The History of Maryport
Whilst the site on which modern Maryport stands was certainly occupied long before, our knowledge of the place really begins in Roman times. The Romans built a fort there, thought to have been called Alauna. One Marcus Maenius Agrippa, an officer of some standing known to call Emperor Hadrian friend, commanded the complex built in 122AD. Alauna was fortified and made a port as a link to the larger port facilities at Ravenglass to the south, and to make the circumventing of Hadrianís Wall via the Solway Firth more difficult for Picts and others to the north. Recent discoveries indicate the place had perhaps greater significance to the Romans than previously believed.
When the Romans left in the early 5th century Alauna and the town that had grown around it declined, perhaps until the arrival of the Vikings . Crosscanonby Church (and its Norse cross) just to the north evidences their presence in the area.
The district had become Scottish territory long before the Conquest , thus it fails to feature in the Domesday Book . But by the 12th century the Normans had imposed their will on the region: Motte Hill, the remains of a motte and bailey castle from that period, can still be seen on a bend in the River Ellen. By the 14th century another site superseded it, the complex at Netherhall some of which, including the pele tower that is all that now remains after the fire of 1976, was built of Roman stones from Alauna.
The few houses and the grander fortified buildings in medieval times were called Alnburgh, controlled from the 16th century by the powerful Senhouse family.
At the mouth of the Ellen a small fishing village known as Ellenfoot had sprung up. In 1749 Humphrey Senhouse changed it beyond recognition. Inspired by what had been done at Whitehaven he lobbied to have an Act of Parliament passed granting him powers to create a planned town there, built on a grid, with major improvements to the harbour and the erection of a lighthouse. Senhouse wanted to exploit local coal reserves, and to build ships there. He succeeded in both projects.
In the 1750s what had been Ellenfoot was called Maryport, named for Humphrey Senhouseís wife (a name change finally recognised officially in 1791). During that decade furnaces were installed; quarries and mines begun or expanded; and new residents attracted with the promise of work. Coal was shipped from the port to Ireland; and later as the iron industry locally grew, and the railway age arrived, iron rails were loaded onto the ships waiting in the harbour.
Maryportís expansion continued in the 19th century: George Stephenson planned and engineered the Carlisle - Maryport railway in the 1840s; a bonded warehouse was built in 1842 to handle increased trade. In 1857 the Elizabeth Dock was opened; Senhouse Dock followed in 1884.
By the beginning of the 20th century Maryportís population had risen to around 20,000. But though the port continued to be the biggest on the Cumberland coast until the mid-1920s, the townís heyday was already over. The ships that had famously been launched side-on from Ritsonís yard (the Ellen being too narrow for them to do otherwise) were no longer built as unemployment in the Great Depression went beyond 50 per cent. The respite provided by WWII was temporary: local coal-mines closed in the second half of the century, the last open cast mine shutting down in 2000.
Today, however, the significance of the port has returned somewhat: there is a fishing fleet working out of Maryport; and the beauty of the region and excellence of the port has seen it become a major leisure marina, tourism being the biggest money-earner in the area.