Some history of the Blooming Heather at Rockcliffe in the county of Cumberland


The property that once traded as a beer house, bearing the sign of the Blooming Heather, traded near the junction of the road to Todhills. It is a single-storey building now known as Heather House. Towards the end of the 19th century, the name of the house was simply The Heather, but I rather like the romance of the original name.

Rockcliffe : Map extract showing the locations of the Blooming Heather and Three Crowns [1885]
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

I have marked the locations of the Blooming Heather and Three Crowns on this map extract dating from 1885. Both taverns were beer houses rather than fully-licensed public-houses. Still, it is remarkable that these houses, along with the other established older inns thrived in what was a relatively small village with a low population.

The Blooming Heather was the domain of the Sinclair family in the 1840s. Indeed, other members of the Sinclair clan were living in neighbouring houses. The school teacher Henry Sinclair was also a beer house-keeper, which I assume was the nearby Three Crowns? In August 1856 both licensees were fined for keeping their houses open for the sale of beer during unlawful hours.¹

Publican of the Blooming Heather, James Sinclair, appeared at the magistrates court in Carlisle in March 1847 after a complaint by the wife of Thomas Graham. In the court the Bench were told that on Sunday March 28th, between ten and eleven in the morning, Mrs. Graham went to the Blooming Heather for her husband. She complained of his conduct, he having been there drinking till three o'clock on that morning. Things between the couple got a little heated, and James Sinclair told her that she must either sit down quietly, or go out of the pub. She said that she would do neither, so the publican "pressed her out of the room door, took her up in his arms, and threw her against the wall." The magistrates were told by her solicitor that she was seriously injured and was, at the time, pregnant. Her statement was corroborated by her bacchanalian husband, and also by a Mrs. Bell. Consequently, the magistrates severely reprimanded James Sinclair, imposing a fine of 40s. and costs.²

In 1861, the three children of James and Ann Sinclair, Thomas, Jane and George, were still living at the Blooming Heather. However, the census enumerator recorded 53-year-old widow, Nancy Sinclair, as the inn keeper. Despite a discrepancy in age and first name, I think this was their mother who was recorded as Ann a decade earlier. She remained throughout the 1860s, her sons living on the premises, working as farm labourer and miller respectively.

A temporary end of the Sinclair name above the door of the Blooming Heather seems to have transpired from a decision of the magistrates to refuse the licence being transferred to George Sinclair in 1885. As a result, David Edgar, of Cargo, became the licensee. He was, however, brother-in-law of the property owner.

In July 1891 the licence of the Blooming Heather was transferred from David Edgar to David Bryant.³ However, the census of that year indicates that the property was occupied by Irish-born David Anderson and his wife Hannah who hailed from Hexham. Perhaps they were managers? ⁴

The Blooming Heather was referred for compensation in 1906 when occupied by Sarah Sinclair. She was the freeholder and remained at the premises, though in the capacity of a farmer.

Rockcliffe : Former Blooming Heather [2024]
© Photo taken by author on June 21st, 2024. DO NOT COPY

Licensees of the Blooming Heather

1847 - James Sinclair
1861 - Nancy Sinclair
1885 - David Edgar
1894 - James Bryant
1897 - Fergus Irving
1897 - Hugh Martin
1901 - Margaret Martin
1906 - Sarah Sinclair
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people.

1. "The Beer License" : Carlisle Journal; August 15th, 1856. p.6.
2. "Magistrates' Office, Courts, Carlisle" : Carlisle Patriot; April 2nd, 1847. p.2.
3. "Transfers Of Licences" : Carlisle Patriot; July 31st, 1891. p.3.
4. 1881 England Census RG 11/5161 Folio 103 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 7, Page 21.

