Skip to main content


About the Parish

Welcome to the Parish of Crosscanonby

Published: 23 August 2023


Welcome to the Parish of Crosscanonby, Cumbria.

Sand and pebbles, seas, glorious scenery …very peaceful, usually passive and endowed with quite a history dating back almost 2000 years. Indeed, within the five small villages which comprise the Parish (Crosscanonby, Crosby, Birkby, Crosby Villa and Bullgill) there are 16 grade 1 listed buildings.

Photograph of Mount Criffel

Across the water lies Mount Criffel. Criffel, the hill, set in the historical county of Kirkcudbrightshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland … for Scotland is only a stone’s throw away (across the water!). However, A few minutes’ walk from the beaches of the usually placid, but just occasionally turbulent, rock-throwing waters of the Solway Firth – now designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – lies the small village of Crosscanonby from which the civil Parish takes its name.

photograph of Crosscanonby and the Solway Firth The Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in December 1964. The designation was in recognition of the quality of its landscape and the significant historic and scientific interest. The views of the Solway Firth and Scotland beyond, the historic points of interest along the way, the wildlife and the agriculture, and some great places to stop and enjoy the landscape all combine to make this a great place for a drive (or a cycle!)

Crosscanonby and its other four villages is, indeed, a civil parish within the recently re-established (2023) unitary authority of Cumberland, just five miles or so from the well-protected Lake District National Park. Crosscanonby is a small village about 3 miles northeast of Maryport and just a short way inland from the coast. It was once the site of a satellite house of the Augustinian church in Carlisle, now the Cathedral. The river Ellen is south of the village. On the nearby coast, located on Hadrian’s Cycleway, are Milefortlet 21      and the Saltpans. Milefortlet 21, built in 122AD, is located on Swarthy Hill.  It was the first total excavation of a milefortlet (in 1990) known to be part of the chain of Roman Cumbrian coastal defences. The defences stretched for at least 25 miles along the Cumbrian coast and is now a designated World Heritage Site. The milefortlet was part of the coastal system of defences during the Roman era, between  ss-on-Solway, the western end of Hadrian’s Wall, Maryport, and Ravenglass. It reveals a wealth of information about the lifestyle of Roman troops in Britain. However, Hadrian’s reign lasted about 20 years or so, until 138AD; he was succeeded by his adopted son, Antoninus, after which the chain of Milefortlets appear to have been gradually abandoned.

reconstruction of how the fortlet may have looked

There is also a Milefortlet 22 … but, sadly, it is now buried beneath the Maryport golf course. Close by to the village are the remains of the Elizabethan salt pans. For nearly 700 years, salt was made from seawater along the Cumbrian coast, and the Crosscanonby saltpans are a remarkably well-preserved example of this tradition. Crosscanonby Salt Pans, next to Milefortlet 21, are the remains of one of the new generation of salt works, built around 1650 by the Senhouses of Netherhall. It is thought that they were begun around 1630 and leased to Richard Barwise in 1634.

Map showing location of the Saltpans

On the beach was a water tank on a wooden scaffold, whose footings remain, from which sea water ran onto the Sleech in the Kinch. Sleech is the sand from the beach; the Kinch where it was piled up is the large pond, sealed by puddled clay. The remains of these salt pans can be clearly seen to date. The strong brine from the Kinch trickled down to the south. The brine was then boiled in iron pans to produce salt, which crystallised out of the brine.

After being abandoned for salt production, the salt pans suddenly had a new use in the 20th century between 1918 and the 1930s, when holiday cottages and a caravan site grew around them. These pans were seen as a tourist attraction up until when the caravan site was abandoned in the 1970s as a result of coastal erosion.[18] Later in the mid-1980s, the significance of the Salt pans was realised leading to the redevelopment of the historical monument after some research had been carried out. Between 1997 and 1998, major works were carried out to protect the Salt pans at Crosscanonby from threat of Coastal erosion by the Solway Rural Initiative, having realised that one or two more tides could result in the loss of the Salt pans forever. To protect the Salt pans, emergency work which included building a wooden palisade around the most affected site was carried out. Over 2,000 tonnes of material from nearby Crosscanonby Carr nature reserve were used in the process. Today, the site remains intact, although under constant threat from the tides. From 1698 a salt tax was levied. One salt tax Officer was John Smith, (died in 1730), whose tombstone is at St John the Evangelist’s Church, Crosscanonby, with a carving of him at his desk. The works appear to have closed 86 years later. However, until 1970 the salters’ cottages and stables remained at the site. Near to the beach is Crosscanonby Carr, a refurbished wildlife area and habitat. It is a nature reserve, the first in the Solway AONB. The site is a mosaic of habitats as a wetland oasis which is open for everyone to enjoy, it also has an Access for All Trail provided for people with all disabilities. It first began as a Solway Plain Rural Initiative Project, which evolved from a vandalised site. Crosscanonby Carr now provides a wetland, meadow and woodland refuge for numerous animals, birds and plants.  The coast road, B5300, which runs between the salt pans and the former cottages, was built in 1824.


