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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

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West Cumbria U3A

ON a mild January afternoon Mr David Ramshaw invited members to cast their minds back to the city of Carlisle in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the city’s business leaders enviously eyed the increasing power of Maryport’s harbour.

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David Ramshaw

The authorities, fearing unrest in Ireland, needed to be able to move troops expeditiously across the Irish Sea. Big boats could not reach Carlisle.

The answer would be a waterway link to the Solway or Maryport, so a canal was dug from Caldewgate to Port Carlisle, a task that took four years. A Grand Opening was held on March 12, 1823, attended by an estimated 20,000 people. Armed with a considerable array of photographs, paintings, drawings, etchings and maps, the speaker fleshed out his account and conveyed the mood of the moment.

Not only was a large basin created at Caldewgate but the course was fitted out with eight locks so a lock house and a range of other buildings were built. Canal water levels were maintained by a massive water wheel adding to the generation of employment.

Business needed a facility for bringing in supplies regularly and cheaply so the 11-mile long canal benefited trade. The first cross-country track in the UK, the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, opened in 1836 carrying emigrants from the north east who used the canal to reach vessels on the Solway bound for Canada. Locals took a threepenny boat trip on Sundays.

In 1835, enormous stone pillars for the new County Infirmary’s Grecian facade were transported from Leeds by river and sea round to the canal. Carr’s biscuit factory was built close to the canal for ease of transport of the delicate products. So the canal was busy, but unable to compete with the railways, not an economic success. Closing in 1853 its final humiliation was its burial to form the foundation of a single track rail link to Port Carlisle.

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