THE AMUSEMENT ARCADE ON SILLOTH GREEN-
or rather, THE BATHS ON SILLOTH GREEN
My mother's family always called it "Blakeys" but it used to have the words "Paramount Amusements" on the front. The building has not exactly gained in beauty over the years I've known it, but it remains one of the fixtures of the seaside resort of Silloth, on the Solway Firth in north-west Cumbria. This web-page attempts the beginnings of a history of what started out as a very different sort of tourist attraction, a set of baths built to rival those in nearby Allonby, just two years after the opening of the railway made it possible for tourists to visit this wild stretch of the Cumbrian coastline.
Cumbrian newspaper reports quoted below are nearly all from microfilms held at Carlisle Library; national news reports from the British Library's amazing online collections (the earlier of which, at the time of writing, can be accessed without charge by members of Cumbria Libraries); online census information and other genealogical resources are (again, at the time of writing) available without charge at Cumbria Archive Offices; illustrations are from my own collection. Establishing the full details of the original building project turns out to be less straightforward than it should be, so we must begin in slightly random fashion:
Carlisle Journal, 4 Mar1859:
[Report from the half-yearly meeting of the Carlisle and Silloth Bay Railway and Dock Company. Information includes:]
"The Town of Silloth continues to increase, and new houses are in course of erection. The new Hotel, mentioned in the last report, has been opened, and has proved a great additional convenience to visitors and families.
The salubrity of the climate of Silloth, arising from the pureness of the air and its great mildness, are becoming more known and appreciated, and invalids are already beginning to avail themselves of these advantages.
The Committee of the Cumberland Infirmary having projected the establishment of a Sanatorium or Sea Bathing Institution at Silloth, for the benefit of patients requiring sea air, the Directors considering the establishment of such an institution likely to be conducive to the interests of the company and the progress of the town of Silloth, have granted a free site for the building, on the south-west side of the Jetty.
Since the last report was issued the completion of the Gas Works at Silloth has taken place. The Town, Station, and Works, are now regularly lighted with gas, and gas is also supplied to private customers on reasonable terms.
As Silloth is becoming more and more resorted to as a Watering Place it has been thought advisable to remove and level more of the sand Hills, so as to open out the view of the sea, and increase the space for business and for promenades. This is now being proceeded with as rapidly as circumstances will allow.
The Directors are not yet able to announce the opening of the Dock. This event will not now be very far distant, and though the time originally calculated upon for its completion has been exceeded, the Directors believe that the increased stability and consolidation of the works will counterbalance any loss arising from the delay."
Although we see in the above report an early indication of the project that was to create the Convalescent Institution south of the docks, it gives only the vaguest hint that development may occur on the open space between the main street and the sea. However, in the same issue of the Journal there was a report on the current state of the resort development:
Carlisle Journal, 4 Mar1859:
The great Sahara of Silloth is fast losing every feature which characterised its former self; the sandhills are giving place to green sward before the industrious operations of the navvy, and the buildings have assumed a regularity and completeness worthy of the name of a town.
Arriving by train, the first object that presents itself is a gasometer for supplying the town with light. The principal streets have excellent foot and roadways, and are provided with lamps. There are now two large and handsome hotels, commodious and comfortable, which will no doubt be well filled during the summer. Baths are projected. The butcher, the baker, and the grocer have already found it a profitable speculation to open their stores, and a post-office has just been opened in conjunction with a new arrangement by which correspondence is forwarded by the Silloth line instead of by the circuitous route of the Wigton postman.
In Criffel Street, the principal street in the town, an elegant row of cemented houses, with a balcony in front, commands a fine view of the sea, with Criffel and the Scotch side in the distance. From these houses, which will principally be let off for lodgings, a large green lawn runs down to the beach, and more sandhills are being replaced by level sods. Further on in Criffel Street there is anothe row of houses, and a little to the rear of these, in a commanding position, stands perhaps the most striking object in the town, the new parochial schools. This building, in the Elizabethan style of architecture, and consisting of schools and dwelling house for the master, was inaugurated a few weeks ago by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, and will be used as a chapel of ease for the Sillothians. At present, service is held on Thursday evenings, but it is intended, we understand, to have services there on Sundays during the summer.
