Shipbuilding in Carlisle

The Carlisle Ship Canal gave Carlisle an outlet to the Solway at Port Carlisle from 1821 – 1853. Over this period ocean going ships were built in Carlisle at the Canal basin by Mr William Bell, launched from his timber yard.


The 1841 census shows that William Bell (Shipbuilder) lived at Canal Cottages with his wife Sarah and children. On 23rd October 1825 “The City” was launched at the Canal Basin. The Carlisle Journal reported: a vast concourse of people gathered about twelve o’ clock, and the place around the canal was very crowded until sunset. A bottle of ‘spirits’ was “thrown at her” immediately she hit the water to cries of “Success to the City.” Later, the company, consisting of the “principal gentlemen of the vicinity of Carlisle”, sat down to the usual “gratifying repast” singing and toasting the night away.

Lightship as tearoom off Skinburness

The City was registered at 81½ tons but could carry about 110 tons.  The Bell family built seven ships in Carlisle between 1825 and 1838.

The 1841 census shows that William Bell (Shipbuilder) lived at Canal Cottages with his wife Sarah and children including Dorothy. A gravestone in Upperby cemetery remembers William Bell; son of the original Mr William Bell, who died in 1894. Dorothy, his sister, is also remembered.

In all William Bell built seven ships for the canal. His last ship (the Solway Lightship) left the canal in 1840 to take up station in the Solway. In 1920 it was decommissioned and later beached off Skinburness where it was used as a teashop and visitor attraction.

Bell Gravestone

Solway lightship bell

Written by David Ramshaw

Much more detail about this can be found in my book ‘The Carlisle Ship Canal’ available online at , Bookends and Tullie House Museum.

David Ramshaw
sun light coming through a gap in the trees
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© Stuart Fraser - Landscape Artist