St John the Evangelist’s church is about half mile from the coast and is one of the earliest Christian sites in Cumbria. The Roman Road from Carlisle to Maryport passes nearby and there is evidence – in the fabric of the Norman church – of stones that were used in a Roman building of some sort. The present building dates from AD 1130, with the south aisle added in the 13th century.

St John the Evangelist’s Church is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Solway, the archdeaconry of West Cumberland and the diocese of Carlisle. It is open to visitors every day. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building.

It is built in Norman style; the Norman features include the doorway, one of the windows in the south wall, the chancel arch, and one of the windows in the north wall of the chancel. The church was built in c1130 A.D. and has been extensively restored since 1880. The southwest view includes a Viking era gravestone in the lower centre to the church wall. Some of the stonework in the original construction is believed to have come from earlier Roman settlement in the Crosscanonby area.


The civil parish also includes the larger villages of Crosby, (part of) Bullgill, Crosby Villa, and Birkby.


CROSBY: Bisected by the A596, the village is growing, but slowly. The earliest form of the name was ‘Crosseby’ (1123–50), from the Old Norse “‘krossa býr’ meaning ‘bȳ (village, hamlet) marked by crosses’. The name ‘Crosscanonby’ results from the gift of land in Crosby. Crosby is a small village in the county of Cumbria, historically within Cumberland, near the Lake District National Park. It is 3 miles (4.8 km) north-east of Maryport + 25.1 miles (40.4 km) south-west of Carlisle, on the A596 road. In 2020 the built-up area had an estimated population of 791. In 1870-72 the township had a population of 506.  The local primary school is Crosscanonby St. John’s Church of England School. The parish has the one local Primary School located in the Village of Crosby. The primary school has approximately 66 students aged 4–11 on role.

The only remaining public house in the Crosby village is The Stag Inn.


Emblem of the Ancient Arms of Birkby

Birkby is a hamlet in the Allerdale district of the English county of Cumbria, historically within Cumberland, near the Lake District National Park.[ It is located on the A596 road, 1.6 miles (2.6 km) north-east of Maryport. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Birkby like this:

BIRKBY, a township in Cross-Canonby parish, Cumberland; on the coast and on the Carlisle-railway, 1 mile NE-of Maryport. Acres, 871; of which 143 are water. Real property, £906. Pop., 157. Houses, 25.”


Crosby Villa is now a hamlet in the civil parish of Crosscanonby in Cumbria, United Kingdom. It is located on the A596 road, 3.75 miles (6.04 km) north-east of Maryport and 3.75 miles (6.04 km) south-west of Aspatria. During the Roman period, there was a settlement near to the site of modern Crosby Villa called Garborough. The modern village was built to provide housing for miners at Rosegill and Bullgill coal mines during the 19th century. In addition to the seventy terraced houses, a chapel, shops, and a post office were provided, along with allotments for gardening; now, sadly, all gone (apart from the allotments)!

The Crosby Villa chapel was built in 1863. There was no school, however, and the miners’ children walked to Crosby to attend the school there. Near to Bullgill coal mine was Bullgill railway station, approximately 0.25 miles (0.40 km) from Crosby Villa, on the Maryport and Carlisle Railway (now a part of the Cumbrian Coast Line). Bullgill pit closed in 1897, and Rosegill a few years later.   This began a period of hardship for the village, exacerbated by the General Strike of 1926.  Bullgill railway station closed to passengers in 1960, a few years before the Beeching axe. A road haulage firm called Duncan Hill was established in nearby Dearham in 1951, and later relocated to Crosby Villa, from where it continues to operate.


Bull gill was developed as a mining community. The Ellen Pit coal mine was sunk in 1859.

Bullgill railway station. A railway station was formerly located at Bullgill connecting it with Carlisle. It closed to passengers on 7 March 1960.

A Poem about Bullgill: This poem, attributed to Gordon Nicholl, describes the closure of Bulgill Colliery in about 1910.  Here is the original West-Cumbrian Version: Can you translate it??

Bulgill’s buggert marra, Wukken out cum’s fast
If thou gits t’backshift inThat cud be thee last

T’Powney’s gone till RiserT’Ingins gone till t’seals
Thompson’s up afoort t’boss Fer pinchun six inch neals

Tyson’s gone till Buthy Cass till Outerside
Uncle Joe’s at Number Fower An Tom’s at Number Five

Bulgill’s buggert marra Just a wa’ o stean
Divent ga ’till Buthy Thoo’s better off at yam.

Ere we ga up t’clog trod In till t’Railway Pub
Get thee wissel wet me lad See-un thou’ll be on’t

Roman CumbriaWhat were the Romans doing in Cumbria?

… Roman Cumbria was an area that lay on the north-west frontier of Roman Britain, and, indeed, of the Roman Empire itself. (The term ‘Cumbria’ is a much later designation – the Romans would not have used it). Interest in the Roman occupation of the region lies in this frontier aspect: why did the Romans choose to occupy the north-west of HARDKNOT PASS – Roman Fort.


England; why build a solid barrier in the north of the region (Hadrian’s Wall); why was the region so heavily militarised; to what extent were the native inhabitants “Romanised” compared to their compatriots in southern England?