Turning to the works, great changes are also visible. The walls of the docks are now finished, and the strength and regularity of the masonry is admirable. ...
[The article continues with a detailed description of the new docks, which are expected to be ready for opening by Midsummer's Day]
So, a three-word sentence begins the story. What it does not indicate is by whom the baths were projected, and our first clue comes in April.
Carlisle Examiner, 23 April 1859:
TO BUILDERS, JOINERS, AND OTHERS.
TO be LET, by TENDER, the Erection and Completion of PUBLIC BATHS, proposed to be Built at SILLOTH.
Plans and Specifications may be seen on and after FRIDAY the 2nd inst., at the Office of Mr. C. BOYD, Canal Station, Carlisle.
Sealed Tenders, endorsed "Tender for Baths," will be received until and including TUESDAY the 26th inst.
Carlisle, 18th April, 1859.
Mr Boyd was the engineer and surveyor responsible for most of Silloth's early development, and as his address indicates, he was employed by the railway company (several volumes of his own diaries are preserved at Carlisle Library, but sadly 1859 is missing). We must leave aside, for a while, the question of why the company is keeping so quiet about a potentially lucrative facility for their new holiday resort, and instead follow the story of the development over the next few months.
Carlisle Journal, 29 Apr 1859:
TO BUILDERS, JOINERS, AND OTHERS.
PROPOSED PUBLIC BATHS AT SILLOTH.
EXTENSION of Time for Receiving Tenders.-
The Plans and Specifications may be seen at the Engineer's Office, CANAL STATION, CARLISLE, on and after MONDAY, the 2nd MAY, and Tenders will be received until 10 A.M. on WEDNESDAY, the 4th MAY.
Carlisle, 25th April, 1859.
Clearly, this extension of time was sufficient, and construction must have begun shortly afterwards. We move on to the next (ninth) report of the Railway & Dock Company's directors.
Carlisle Journal, 26 Aug 1859:
[The report begins, logically, with updates on the railway, which was forming close ties with the North British Railway Company to gain traffic and reduce costs, and on the dock, which had been opened under the name of the Marshall Dock on 3 August, "in the presence of an immense concourse of people"; then follows a look at the resort development:]
The Town of Silloth becomes increasingly resorted to as a sea-bathing place, and its value to the citizens of Carlisle as a place of healthful resort and recreation becomes daily more apparent. With a view of increasing the attractions and advantages of the place, the Directors have commenced the erection of baths in a central situation adjoining the sea.
Unfortunately, the cost of the baths is not given in the financial summary, which is probably significant. At this point we may as well skip forward a few years to an interesting publication, printed in Birmingham in 1871 and titled "Historical Sketch of the Carlisle & Silloth Bay Railway & Dock Company. Dedicated to the Shareholders." This tale of "mysterious and enormous expenditure" explains that by 1859 the Company was on the verge of collapse, and could only survive by making itself subservient to the North British company. The Baths were thus built with money the Company didn't have; presumably a desperate attempt to boost passenger traffic to compensate for the lack of goods traffic from the delayed docks.
The belatedly-reported project was in fact nearing completion when the directors acknowledged its existence:
Carlisle Journal, 23 Sep 1859:
PUBLIC BATHS AT SILLOTH.
TO be LET, and entered upon immediately, the Newly-erected BATHS, at SILLOTH, comprising Six Bath Rooms, fitted with Patent Porcelain Baths, and Shower attached, a large Plunge or Swimming Bath which can be supplied with both hot and cold water. The water for the Bath is pumped from the Sea by steam power. The arrangements for Heating are very complete. There are separate Waiting Rooms for Ladies and Gentlemen; also a Dwelling House for the Attendant.
Further particulars may be known on application to Mr. CHARLES BOYD, at the Canal Station, Carlisle, and Sealed Tenders will be received by Mr. J. CARRUTHERS, 48, Castle Street, Carlisle, until TUESDAY, the 11th of OCTOBER, 1859.
The Carlisle Examiner also ran the above advert for several weeks, and accidentally printed it in their 15 October issue, several days after the deadline. However, their next midweek issue made up for the mistake by including a very different advert:
Carlisle Examiner, 18 Oct 1859 (dated Silloth, 17 Oct):
TO be LET, Furnished, and during the Winter Months, and may be entered upon immediately, a commodious and beautifully-situated HOUSE, situated near the Baths, which are now open .....
