Some history of the Ship Inn at Rockcliffe in the county of Cumberland


The Ship Inn traded in a location relatively close to the river shore, between the parish church and Red Hill. Enjoying an elevated position overlooking the River Eden, the building still stands. During our coastal pub tour I took a photograph of the former hostelry but there was nobody around for me to ask a few questions. However, somebody going by the name of The Carlisle Kid, when posting a photograph on the Geograph site, stated that he chatted to the occupier of what is now a private house. The resident of this old tavern told him that "his grandfather purchased the premises from the State Management Scheme in the early 1920s for £120 and his grandmother ran the former pub as a youth hostel for some years." ¹ The Co-Curate site states that the Ship Inn was "acquired by the State Management Scheme in October 1916 and closed in December of that year." ²

Rockcliffe : Map extract showing the location of the Ship Inn [1885]
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Published in 1865, this map extract shows more buildings around the Ship Inn than there are today, notably the premises that blocked the view of the public-house and, indeed, potential patrons coming along the river or the ferry. The line of the latter can be seen in the bottom-left close to the neck of Rockcliffe Beck. A few metres to the north was the ford, marked here as Rockcliff Wath.

Rockcliffe : Extract from the History, Directory & Gazetteer of Cumberland & Westmorland [1829]
Extract from Page 379 of the 1829 History, Directory & Gazetteer of Cumberland & Westmorland.

This extract from a 1829 History, Directory & Gazetteer of Cumberland & Westmorland shows two public-houses in Rockcliffe Churchtown. This suggests that the Crown & Thistle Inn was formerly called the Salutation. These were the two senior taverns within Churchtown. Other beer houses would emerge post-1830.

In 1829 Thomas Jackson was listed as the victualler in charge of the Ship Inn. When he passed away his wife, Margaret, took over the licence. In the census of 1841 she was recorded as innkeeper. Also living on the premises was the farmer Thomas Edger. He was from a local family who farmed at Rockcliffe Cross. Margaret Jackson hired a young woman named Isabella as a servant.³ The enumerator recorded her as Isabella Edger but there is a record of Thomas Edger marrying Isabella Storey three years later, in December 1844. She was the fourth daughter of John Storey of Cargo.⁴

There was seemingly a strong connection between the Jackson and Edger families. In 1851 Margaret Jackson had apparently relinquished the Ship Inn and was in residence at the home of Isabella Edger on Scotland Road, Stanwix.⁵ By this time Isabella was a widow with a young son. Meanwhile the Ship Inn was being kept by James and Ann Edger. I suspect he was the younger brother of Thomas Edger. The daughter of Jane Little, Ann Edger hailed from Nicholforest to the north-east of Longtown. James Edger died at a relatively early age in August 1858, his widow continuing as landlady.

Extract from Page 1 of the Carlisle Journal published on Friday 11th February 1859
Extract from Page 1 of the Carlisle Journal published on Friday 11th February, 1859.

The above newspaper extract shows a notice for an auction held at the Ship Inn during February 1859. This does not state that it is for an auction of the Ship Inn but simply that the auction was being held in the tavern, such sales often being held in public-houses. During the following January a meeting of the proprietors of a common field, known as The Lea, was held in the Ship Inn in order to consider the matter of Inclosure.

In the 1860s Ann Edger moved to run a beer house at Todhills, though still within the parish of Rockcliffe Castletown. In September 1867 she applied for a full licence, citing her many years running the Ship Inn in a very respectable manner. The Bench refused her application.⁶

By the early 1890s when John and Isabella Jackson were hosts at the Ship Inn, the pub's yard had become kennels for greyhound trainers. One such trainer was David Johnstone who made the newspapers in January 1889 when he was seriously injured in a train collision at Carlisle Citadel Station. He was the most serious of 18 people injured in the accident. He was rendered unconscious from a wound to the head and taken to the infirmary.⁷

George Cullen was the licensee of the Ship Inn during the early years of the 20th century. Born in Carlisle, he was the son of a joiner and cartwright. However, he pursued a different career path and served an apprenticeship as a butcher. He learned the ill-effects of drinking spirits when a colleague died from excessive drinking in April 1885. Philip Robson became quite insensible and had to taken home in a wheelbarrow where he died some hours later.⁸ At this time George Cullen was living in West Tower Street at Carlisle. He married Liverpool-born Jane Matilda Kendall in January 1889. Although she spent her formative years in Everton, her parents hailed from Carlisle and Penrith respectively. The family would move back north and the paths of Jane Kendall and George Cullen crossed in Carlisle. By the time the couple moved to the Ship Inn they had three young children. They remained until 1905 before moving to the Laughingstock at Crosby-on-Eden.