After the Romans’ initial conquest of Britain in 43 AD, the territory of the

Brigantes remained independent of Roman rule for some time. At that time the leader of the Brigantes was queen Cartimandua,[1] whose husband Venutius might have been a Carvetian and may therefore have been responsible for the incorporation of Cumbria into the

Brigantian federation. while Cerialis led the IX Hispania in the east. In addition, the Legio II Adiutrix sailed from Chester up river estuaries to

Milefortlet 21

It is likely that the western thrust was started from Lancaster, where there is evidence of a Cerialian foundation, and followed the line of the Lune and Eden river valleys through Low Borrow Bridge and Brougham (Brocavum). On the Cumbrian coast, evidence is scant, but perhaps Ravenglass and Blennerhasset, where there is evidence of one of the earliest Roman occupations in Cumbria, were involved. Beckfoot and Maryport may also have featured early on.[6] At some point, part of Cerialis’s force moved across the Stainmore Pass from Corbridge westwards to join Agricola, as evidenced by campaign camps (which may have been previously set up by Bolanus) at Rey Cross, Crackenthorpe, Kirkby Thore and Plumpton Head. Signal- or watch-towers are also in evidence across the Stainmore area – Maiden Castle, Bowes Moor and Roper Castle, for example.[7] The two forces then moved up from the vicinity of Penrith to Carlisle, establishing the fort there in 72/73AD.

In 78 AD Agricola pushed north from Deva (Chester) to Carlisle and placed garrisons between the Solway Firth and the River Tyne, consolidating his gains over the following two years. Carlisle (and Corbridge in the east) were probably used by Agricola as bases andwinter-quarters for his advance into Scotland during 79 AD. With the decline of imperial ambitions in Scotland (and Ireland) by 87 AD (the recall of Agricola in 83 AD and the withdrawal of the XX legion four years later), a consolidation based on the line of the Stanegate road (between Carlisle and Corbridge) was settled upon. Carlisle was the seat of a ‘centurio regionarius’ (or ‘district commissioner’), indicating its important status.


Apart from the Stanegate line, other forts existed along the Solway Coast at Beckfoot, Maryport, Burrow Walls (near to the present town of Workington) and Moresby (near to Whitehaven). These forts have Hadrianic inscriptions, but some (Beckfoot, for example), may have dated from the late 1st century. The road running from Carlisle to Maryport had turf-and-timber forts along it at Old Carlisle (Red Dial), Caer Mote, and Papcastle (which may have had special responsibility for looking after the largely untouched Lake District region). The forts in the east along the Eden and Lune valley road at Old Penrith, Brougham and Low Borrow Bridge may have been enlarged, but the evidence is a fort at Troutbeck may have been established from the period of Trajan (emperor 98 AD – 117 AD) onwards, along with an uncertain road running between Old Penrith and/or Brougham, through Troutbeck (and possibly an undiscovered fort in the Keswick area) to Papcastle and Maryport. Other forts that may have been established during this period include one at Ambleside (Galava), positioned to take advantage of ship-borne supply to the forts of the Lake District. From here, a road was constructed during the Trajanic period to Hardknott where a fort was built (the fort at Ravenglass, where the road eventually finished, was built in the following reign of Hadrian (117 AD – 138 AD)).

A road between Ambleside to Old Penrith and/or Brougham, going over High Street, may also date from this period. From the fort at Kirkby Thore (Bravoniacum), which stood on the road from York to Brougham (following the present A66), there was also a road, the Maiden Way, that ran north across Alston Edge to the fort at Whitley Castle (Epiacum) and on to the one at Carvoran on the Wall. In the south of the county, forts may have existed from this period south of Ravenglass and in the Barrow and Cartmel region. The only one that survives is at Watercrook (Kendal).[11]

For whatever reason, this was not enough for the emperor Hadrian (emperor 117 AD – 138 AD). Perhaps the decision to build the Wall was taken because of the seriousness of the military situation, or because it fitted in with the new emperor’s wish to consolidate the gains of the empire and to delimit its expansion, as happened on the German frontier, (or possibly both). Hadrian, who was something of an amateur architect, came to Britain in 122 AD to oversee the building of a more solid frontier (along with other measures elsewhere in England).

It is possible that Hadrian stayed at Vindolanda (in present-day Northumberland) while planning the wall.[15] Building of Hadrian’s Wall began in 122 AD and was mostly completed in less than ten years, such was the efficiency of the Roman military. It ran from Bowness on the Solway Firth across the north of the county and through Northumberland to Wallsend on the Tyne estuary, with additional military installations running down the Cumbrian coast from Bowness to Risehow, south of Maryport, in an integrated fashion (and with forts at Burrow Walls and Moresby that were perhaps not part of the system).


Despite a more settled existence in places like Cumbria, internal strains began to affect the Roman empire as a whole. The internal promotion reform in the army led to various people expecting promotions, which they may not have been given, and this led to tensions and violent outbreaks. Monetary inflation and splits amongst the rulers began to occur in the empire, as various pretenders vied for power in Rome, and these had deleterious effects in Britain.

Hadrian’s Wall 

Is this page useful?