As far as I can see, there was no press announcement of the opening of the baths; the above advert suggests that the winning bidder simply moved in as soon as possible and got to work. One reason for the lack of press attention may have been that the new tenant had decided to make a cautious start to the business, an eminently sensible precaution bearing in mind the news about the Railway & Dock Company's engineering which had been coming from Silloth at this time:
Cumberland Pacquet, 4 Oct 1859 [reporting a sequence of events which began around 20 September] :
SILLOTH: ACCIDENT TO THE MARSHALL DOCK.- An accident, which it is feared will prove of a serious character, has occurred to this dock, through the carelessness or ignorance of some of the men employed. It seems that two men were set to close the dock gates, at the turn of the night tide, and did it so unskilfully as to entangle one of the gates in the chain; and some hours elapsed before a remedy could be applied, and as the gates could not be properly closed a large portion of the water in the dock escaped. According to the Carlisle Journal, there are no grounds for apprehension; but the Patriot says:- We regret to say that there are just grounds for realy serious apprehensions. The defelexion in the west wall of the dock is visible to the most inexperienced eye, and persons whose opinion is entitled to weight express fears that the cause lies at the foundations and not in the springs alone. Mr. Abernethy, if he says that there is not the slighest ground for any serious apprehensions, has as odd a way of backing his word as our contemporary has of calming public anxiety. He has, we understand, ordered the wall to be supported.
Large piles are to be driven some fifty feet behind the wall, in a line parallel with it, from which piles and iron rods are to be laid to the wall and fastened to it. At the quay-side, where the sand or soil is alleged to have settled down, there were great holes and the rails had sunk. The Journal is silent as to the sill. The boiling or bubbling of the water there shows that all is not right. Then as to keeping the chanel from the gates clear of accumulations at times when dredging cannot be resorted to. Flushing will be needed; but with so great a pressure of sand and water behind the walls it will be hazardous to take water from the dock for that purpose. These, and kindred difficulties were all foreseen and foretold.
Whitehaven News, Thursday 13 Oct 1859:
ACCIDENT ON THE SILLOTH RAILWAY.- On Sunday evening, considerable alarm was experienced at the Carlisle station of the Silloth railway by the non-arrival of the train due at half-past eight o'clock. The telegraph was worked, but from some defect in the wires no communication with either Silloth or Port Carlisle could be effected. The manager, Mr. Pixton, was sent for, and he immediately had a special engine and carriage prepared ... At eleven o'clock, two hours and a half after the train was due, and just before the special train started, the red light of the train was discerned, and the engine came snorting along with an asthmatic cough. It was then ascertained that the great delay had been caused by the bursting of a tube of the boiler, and that the water had put the fire out. ...
By coincidence, a few days later, reports arrived from Liverpool that on Wednesday 12 October, the steamer "Silloth" had run aground on a sandbank off Formby! To be fair, there was also good news: at this time the campaign for provision of a lifeboat at Silloth was getting under way, and making excellent progress. However, that's another long story, so let us return, by a slightly circuitous route, to the matter in hand:
Marriage register of St. Paul's Church (Causewayhead):
20 Feb 1859: Joseph Dobinson Studholme, 27 years, bachelor, husbandman, Silloth (father: Robert Studholme, farmer), by licence, to Ellen Scott, 26 years, spinster, Silloth (father: James Scott, farmer)
Although early reports do not name the proprietor of the baths, here is the information for the address "Baths" at Silloth from the national census made in spring 1861:
Joseph D. Studholme, head of household, age 30, bath manager, born Sebergham
Ellen Studholme, wife, age 28, Bath Mistress, born Brampton
John Dodd, age 43, visitor, miller, born Hesket
By "early reports" I mean, most notably, the information given in the resort's own newspaper / tourist guide, the "Silloth Gazette," which was experimentally published during the summer of 1860 [transcript from CLEO (Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online)]:
Silloth Gazette, issue 2, 4 Aug 1860, Places of Interest:
A tasteful building on the parade in front of the Queen's hotel, affords to the visitor the luxury of a hot, cold, shower or plunge bath, as his health or fancy may prompt.
