Five miles north of Maryport in Cumbria the little village of Allonby lies strung out along the coast road, with a long, wide and very pleasant green running between the road and the beach. During my first visit there at Easter I’d been given a brochure about the history of the village and its various buildings and reading through it I realised that there was far more to the place than I’d first thought, so on a recent revisit I made it my mission to start at the north end of the village and work my way south, finding and photographing all the various buildings shown in the brochure.
Allonby originally started life centuries ago as a tiny community scattered around four farms but over many years it grew into a small fishing port, with the main catch being herring which were either salted or smoked to preserve them for transport to market. In 1703 the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, converted a cottage in the village into a Meeting House and the Quakers became a large and influential section of the local community. At the extreme north of the village a Quaker burial ground was established, a simple space of grass and low headstones with the entrance being a deceptive door in a stone wall bordering the road, and it was from there that my quest began.
Next to the burial ground is North Lodge, built in 1824 by Thomas Richardson, a noted banker and leading member of the Quakers. The building is symmetrical and the central pavilion provided a holiday home for Richardson and his family while the adjoining four cottages and two houses were let to needy Quaker spinsters or families. Richardson was also very instrumental in adding significantly to the funds raised for the building of Allonby School, which is still in existence, and North Lodge is still in use today as low-cost housing.
After being established in 1703 the Quaker Meeting House was used continually for over 250 years but by the 1980s it was beginning to show its age, with windows which were jammed shut, rotten floors and much damp. The members secured a grant and raised another £3,000 for repairs but when work began more structural problems came to light. Eventually the funds ran out and the Meeting House officially closed in July 1991 ; five years later the building was sold and converted into a private house, which it still is today.
On a nearby corner is the Congregational Chapel which was built in 1844 and used for about 120 years. In the 1980s it was converted to a private house after having closed for worship about twenty five years before. Between the chapel and the old Meeting House is what was the Sunshine Home, built in 1934 as a children’s holiday home by Margaret Harrison in memory of her husband who had been a director of a Clydeside ship builders. Open each year from Easter to October it provided a fortnight’s holiday for under-privileged children from all over the country for almost sixty years.
In 1990 the home received £3,300 from the BBC’s Children In Need appeal to install an all-weather surface in the playground but in that same year an unpleasant incident occurred when the mother of two boys staying there complained that a member of staff had ill-treated one of them. The police and Social Services became involved and the home was immediately closed ; although there was no evidence to support the allegations the damage was done, and coupled with the increasing difficulty of finding suitable staff the original owner’s granddaughter who had inherited the home decided that it should remain closed. The building was eventually sold and converted to become the private house it is today.
Allonby Village Hall was converted in 1911 from a barn into a church hall to bring the Anglican presence into the heart of the village, and what can be seen today is more or less how the building was back then. Activities are held there regularly and include table top sales, dance classes, Pilates, Bridge, quizzes and musical entertainment. Across the road from the village hall, and on the edge of the green, is the Reading Room built on what had been the site of a factory school with a large weaving room and tithe barn. Designed by a Quaker architect from Manchester and opened in 1862 the reading rooms and a library originally stood over an open Italian-style piazza where people could shelter from bad weather ; eventually though the open colonnade was bricked in and the space converted into a billiard and games room.
The reading rooms served the people of Allonby for more than a hundred years and at one point became home to a collection of natural history specimens. During WW2 they were used by the WVS (Womens Voluntary Services) for the preparation of camouflage netting for the armed forces, and during the 1951 Festival of Britain they served as the venue for a ‘Festival of Antiques’. Unfortunately usage had declined by the early 1970s and maintenance was a problem so the building was sold, with the proceeds being used to upgrade the village hall. The new owner was a local businessman who proposed to turn the building into a motorbike museum but his plans were turned down by the local authority and the place stood empty for thirty years. Gradually the building began to deteriorate and after a severe storm part of the roof collapsed, bringing the gable end down with it. Finally, in 2005 the local council agreed to a partial demolition and conversion to residential use, and after the work was hampered by delays and ever-increasing costs the new owners eventually took up residence in 2013.
Not far from the Reading Rooms, and just across Allonby Beck on the seaward side of the green, is a short row of cottages known as The Hill, and although the land is now mainly level it was, at one time, just as its name suggests. Here were once thriving boat building and fish curing industries, with fishing boats being launched into the sea from the Hill and a smokehouse at the end of the row, also regular fish sales were held there after each catch was brought in. During the 1930s the Jackson family brought horses to the village and opened a very successful riding school which was based at the end of The Hill next to where there is now a modern play park. For obvious reasons I couldn’t take any photos of the play park but where it’s situated was once the site of the Smiddy On The Hill owned by blacksmith Dick Saunderson.
Across the road, and set sideways on to the road itself, is an odd little detached cottage with a flat-roofed side extension on what was once the front of the building and its front door on what used to be the side, meaning it now bears no resemblance to the small double-fronted steep-roofed building it once was – this was known as The Bazaar, and at various times in the past it’s been a fancy goods shop, a Co-op shop, and a chip shop.
Behind The Bazaar is part of The Square, which isn’t just one Square but a long straggle of cobbled lanes and smaller squares extending in two parts through the back of the village and converging on what was once the Market Place, where the old bath house is situated. Commissioned in 1834, built during 1835 and early 1836 The Baths opened in July that year ; they had warm, cold, sulphur and vapour baths fitted out in marble and using water piped from the sea by a small steam engine, whose furnace also heated the water. At the rear of the building a long ‘Promenade Room’ with an iron balustrade overlooked the sea and there was also a smaller reading room.
By 1856 however, Allonby Baths faced competition in the form of the new seaside resort of Silloth just eight miles away. With a fine selection of modern hotels and boarding houses the town also had an attractive set of sea water baths, and with people preferring to go to Silloth Allonby Baths gradually lost their popularity. In August 1862 a notice appeared in the local papers announcing the intention to liquidate any debts, wind up the business and consider accepting an offer for the land and building. That offer was made by an MP who had also financed the Reading Rooms ; the building was converted into a boarding house and by the turn of the century had become a private residence, which it has remained ever since. It’s also a Grade ll listed building.
Across from the front of The Baths is Allonby Grange, a property built in the Colonial style. It was once home to Anne Satterthwaite who had inherited the building as part of her family’s estate ; after her only son died her daughter-in-law Sarah became Mrs Satterthwaite-Clark when she remarried in 1882, her groom being James Clark, founder of Clark’s shoe empire. After her mother-in-law’s death Sarah continued to live in the house and during the course of her years there she gifted a fine hand-drawn hearse to the people of the village ; in her old age she regularly held lavish garden parties in the beautiful garden at the rear of the property.
Set back on the left beyond the far end of the Market Place is a small modern housing development known as Costins, which takes its name from the original building which was once a Georgian bow-windowed multi-shop run by the local family of the same name. The Square continues from the Market Place as a narrow cobbled lane lined by pretty cottages, one of which is Swan Cottage, formerly the Swan Inn. It could once have been more than one dwelling as at one time there were two separate sets of stairs leading to different parts of the property. The front of the building dates from the mid 18th century while the back is more likely to be Victorian, which would go some way to explaining the two different staircases.
By the time I’d ticked Swan Cottage off my list, and having foregone my late lunch, it was time for a brew and a snack. The Allonby Tea Rooms were close by, set back off the main road, and there was a vacant table outside so I gave myself and the dogs a well-earned break before the next part of the ‘treasure hunt’.