Some history of the Three Crowns at Rockcliffe in the county of Cumberland


The property that once traded as a beer house, known as the Three Crowns, traded a short distance to the north of School Lane. The building, almost opposite the Parish Council notice board, still stands as a private dwelling.

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

As a private residence, the building is called Three Crowns House - I like it when the old names are retained. The building in the distance, to the right of this photograph, is the former Blooming Heather. Both of these houses operated as beer houses so emerged in the years after legislation was passed in 1830. Furthermore, their lifespans were also similar in that both were referred for compensation in 1906.

Rockcliffe : Map extract showing the locations of the Three Crowns and Blooming Heather [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 both the Three Crowns and Blooming Heather on this map extract dating from 1885. Note the cottages to the rear of the Three Crowns. This was known as Three Crowns Yard back in the Victorian era, and Crown Yard in the mid-20th century. A couple of these cottages seem to have been combined to form what is now Ivy Cottage.

Rockcliffe : Extract from the census showing the occupations of Henry Sinclair [1871]
Extract from the 1871 census showing the occupations of Henry Sinclair.

As the Three Crowns was a beer house, the name of the property did not always feature in the census or in trade directories. However, its close proximity to the Blooming Heather, a property that has been easier to identify, suggests that, during its early days, the Three Crowns was kept by Henry Sinclair, who was also a school teacher. I am not sure if I have come across this combo before - certainly not the typical mix of occupations found in many a beer house across the land. The low income from beer sales would generally have to be supplmented by another occupation. Henry Sinclair would have been in the unique position of teaching individuals when they were young teenagers and then serving them beer when they had matured.

From a newspaper report in the Carlisle Journal, one can determine that Henry Sinclair was running the beer house in 1856 as, in August of that year, it was published that he was charged with keeping his house open for the sale of beer at unlawful hours. It was also reported that an additional charge of conveying beer from his premises to a barn and there selling it was preferred against the teacher and publican. He got off the latter charge as he stated that he had sold the beer in a barrel on the previous day for a dancing school ball, a statement corrobated by the dancing master. However, he was fined for keeping his house open during prohibited hours and fined 5s. and costs.¹

Henry Sinclair may have been running the Three Crowns at an earlier date, though the census enumerator did not record the property name or trade in beer. It is interesting to follow the footsteps of the enumerator from the Blooming Heather and down the hill. The butcher, Joseph Peascod, was the first name listed, followed by the blacksmith Joseph Maxwell. I suspect these were living in the aforementioned Three Crowns Yard. The hand-loom weaver Thomas Railton was next mentioned, followed by Nathan Graham, a master shoemaker. He was seemingly doing good trade as he was employed three people. Next up was the grocer Elizabeth Irving. Henry Sinclair is listed immediately after the grocer.

Henry Sinclair kept the Three Crowns with his wife Elizabeth. In the early 1850s the couple lived on the premises with five children, John, Jane, Robert, Elizabeth and Catherine.² In addition to teaching at the school, Henry Sinclair also served as the parish clerk. He was recorded as such by in an 1851 newspaper article which stated that the family had a extremely tame crow which had been domesticated and adopted as part of the household. The newspaper reported that John Sinclair, the couple's son, "took some cattle to the field. Mr. Crow went with him, out of companionship no doubt, and when about a mile from home, was suddenly attacked by uncivilized jackdaw. Crow halted, erected his feathers, and pounced upon his antagonist, egged on by the encouraging voice of his master. The fight waxed fierce, peck succeeded peck, and feathers flew fast, until at length the domesticated bird inflicted a desperate wound upon his assailant and finished the fray, proudly strutting off to his master when he had done the deed." ³

Contemporary engraving as frontspiece from "Sorrow On The Sea : An Account Of The Loss Of The Steam-Ship [Amazon,] by Fire"
Contemporary engraving as frontspiece from "Sorrow On The Sea : An Account Of The Loss Of The Steam-Ship "Amazon," by Fire" in the public domain and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

There must have been considerable excitement in the Three Crowns when a "Message In A Bottle" was brought into the pub by Christopher Coulthard of Gretna. He picked up the bottle at Port Stormont late in 1852, almost a year after the RMS Amazon was lost at sea following a fire on the vessel. Over 100 people died in the tragedy. Details of the message were published in the Carlisle Patriot, but not until Henry Sinclair had exhibited the artefact in the Three Crowns where all sorts of speculative discussion was surely raised over a pint of beer.

