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Annan The History Town

Enlivening Annan's past to create a brighter future for the town...


Corsehill quarry

Corsehill quarry, near Annan has been quarried since the 1800s supplying stone to a variety of projects and uses. Almost 200,000 tonnes of sandstone were quarried each year and although much of it was used locally, large amounts were sent out of the area. Many of the late Victorian buildings of Glasgow and Edinburgh are built of sandstone from this area. Others include Liverpool Street Station and the pedestal for the Duke of Wellington’s Monument in London, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and the famous ‘Million Dollar Staircase’ in the Capitol Building in New York State.

Stone was worked using a range of tools, including saws and chisels, which haven’t changed very much over the years.  A stonemason’s chisel usually had a broad blade, and a squared shaft with two dimpled and serrated edges with chamferred corners. The end of the chisel was rounded to withstand the impact when it was struck with a mallet. A hammer head could weigh 7lbs (3.2 Kg) and the mason’s mark was usually on the side.

Quarry workers lived in Annan, Brydekirk and Creca and walked to work. When they actually got there, work was hard and dust a major hazard. Many of the workers grew large moustaches as these were thought to act as dust filters. There were no industrial laws offering protection then and workers were often laid off, without pay, for up to 16 weeks during wet or frosty weather when freestone could not be worked or split.

Corsehill quarry was served by sidings from the Solway junction railway. The quarry was on both sides of the line, accessed by a reversing spur which was approached from the South. Sandstone was shipped from Kirtlebridge station over the viaduct to the ports of Silloth and Maryport. The line closed to the North in 1331 and to the South in 1951.

The quarry closed in 1946 but was reopened in 1982.


The fishings in the Solway formed the southern border of the Royal Burgh as confirmed in the charter granted by King James V in 1538, but fishing had been carried on for hundreds of years before that. A licence was needed and could be obtained from the town council and the magistrate would select those who were to be given a licence.

There have been many different types of fish and seafood caught around the Solway – cockles, shrimps, crabs, oysters, lobsters, herring, flat white fish and salmon to name but a few. There have been different ways of catching them too, from ha’af, stake and poke nets to fishing from boats.

Certain family names have been associated with fishing for as long as fishing has been carried on around the area – Chalmers, Willacy, Woodman, Nicholson, Woodhouse are just a few. Apologies if your family name has been omitted here.

Fishing has brought both prosperity and hardship to Annan. Shortages of fish and disputes over fishing have occurred at regular intervals but all acknowledge that is it risky work, especially with the fast flowing waters of the Solway and agree that the best times for fishing from Annan are probably past. The year 2000 saw only 3 shrimp trawlers and 1 whammel boat working from Annan.

Ha’af netting has been carried on since Viking times and consists of a bag mounted on a wooden frame.  The net is supported on three legs, one of which was approx. 17ft 6in long so that it could be carried over the shoulder. Typical clothing for standing in the water in the early days was oil-soaked hessian around the body with canvas waders and clogs on the feet. A bag was worn down the back to put the fish in, but it was not tied on as the weight of a full bag could be dangerous if the fisher fell over. Ebb and flow tides were both fished and the fisherman faced into the tide when fishing. The tide pushes him backwards and washes the sand from under his feet so losing balance and falling over was very likely. The 50’s and 60’s saw over 40 licences being given out but this number is now very restricted although there are still some hardy ha’af netters who venture out into the Solway.


Stake netting was developed in Newbie in 1788 when salmon were noticed nosing their way along the shoreline . Stakes up to 5metres long were driven into the mud and secured with ropes. Nets were hung from the stakes which diverted the fish into a pocket in the net where they were trapped. Stake netting became very popular all around the country and in 1910 Annan alone sent out over 250 tons of salmon to other towns and cities from their catches. Poles were erected in a long line out into the water and then two cross lines went across the ends. A pocket with a cover went in the middle. The fish bump into the long line and turn until they find a gap – which unfortunately for them leads into the trap. Newbie Fisheries were a big stake net concern.

Poke netting was basically a keep net hung from posts. A top rope and a bottom rope and a bag was all that was needed. The bag stays open in the flow of the tide and when the tide drops the bag closes and holds any fish within.

Fishermen and their wives used make nets at home where they attached a hook to a solid surface and start weaving. A fast netmaker could weave 10ft a night. There were guides for different sorts of nets, which were originally made with tarred hemp before plastic came into use, although sustainable fibres have since replaced this. Net mending was also needed, sometimes on the shore but also at sea when nets were damaged.



Fishing from boats was a big industry at one time in Annan. By 1896 Annan had whammel boats, herring boats, shrimp trawlers and other small boats.


Whammel boats were introduced by the Woodman family about 1850. They were carvel built, full-sectioned and double-ended. Carvel built meant that external planks did not overlap, unlike clinker-built boats. Locally built half-deckers up to 19ft in length carried rigs and a lowering mast. Iron ballast and buoyancy compartments made them ideal for fast running tides and rough weather in the Solway. They were so popular that by around 1900 there were at least 50 whammel boats in Annan. The fish were caught by their gills in curtain nets of 600 yds or more, thrown out from the boat so that they stretched across the channel.  The net was buoyed at the top and weighted at the bottom.