The newsroom, established by the inhabitants of Silloth, occupies a room in the public baths and is open to visitors at a charge of 6d a week, or 1d per visit. The Times and Scotsman are taken daily; the Carlisle Journal and Patriot, Punch, Illustrated London News, London Examiner, and Liverpool Albion, weekly; and the Cornhill and Macmillan's Magazines, monthly.
...although there had been at least one earlier report in the more established local press, giving an indication of Silloth's place in the local tourist industry:
Wigton Advertiser, 21 Jul 1860:
THE SEA BATHING PLACES.- Allonby is now beginning to fill with visitors for the season, the best part of which is now aproaching. Many of the lodgings are engaged for the whole summer, and the inns are kept well employed. The baths have recently been overhauled and repaired, and are now in an efficient state for hot and cold baths. The safe nature of the beach, and the extent of the coast on which bathing can be indulged in, fit this place for taking families to; whilst its green banks render it an agreeable place of resort for the invalid or those who require the invigorating breezes of the sea. Silloth, we believe, is also very full of visitors, all the inns being nearly full. A number of bathing machines have been placed on the shore, and the splendidly fitted-up baths leave nothing to be desired by those who intend to have a "dip." Although not a bathing place, Moffat may be named as a place of resort for the people of Wigton ...
That last part-sentence illustrates how the railways were enabling people to make casual journeys which could not have been contemplated by earlier generations- a key factor, of course, in the development of Silloth itself. Moving on a few years, we learn a little more about local tourism, and about Mr Studholme, from an incident which made the national press:
Penny Illustrated Paper, 15 Jun 1867:
Silloth is a favourite seaside resort on the English side of the Solway Firth, about twenty miles from the city of Carlisle, frequented by many visitors from Scotland. Among these were Mrs. Greig, of Selkirk, a widow, and her daughter, a young lady sixteen years of age. On the day in question these two ladies entered a bathing-machine and thence proceeded into the sea. The waves were running very high at the time, and the bathers had only been a few minutes in the sea when Mrs. Greig was thrown off her feet and carried over a breakwater a little lwer down the Firth. Her daughter proceeded to her aid; but in doing so was herself carried out of her depth. The day was so stormy that few visitors were on the promenade; but one lady thence witnessed the occurrence, and ran immediately to seek assistance. The keeper of the neighbouring baths, Mr. Studholme, plunged into the sea and rescued the mother, whom he brought to land and laid upon the beach. Mr. Studholme then returned into the water to the assistance of the daughter, who was being rapidly carried into deeper water, and her also he succeeded in bringing to the shore. Medical assistance had by this time been procured, and a number of the visitors had assembled, who were ready to give every aid. Both ladies were insensible, and it was feared both were dead. By the diligent and persevering application of stimulants, however, animation was restored in the case of the mother; but in the case of the daughter all efforts were in vain.
The Studholmes were still running the baths by spring 1871 when the next census was conducted (their boarders at the time being William J. Fairlie, manufacturer of Carlisle, with his wife, mother & sister, plus Mary Scott of Brampton, probably Ellen's sister). In 1872, however, occurred a somewhat traumatic event. Following the collapse which had provoked the publication of the 1871 "Historical Sketch" mentioned earlier, there was an auction in Carlisle, on 27 August 1872, of peripheral assets of the Railway and Dock Company in Silloth, including the gasworks, the Queen's Hotel with its neighbouring houses in Park Terrace, and:
"all that BLOCK of BUILDINGS called "THE BATHS," containing 6 Hot and Cold Plunge and Shower Baths and 1 large Cold Swimming Bath, with DWELLING HOUSE attached, let to Mr. Dobinson Studholme, at the yearly rent of £84. The Building is a handsome one, in the Italian style of architecture; it is conveniently situated on the sea shore, and from Park Terrace is a very picturesque object. ...
Silloth, felicitously called "The St. Leonards of the North," is now in its full tide of popularity. Its railway and steamboat communication is comprehensive and facile, and at the present time its domiciliary accommodation is wholly inadequate. As was predicated of it when the enterprising projectors laid the foundation-stone of Park Terrace, Silloth has become an irresistible rendezvous and its visitors are perennial, its climate is exceptionally salubrious, and there is no indication of any abatement of that mysterious atmospheric impregnation which has made it so pre-eminent. The Baths are extensively patronised, and future extensions of the Gas Works have been amply provided for." ...
