roman iron working, and a 4th century Romano-British iron bloomery has been discovered at Drigg, but mining is recorded back into the 12th Century. In the central Lake District, Queen Elizabeth I was instrumental in bringing in Germans, with their mining expertise, to settle in the area. Mining has boomed and the rocks of Cumbria have produced lead, zinc, copper, baryte, haematite, tungsten, flourite and coal, in addition to slate, limestone and sandstone for buildings. At Askam, some 7,000,000 tons of iron ore were extracted from the rocks to serve the iron and ship building industries of Barrow and further afield. The Florence Mine at Egremont was the last deep iron ore mine in Europe until its closure in 2008. Workington also specialised in steel production until this century and many of the rails used on Britain's railways were made there.

The smaller ports along the coast, like Harrington, grew because of the coal and iron exports and the merchant ships in Whitehaven harbour were the target of the American attack of 1778. Now much of the traditional iron and coal industry has gone, leaving only some traces for industrial archaeologists and reminders in the museums. There is the Haig Colliery Mining Museum near Whitehaven and it was here that the first under-sea mine was developed from 1729: by 1931 it was the deepest under-sea mine anywhere.

Barrow grew from a small settlement into  the world's largest iron and steel centre within 40 years in the 19th century and also became one of the most important centres for ship building. Barrow still has England's busiest shipyard and the most modern submarines are still being built there by BAE for the navy. The giant fabrication halls and cranes at Barrow can be seen from coastal and mountain areas of western and southern Cumbria. Much if this history can be experienced in Barrow's Dock Museum, a 20 minute signposted walk through the town from Barrow's railway station.

The railway industry grew to serve the iron and coal industry and remains of old industrial lines and inclines can still be found in places. Chemicals and explosives were also produced in the 19th and 20th centuries, largely because of the remote and relatively safe locations. The railways took the minerals and manufactured products out of the area but brought visitors in as they still do today.

Now, the area is well known for the nuclear sites at Sellafield and in the future, up to 2025, new electricity generating plants will be built, The modern industry in and around Sellafield is a major employer and about 10,000 people work here. The railway transports nuclear flasks but also transports an increasing number of workers to and from Sellafield station. This busy site is in complete contrast to the tranquility of the coast and fells nearby.

The tourism industry is also large in Cumbria but too many people head for the busy centres of Windermere, Bowness, Ambleside and Keswick. However, the other parts of  western and southern Cumbria and the Lake District are now beginning to be discovered.

The other new industries in the area include wind farming and turbines can be seen on a few of the hills and along the coast from Morecambe Bay to the Solway. Many turbines are located in the sea and other maritime windfarms are planned. Barrow's docks are busier than ever with this off-shore activity. The other new industries includeLED lighting and electro-optic systems.


This remains an area of contrasts and discovery with much to see, modern and ancient.


   Windfarms along the coast - looking from above Cockermouth towards Workington and Scotland. (Simon Ledingham/VisitCumbria)

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