Richard Ayton, an early 19th Century traveller, continues his description of life along the West Cumberland coast in the year 1813-14. This extract describes the villages of Parton and Harrington along with the landscape between Whitehaven and Workington
'The collieries give character to the countryside'
I pursued my journey from Whitehaven alone, my friend’s time being too valuable to permit him to make such frequent and long pauses as my more multifarious concerns made it necessary for me to do.
On leaving this town my chief subject of attention was still the collieries, which give quite a character to the country; for many miles to the northward the eye is caught by the vast chimneys of the steam engines sending forth clouds of black smoke; roads black with coal dust lead to the various towns which are planted on the coast: files of coal waggons are continually passing and repassing and almost every person one meets, shows, in his black figure, that coals here make up the grand business of life.
Shew of human art
The country is exceedingly populous; four considerable towns occurring on the coast within an interval of 10 or 12 miles, besides many villages and hamlets. The appearance of the coast, enlivened by this great show of human art and industry, is very striking, as viewed at some distance from sea. It forms a very beautiful line, being broken into a series of small bays, in each of which stands a town, with its harbour and thick cluster of masts in front, and backed immediately by gentle and cultivated hills, behind which, in the distance, appear the dark summits of the mountains.
Separated from the bay of Whitehaven by a rocky headland is the large village of Parton, situated in a remarkably pretty bay. This place had once a great number of vessels belonging to it and divided the business of the collieries with White-haven; but about 18 years ago its harbour was totally destroyed by an irruption of the sea and since that period it has afforded shelter only to fishermen. An extraordinary high tide was the cause of this violent invasion, and such another, accompanied by a western gale, would probably sweep away the whole village, which stands at the very edge of the sea with no protection but a natural beach,
It is a very neat village and, with the scenery about it, presents a very pleasing subject for the eye of the painter. The bay is of a semilunar figure, with masses of broken rock at the points, and the village at the water’s edge in the centre, closely bound In by a smooth green hill, with a little wood at its base. I was here on a delightful day, when there were no signs to encourage anticipations of wreck and ruin. The bay was filled with calm blue sea, without noise or motion, except where it sparkled in a line of silvery foam along the shore.
A fleet of herring boats lay at anchor before the village, and groups of fishermen were loitering about, booted for sea, but delayed by the calm.
Not far from Parton, in the adjoining parish of Moresby, and close to the church, are the traces of a Roman encampment, an earthwork enclosing a square of several acres. Roman remains in this country afford but little matter for description, and the obvious reflections that spring from a sight of them have been too often committed to book to be tolerated again in print. The northwestern coast of England being exposed to the incursion of the Caledonians, was guarded with peculiar care by our ancient conquerors and a regular series of their fortifications may still be traced from the Solway Firth to Lancaster. Aware that all of them had been subjected to the keen observation of more experienced and industrious antiquaries than myself, I passed by them without troubling myself about taking elevations and measuring paces, content to look at them only as the sources of a little moralising melancholy.
North of Moresby commence the collieries of Mr Curwen, whose works are almost as extensive as those of Lord Lonsdale, and who is the sole shipper of coals from the ports of Harrington and Workington. This great staple commodity of the country continued, in spite of myself, to form the staple subject of my thoughts.
After quitting the Roman encampment I soon found myself on an iron railroad, which runs down a gentle declivity for about a mile and a half, when it terminates in a low steep bank over the harbour of Harrington, from whence the coals are precipitated by hurries into the vessels. Harrington very nearly resembles Parton in situation, and seems almost equally exposed to the danger of destruction, whenever a high tide or a gale from the west shall raise the might of the sea. I found little in it to detain me, the town being just such a one as it may be supposed colliers, publicans, and seamen love to dwell in; and its business being, in all its modes and contrivances, only a repetition of what I had studiously observed at Whitehaven. It has a good harbour, defended by a stone pier from the south and west sea, within which a narrow passage between two wooden jetties leads into an enclosed basin, where vessels tie in perfect security, and receive their lading in all weathers.
The port musters 64 vessels, bearing a burden of 7388 tons. Six of these, carrying 1076 tons, are employed in foreign commerce and the remainder in the exportation of coals.
I proceeded from town to town on this populous coast with more than ordinary despatch, as little occurred in the scenery of the country to detain me, and the towns themselves having one common origin and pursuit, were all alike. I was now receding fast from the mountains, which no longer appeared in a continued and extended range, but scattered in insulated masses along the horizon. Near the sea, the country preserved a great sameness of character, consisting of a range of round wavy hills, rarely broken by any deep valleys or glens, and somewhat tiresome to the eye from the unvaried smoothness and uniformity of their surfaces. Not a tree appeared to interrupt the evenness of this monotonous landscape, which still however, atoned for its barrenness in the picturesque, by an abundant display of corn - a kind of fruitfulness far more interesting to the multitudes that people the coast.
To the northward of the small bay of Parton, the coast becomes less bold and rugged, the cliffs of rock giving way to a green, shelving bank, at the base of which is a narrow strip of flat land gradually wasting away before the advancing sea. On one side of Harrington this bank rises almost perpendicularly to the height of 50 or 60 feet, with a smooth front, which seems to have been cut and planed by art, for the purpose probably of rendering it inaccessible to a n invading enemy.
Our Scottish neighbours kept the inhabitants of this border country on the perpetual alarm, and many a guarded hill and headland remain as memorials of their hostility.
About a mile and a half further north, on the summit of a steep hill called Chapel Holm, are the remains of a small square tower, designed in ancient times as a watch-tower. The name of the hill should signify that it was sacred to a different object, but the building now to be seen upon it has the character of a military and not a religious work. From its summit I had a good view of Workington, a long narrow town stretched along an elevated ridge of land above the Derwent - the mingling masts and ropes of vessels continuing the line to the Sea.