Rockcliffe : Advertisements by Henry Sinclair of the Three Crowns [1856]
Extract from the Page 1 of the Carlisle Patriot published on Saturday October 25th, 1871.

Trade directories and the census show that Henry and Elizabeth Sinclair gave up the Three Crowns, took a gap of several years, before returning to run the beer house. The above advertisements placed in the Carlisle Patriot in October 1856 show that they were going to rent out both the Three Crowns, along with an attached grocery shop. This was almost certainly the aforementioned shop run by Elizabeth Irving.

Henry Sinclair may have reconsidered his career path following his fine at the magistrates' court. In the census of 1861 Henry Sinclair was recorded as a book solicitor. At this time the Three Crowns was being kept by Jacob and Margaret Tiffin.⁴

Rockcliffe : Notice of an auction for the freehold of the Three Crowns held at the Fish Inn at Cargo [1860]
Extract from Page 1 of the Carlisle Journal published on Friday February 24th, 1860.

Henry and Elizabeth Sinclair were back at the Three Crowns by 1870. In January of that year Henry Sinclair was back at the magistrates' court where he was fined 10s. and costs for unlawfully opening his house during prohibited hours. He was taking the piss really as it was three o'clock on the Sunday morning of January 9th that he was nabbed by the police. Thomas Irving, Robert Wood, Patrick Carr and Margaret Graham were all charged with being unlawfully present in the house when the constable clocked them. Margaret Graham, however, hired the services of a solicitor who told the Bench that she was not aware of the altered state of the law, and hoped they would inflict a lenient penalty. It did the trick and all four defendants got off with a lecturing by the magistrate.⁶

The Maxwell family became involved with the Three Crowns by the early 1880s. The family had been living and working the the yard for many years. Members of this family would live on the premises for several generations. In 1881 widow Mary Maxwell was recorded as the publican whilst Jacob Maxwell worked as a blacksmith in the yard. His son, George, would later become the publican/ He followed in his father's footsteps and worked as a blacksmith whilst running the Three Crowns with his wife Mary.

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

Licensees of the Three Crowns

1856 - Henry Sinclair
1861 - Jacob Tiffin
1871 - Henry Sinclair
1881 - Mary Maxwell
1891 - George Maxwell
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. 1851 England Census HO 107/2431 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 10, Page 3.
3. "Local And District Intelligence" : Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser; February 11th, 1851. p.2.
4. 1861 England Census RG 9/3922 Folio 74 : Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 6, Page 4.
5. 1871 England Census RG 10/5223 Folio 74 M Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 6, Page 5.
6. "The New Beer House Act" : Carlisle Express and Examiner; January 21st, 1870. p.6.
8. 1881 England Census RG 11/5161 Folio 102 M Cumberland > Rockcliffe > District 7, Page 20.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"A few days ago a pint glass bottle, corked and containing an enclosure, was washed ashore at Port Stormont on the Solway Firth. It was picked up by Mr. Christopher Coulthard of Gretna, and subsequently given to Mr. Henry Sinclair of Rockliff, who has forwarded it to us. The enclosure is an envelope, rather than the ordinary size. All the ends are loose, and the paper is much discoloured, by the actions of the sea-water, probably through the appearance is that of having been scorched. On the inside surface is written, in pencil, in a bold commercial hand - "Pitched overboard on the 'Amazon' 1851; Lat. 51; Long. 48, West, at 7 A.M." On the back of one of the ends is written, in ink, evidently by the same hand, though at some previous period "Wilson," underneath are the capital letters 'R.C." Upon the back of the body of the envelope are some calculations in figures, in ink, and the word "Miss" is written as if the owner had at one time contemplated addressing the envelope to some lady. The envelope was folded up into a small compass before inserted in the bottle. There can be no doubt that the waif was committed to the waves by one of the unfortunate passengers of the "Amazon," but at what precise period it is impossible to say without reference as neither the month nor the day are mentioned."
"A Relic From The Amazon"
Carlisle Patriot : December 18th 1852 Page 2

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