The History of Allerdale in Cumbria, UK

The northwesterly limit of the Roman Empire was here with Hadrian’s Wall. Once a violent outpost, the area today attracts tourists and commerce.

The Allerdale borough of today owes much of its resurgent economy to the Allerdale of the past. This is because the rich history and historical sites throughout Cumbria are a draw to the global tourists who want to see where the ancient Romans and, later, Mary Queen of Scots once had a presence in this north-west coastal area. What happened long ago was about territory – just as today, as it is land that draws alternative investments to accommodate a growing economy.

Students of history know the most northerly reach of the Roman Empire was Hadrian’s Wall, a feat of engineering accomplished by the work of 15,000 Roman soldiers. They built a history-making 80-mile barrier that stretched from the Solway Coast in Cumbria to Wallsend near Newcastle upon Tyne. They were attempting, with some success, to protect the southern lands from the tribes who lived in Scotland around the year AD 122. The Romans’ own investments in the land involved tons upon tons of rough-hewn rocks, which in some places stacked as high as 6 metres.

Hadrian’s Wall appears to have been a way to control invasions and commerce, with designated points for travel under military escort to markets. Keeping in the mind that the Romans essentially occupied the country to the south, it was a means of controlling those people as well (the precise placement of the wall and forts strongly suggests this). The legacy of what is left behind includes settlements and forts along the wall, nearest forts, which today are the subjects of archaeological digs and preservation.

After the Romans lost power and the battles were more local, specifically the 16th century in the dramatic life and demise of Mary Queen of Scots, the doomed royal was on the run when she took refuge at Workington Hall. Built around a pele tower in the 14th century, it was the hereditary seat of the Curwen family (lords of the manor until 1929). The structure took damage from the Luftwaffe in World War Two and is now classified a ruin.

While Hadrian’s Wall remains today in disconnected remnants, there is now a brisk tourist trade for active travellers interested in the area’s history as well as the stunning natural landscape. Forts, museums, milecastles and turrets provide places for those who hike and bicycle along the trail.

Stretching into the 19th and 20th centuries, the Allerdale District was economically defined chiefly for its local agriculture as well as its tradesmen, manufacturing and handicrafts. For example, Maryport, a civil parish within Allerdale borough, largely developed around the mining and sea trade, but declined in the mid-20th century to give rise to tourism based on the Roman artefacts, including a series of altars to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Workington, also a civil parish in Allerdale, is highlighted in the 16th century Britannia (author William Camden) for the remnants of Roman coastal defences found there. Additionally, evidence of Viking settlements at the mouth of the River Derwent suggests another chapter of history that has yet to be fully understood.  The Cumbrian iron ore south of Workington made the area important up through both Wars of the 20th century, which also made it a region of large vehicle manufacturing. But investment has been more robust in transport, arts and entertainment, and cultural and sports festivals in recent years – attractive to tourists, as well as a draw to those interested in capital growth land opportunities.

Capital growth indeed characterises the 21st century Allerdale economy, which according to the RBS Regional Growth Tracker was up 4.2 per cent in the year October 2013-September 2014. Growth industries here include the energy sector (nuclear and renewables), haulage, chemicals, paper and packaging. The Port of Workington is being expanded with help from the central Government, which spawns further investment in commercial and residential building.

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