In the early Edwardian era, when George and Jane Cullen were at the Ship Inn, Jackson and Isabella Edgar were living at the Boat House. Jackson Edgar worked as a mason's labourer whilst also operating the ferry service across the River Eden.⁹ At the end of May 1908 he recovered the body of the blacksmith, Thomas Bone Maxwell, who had drowned whilst bathing in the river. At the subsequent inquest the ferryman told the coroner that the place where the blacksmith perished was a death-trap.¹⁰

By the end of the Edwardian period, the elderly widow, Mary Jane Metcalfe, was the innkeeper. She had lived close to the Ship Inn before moving into the premises. Hailing from Thursby, she had been married to the builder James Metcalfe.

Licensees of the Ship Inn

1829 - Thomas Jackson
1841 - Margaret Jackson
1851 - James Edger
1858 - Ann Edger
1891 - John Bryant
1891 - John Jackson
1901 - George Cullen
1905 - David Johnstone
1910 - Mary Jane Metcalfe
1914 - John Archer
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.

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

1. "Former Ship Inn, Rockcliffe - January 2017" within Geograph <>, Accessed July 4th, 2024.
2. "The Crown and Thistle, Rockcliffe" within Co-Curate <>, Accessed July 4th, 2024.
3. 1841 England Census HO 107/165/15 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 2, Page 6.
4. "Marriages" : Carlisle Journal; December 7th, 1844. p.3.
5. 1841 England Census HO 107/2431 : Cumberland > Stanwix > District 1, Page 53.
6. "Licensing Day" : Carlisle Examiner and North Western Advertiser; September 10th, 1867. p.3.
7. "Railway Collision At Carlisle" : Shields Daily Gazette; January 22nd, 1889. p.3.
8. "Death From Excessive Drinking In Carlisle" : Carlisle Patriot; April 24th, 1885. p.7.
9. 1901 England Census RG 13/4870 Folio 99 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 7, Page 7.
10. "Bather Drowned In The Eden" : Carlisle Patriot; June 2nd, 1908. p.5.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"On Monday Mr. A. Lee, Coroner for East Cumberland, held an inquest at the Ship Inn, Rockcliffe, as to the circumstances under which Ann Story, an unmarried woman, aged 23 years, who has been missing from the house of her brother in John Street, Caldewgate, since the 6th of January, and whose dead body was found on Rockcliffe Marsh on Saturday, came by her death. The body was in such a state as to be past recognition, and could only be identified by the clothing. Robert William Story, the brother of the deceased, who said he was a labourer, gave evidence to the effect that for three years his sister had suffered from mental derangement. She had been in service in Manchester, and was then sent to Garlands Asylum, from which she was discharged as cured about the end of November, but he did not consider that s9he was cured when she came to him. He got no word from the Asylum about her being discharged. She was brought to the lane end by the overseer in a cab. While with him she showed signs of weak intellect. On Monday, the 3rd of January, she was washing and complained of her head being bad. On Tuesday she remained about the house all day. Between eight and nine p.m. she appeared to be asleep in bed. At 9.15 witness went to bed and rose next morning at eight. He then missed his sister. Her day clothes were gone and also her hat which was in his room. He at once informed the police, who searched the river in a boat. No trace of her was found, and the first he had since heard of her was the notification on Saturday evening that they had been found at Rockcliffe. He went there on Sunday morning, and identified the body by the clothing. Hs sister never said anything to lead him to suppose that she intended to put herself in the river. Joseph Green, drainer, Mounsey's Court, deposed that about 6.40 a.m. on January 6, when he was walking along the bank of the Eden near the Bridge, he saw a woman dressed in dark clothes sitting on one of the seats. He walked on to the steps and then heard a cry of "Help." The morning was very dark. He attracted the attention of some men and women who were going over the bridge, and they heard splashing in the water. As he was unable to see anything, and as the woman had left the seat, he informed the police. Jackson Edgar, fisherman, Rockcliffe, said that on Saturday morning he found the body on Rockcliffe Marsh lying about 15 yards clean of the tide, which was then flowing. A red petticoat at first attracted his attention. He believed the body must have lain at that place since the previous week. P.C. Nicholson, Rockcliffe, also gave evidence. The jury returned a verdict of "Found drowned," and the body was afterwards buried in Rockcliffe Churchyard."
"The Disappearance Of A Carlisle Woman"
Carlisle Patriot : March 5th 1897 Page 6

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