Some history of the Boat House Inn at Rockcliffe in the county of Cumberland


A watering hole that also traded as the Ferry Boat, the Boat House Inn is still marked as the Esk Boathouse on modern OS maps. There was a ferry boat that operated across the River Eden with a landing stage at the foot of Red Hill near the Ship Inn. However, the ferry that operated from the Boat House Inn was to the north of Rockcliffe Cross and carried passengers across the Esk to Mossband Marsh.

Rockcliffe : Map extract showing the location of the Boat House Inn [1899]
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

This map extract published in 1899 shows that there were a number of buildings at Greenbed, rather than the isolated dwelling that occupies the site in the 21st century.

When we rolled up during our coastal pub tour, there was nobody around to ask questions so my information on this former hostelry is scant at best. The romantic within me envisaged a small tavern in which travellers could sample some of the grog on offer, perhaps a little Dutch Courage before venturing across the marshes and River Esk under the guidance of the ferryman.

Rockcliffe : Former Boat House Inn at Greenbed [2024]
© Photo taken by author on June 21st, 2024. DO NOT COPY

The map extract suggests two separate dwellings but the building seems unified these days. The earliest census reference for this part of Rockcliffe is marked as Peter Syke in 1841, This is the water channel within the marshes that flows into the Esk. In this early census the enumerator recorded the agricultural labourer Jared Irving, along with his wife Ann and two young children. Henry Knott was also recorded as independent,¹ begging the question if he was the ferryman? The 1829 History, Directory & Gazetteer of Cumberland & Westmorland lists William Irving as a victualler of The Board at Boat House.

The name of Greenbed, or Green Beds, appears in the census of 1861 which includes two households. The agricultural labourer John Little, along with his family, lived in one dwelling. Their neighbours were the Percival family. Both Edward Percival and his son, Thomas, worked as masons.² In the Post Office Directory published three years earlier, in 1858, Edward Percival was listed at the Boat House.

Rockcliffe : Notice by Thomas Bell of Halltown Farm [1867]
Extract from Page 1 of the Carlisle Patriot published on Friday, September 13th, 1867.

A short distance away was Thomas Bell at Halltown Farm who, as can be seen, placed a notice in the Carlisle Patriot announcing that he had a superior bull ready for naughty action!

The first mention of the Boat House within the census appears in 1871 when Joseph Park was recorded as publican. Born locally, he was recorded as innkeeper ten years later. He had married Jane Sinclair in 1868. She would succeed him as landlady of the Boat House following his death in 1882.

Rockcliffe : Ode to Honest Will the Boatman at Greenbed [2024]
© Photo taken by author on June 21st, 2024. DO NOT COPY

This ode to Honest Will the Boatman has been posted on the frontage of the Esk Boathouse. There is some weathering at the bottom but the last three lines read: "an' Will himself lies quiet, yet lives his SPIRIT here-step in an' try it. Ne'er Time nor Tide can half so pure supply it." Unfortunately, I do not know for certain who Will was, though I suspect it could be the aforementioned William Irving of The Board. Clearly, from the opening line, Will continued to guide travellers after the construction of the Metal Bridge in 1820. His services and expertise were seemingly still required by those unwilling to pay the toll to use the bridge.

Following the death of Jane Park in March 1892 the licence may have lapsed and was extinguished. Certainly, by the time of the 1901 census the premises were recorded as the Boat House Temperance Tavern. This establishment was kept by George and Margaret Percival.

Licensees of the Boat House Inn

1858 - Edward Percival
1871 - Joseph Park
1882 - Jane Park
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.

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1. 1841 England Census HO 107/165/16 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 3, Page 1.
2. 1861 England Census RG 9/3922 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > Castletown > District 7, Page 2.

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