Related Newspaper Articles

"An extraordinary conflict took place on Sunday last, in the middle of the River Eden, betwixt two fishermen and a sturgeon. William Peel and James Carruthers were floating down the stream from Rockliff to meet the tide coming from the Solway, in a little boat of their own construction, and not much larger than a tub of ordinary dimensions. When near Burgh Marsh Point, about half-way between Rockliff and Port Carlisle, Peel, standing up in the boat and looking wistfully ahead, suddenly exclaimed to his companion, "Oh! here comes a porpis, or something very like a whale"; Carruthers, looking in the direction indicated, added, "Werry like a whale." They then directed the boat towards the approaching object, and on coming within reach of it, they struck the monster a couple of smart blows on the sconce with two sticks which they used for the purpose of steering. The creature darted off with extraordinary rapidity, somewhat surprised at the nature of its reception, but it still continued within sight of its pursuers. Peel and Carruthers finding the stream too rapid for the proper management of the boat directed it to the shore, and having armed themselves, each with a stick of more substantial quality, they abandoned the bark for a time and rushed into the middle of the stream. Cautiously nearing the monster they again administered a succession of blows with a violence that would have soon "finished" any ordinary animal, but which seemed only to have the effect of increasing the vigorous activity of the object assailed. In this way the contest was carried on for some time; the men coming up to the fish [for fish they had found it to be], belabouring it so long as it remained within reach, which was not very long, for it darted off with inconceivable rapidity, sometimes to a distance of nearly 20 yards at a single stroke, apparently, of its huge fins; at other times being entirely lost to the view of its assailants. Altogether between 20 and 30 good hard blows were inflicted upon the head and back of the fish, but without any perceptible diminution of its strength. The position of the fishermen, however, was critical. Their unusual exertions had somewhat exhausted them; the water deepened every moment as the tide was rapidly advancing, and they were still midway in the stream, but determined to secure the prize which had already cost them so much trouble. Peel having again come nigh to the fish suddenly thrust one end of his stick into its gills, and shouted to his companion for assistance. A tremendous struggle ensued; the water flew about in all directions, but the men held tight until the shore was reached. Great difficulty was experienced in getting the fish into the boat, and it had nearly been lost in the attempt. When the prize was laid high and dry, the captors had time to examine it leisurely. It was a splendid sturgeon, measuring nearly 9 feet in length, and between 3 and feet in circumference; its weight was upwards of 16 stone. The lucky fishermen state their conviction that they had a narrow escape from a broken limb or two, for the strength of the monster was prodigious; and further, that it had nearly been a "dead heat" between themselves and the tide. The unwieldy stranger was taken in a cart to the house of James Sinclair, innkeeper, Rockliff, where it was exhibited on Monday to the astonished natives who ne'er had seen its like before, and it was subsequently cut and sold to them at 2d. and 3d. per lb. The "Royal Fish" caused quite a sensation in the village, and the lucky innkeeper, who had assisted in the capture, drew off half a dozen barrels of ale on the strength of it. It is said to be an ill wind that blows nobody good; this appears to have been a capital good draught for everybody."
"A Struggle With A Sturgeon"
Carlisle Patriot : June 11th 1853 Page 5

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Mr. J. H. Brown said three weeks ago he made an application for the temporary transfer of the Blooming Heather, Rockcliffe, from David Anderson to George Sinclair, and although he produced testimonials to character, the Bench refused the applications. He now renewed the application on behalf of David Edgar, Cargo, and this person was in every respect fit to hold a beer house licence. He produced testimonials as to character. Superintendent Sempill said for reasons which he stated when the application was made on behalf of Sinclair he asked the Bench to require the applicant to be put in the box as required by the Beer House Act. Mr. Brown held that this was quite unnecessary, and was departing from the usual practice. The applicant was, however, sworn, and stated that he at present lived at Cargo, and that if he got the transfer in question he would reside on the premises, and the owner of the house would have no control over it. The magistrates then granted a temporary transfer."
"The Transfer Of The Blooming Heather, Rockcliffe"
Carlisle Express and Examiner : March 7th 1885 Page 7

"Ellen Flynn, married, Caldewgate, was charged with being disorderly and refusing to quit the Blooming Heath Inn, Rockcliffe, on February 4th. She had some dispute with the landlady over family matters and went to the inn, got drunk, and had to be ejected by the police. She was fined 5s., including costs."
"Disturbance At A Rockcliffe Inn"
Carlisle Journal : February 15th 1898 Page 4

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