[transcribed from the advert as published in the Glasgow Herald, 21 Aug 1872; Carlisle Archive Office has a poster identifying the Baths as Lot 8]
Kelly's "Post Office Directory" published in the following year implies that the freehold was acquired by a company set up for the purpose. Under "Baths & Bath Proprietrs." is listed:
"Carlisle Baths Co. (J. Dobinson Studholme, man.), Sands, Silloth, Carlisle."
[This 1873 directory, incidentally, makes no mention of baths at Allonby.]
On 8 April 1878, Joseph Dobinson Studholme died, aged just 47 (he was buried in St. Paul's churchyard). Ellen did not, it seems, attempt to carry on without him, and Slater's trade directory of 1879 lists the proprietor as John Bell. The 1881 census provides details of the household:
John Bell, head of household, age 45, bath keeper, born at Cumrew
Agnes Bell, wife, age 36, born at Bowness [probably -on-Solway]
Jane Bell, daughter, age 4, born in Holme Low parish
Amy “, daughter, age 1, born in Holme Low
Mary Ann ?Robey, servant, age 15, general servant domestic, born in Holme Low
Silloth's popularity continued, as shown in a Scottish article copied by a local paper:
“West Cumberland Times” 31 Jul 1880 [from the “Dumfries & Galloway Standard and Advertiser”]:
Silloth boasts of an excellent bathing establishment, the watery element for which, hot and cold, is drawn direct from the sea. Well presided over by Mr and Mrs Bell, it is an ornament to the town and one which it could ill spare; their hot baths proving beneficial to many invalids, and supplying a most enjoyable luxury, that is well worth paying for, to the strong.
From another trade directory we gain, over 20 years after the event, an idea of how much the Baths cost to build:
Bulmer's directory of Cumberland, 1883:
The town is now a favourite resort for sea bathing, and its fine stretch of sandy beach presents a very animated appearance during the bathing season, where hundreds may be seen disporting in the watery element. The weak and delicate, to whom sea bathing might be injurious, can be accommodated at the Baths, a large building near the beach, erected at a cost of £2000.
Mr Bell seems to have continued as proprietor of the Baths untl his death there on 21 September 1919, aged 83. Agnes survived him by nearly two years (both were buried at St. Paul's) but like Ellen Studholme before her, she probably did not attempt to carry on managing the Baths. According to Mary Scott-Parker's "Silloth" [published by Bookcase, Carlisle, 1998, ISBN 0951992100], in 1920 the baths were offered to Holme Cultram district council for £1350. She describes the subsequent events in some detail, so I will merely present the outcome of what was, in effect, a local referendum: 202 votes for the purchase, 260 against.
Instead, we find the Baths, by the time of Kelly's trade directory in 1925, owned by John G. Finley of the Balmoral Hotel. They are still listed under Baths in Kelly's 1929 edition, but it seems to have been Finley who converted the building to the "light Refreshment Room and Ice Cream Parlour" described in the Ratepayers' Association's 1934 "Official Guide to Silloth on Solway" (also the source for the map at right), and remembered by older people in the area [and if you have memories of the place before 1945, I'd love to hear from you].
The Second World War was not kind to the tourist industry, and its ending was eagerly anticipated. So eagerly, in fact, that on 30 April 1945- before VE Day- the then proprietor, Mr W. Johnstone, submitted a plan to add an extension for a amusement arcade, which was to be housed in a Ministry of Works and Buildings hall hut, to be placed along the seaward side of the building as shown in the plan at left, based on an original supplied with the planning permission request [now in Carlisle Archives Office].
Wigton Council officers forwarded the plans to the County Council, and on 17 May, after initial telephone discussions, the County Surveyor reported: "I have now had an opportunity of inspecting the site, and am of opinion that a structure of this nature erected in this position would materially affect the amenities of the locality." On this basis, he asked Wigton to refuse permission. That may explain why the subsequent history of the building is dominated, not by the Johnstone family, but the Blakes, who took it over very soon afterwards. Their advert in the 1947 "Silloth on Solway Official Guide" concludes this presentation.