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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E
Silloth, 1856-9


The Port of Silloth, in Cumberland, lies on the margin of a small bay on the Southern side of the Solway Frith, twelve miles from Port Carlisle, and thirty miles from the mouth of the estuary. For centuries Silloth Bay has been known as a place of anchorage, and haven of safety for an extensive range of coast. Situated below all the difficult and intricate portion of the navigation of the Solway Firth, with deep water close in shore (an advantage possessed by no other harbour on the Cumberland coast), it was obviously a must desirable site for the construction of a commercial harbour, and had been for a long period considered as such when, in 1854, a company was formed with Mr. William Marshall, M.P., as its Chairman, and an Act obtained for the construction of floating docks, a pier, and other works, in connection with a line of railway, to form a junction with the then existing Port Carlisle Line, which would bring Silloth within twenty-one miles of the City of Carlisle. In the previous Session the Bill had been rejected, owing principally to the strong engineering and nautical evidence tendered in opposition. But the temporary reverse experienced by the promoters was upon the whole beneficial, as it caused them to carefully reconsider their scheme, and in the Bill of the following year a better site was selected. The general design for the works was prepared by the late Mr. John Hartley, whose other duties at Birkenhead necessitated his resignation as engineer after the passing of the Act, and his successor was Mr. Abernethy. The works were carried out in accordance with the general arrangement of the original design. This consisted of a pier or jetty 1,000 feet in length on the seaward side of the dock entrance: an entrance channel parallel with the jetty, forming a slight angle with the foreshore, 100 feet in width at the bottom, with slopes of six to one, having a fall of two feet six inches in its entire length, the bottom of the channel being generally sixteen feet below the level of the adjoining beach: thirdly, an embankment on the foreshore, projecting 400 feet beyond high water mark, and enclosing the entrance to the dock, sixty feet in width, and securing a depth of twenty-four feet of water over the sill at high water ordinary spring tides. Reverse, or sea-gates also were erected for protection during gales: and lastly, a dock of four acres with a depth of water of twenty-live feet six inches at the general level.

Operations were commenced in 1856, and completed in 1859 at a total cost of 122,000, and were opened in August, 1859, by the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir James Graham.

The construction of the dock was a work of considerable difficulty, inasmuch as a strong artificial foundation had to be made in sand of great depth and of a light quality in order to support the masonry.


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