Fishing returns for Annan fishermen in 1910 reported almost £3000 worth of flounders and shellfish landed at Annan, of which shrimps made up 50%. Crabs, lobsters, oysters and other fish were also landed and by the late 1930’s there were about 20 boats fishing from Annan although the last major herring catches were in the 1940’s. The Wilson and Willacy families were building their own boats in Annan by this time too.

The idea of Shrimp trawlers were introduced by Morecambe Bay shrimpers who came into the Solway in the 1860’s. They were square-sterned, part-decked, clench-built trawlers from 36 to 39 feet long. Clench-built meant the edges of the hull planks overlapped each other.

Shrimp processing has been a big industry in Annan for many years. The Solway brown shrimp has developed a harder shell than the pink because they live fully buried in fine muddy sand with only the eyes and antennae exposed. As the constantly moving sand is abrasive they have to move around trying so stay buried so they have developed close packed muscle fibres. This gives the shrimp a meaty texture and flavour.

Shrimp processing was a seasonal industry in Annan and the local area, from May to Oct, during the 1940’s to the 1960’s. Several pickeries (where the shrimps were processed) were set up in Annan by local boat owners to process their catches. One such pickery was set up by Thomas Willacy in the 1940’s at Waterfoot Road, but they later moved to Cotton Lodge, in Port Street, where they were processing shrimps until the 1960’s. Thomas had several small boats supplying the pickery. The shrimps arrived in bags and then had to be processed – the tail was pulled off and then the rest of the shell removed by women, including Thomas’ wife, who worked their shifts around the tides and could process 2lb shrimps in an hour. The shells used to be dumped in river for the ducks and eels to eat.

Raw shrimps were scalded to preserve their flavour and then packed into boxes lined with greaseproof paper before being sent, by bus, to shops in Carlisle. Some shrimps were potted at Cotton Lodge , where the shrimps were cooked in melted margarine and spices before being sieved, weighed and packed into waxed cardboard cartons while still hot. They were then topped with boiling margarine to seal the shrimps before being dispatched.

Shrimp fishermen supported their income with stake, poke and ha’af net fishing, but they were all  seasonal ways of fishing. The need for fishing boats to find year-round work and the rise of full time employment generally resulted in the demise of pickeries. Although some shrimps were sold on from the pickery, some were also sold to Young’s.

Young’s seafood business was founded in 1805 by Elizabeth Young who caught and sold shrimps, both wholesale and retail, to London markets. They expanded in the 1920’s by importing Canadian salmon and by the 1940’s were also processing frozen fish at Grimsby.

Youngs Seafood arrived in Annan just after WW2, when two Young brothers and a cousin of the Willacy’s at Cotton Lodge acquired premises on Port St, hoping to get access to the Solway brown shrimp. They called it Shrimp Peelers Ltd and gradually absorbed the business of smaller pickeries. Shrimp Peelers began to look for something for their skilled workforce to do out of shrimping season and began to look at the red shrimp, or langoustine. They sent a sample to a top London hotel to see what they could do with it and were sent back the tail pieces coated in breadcrumbs, which they called scampioli. Young’s promptly changed the name to scampi and the rest, as they say, is history!

In 2006 they tried reduce their costs by flying frozen prawns to Thailand for deshelling with the loss of 100 jobs in Annan. Then a fire in the frying hall, in 2007, forced work to be transferred to Grimsby. Unfortunately it never returned to Annan and there were more redundancies until 2009 when there were only 14 employees. However a change in company policy led to the plant growing again and becoming the UK hub for scampi, and by 2011 Young’s were employing 120 people. Yet another example in the cycle of ups and downs of fishing in Annan.

Ha’af net fishing
Whammel boat from through the lens

Provost oats

In 1866 Robert Robinson began manufacturing Provost Oats in a windmill in Annan, although a new mill was built on the same site later in 1880. Initially a small business with oats being cut by hand by local workers it soon grew and the company bought traction engines and threshing machines to loan out to farmers. A Newbie grain mill on the banks of the River Annan was also used until it burned down.

The mill in Annan was situated behind Cereal House in North Street. This was the Robinson family home and the mill was just behind, where Newstart recycle are now. Provost Oats became very popular and the company grew quickly and expanded to the Welldale area of Annan around Port Street, Nicholson Street and Waterfoot Road. By 1899 they owned mills in other counties and were exporting all over the world. They even owned two huge boats importing grain and exporting the finished product.

Provost Oats were very particular about the preparation and cooking of their oats. After delivery to them they were cleaned and dried in kilns to extract moisture. The outer husks were then taken off and the inner husk removed which was essential to remove any fibrous matter that could upset the delicate constitution of Provost Oats customers. The oats were then steamed before being rolled and dried according to a method patented by Provost Oats. They were considered superior in texture and flavour and more easily cooked than any other oats. Provost Oats recommended using a porringer to make perfect porridge so while the outer pan held water, the inner pan had the oats water and salt. They even gave away free porringers, as well as pans and cutlery, on return of special coupons on their packs.

Manufacturing declined during the two world wars and in 1947 SAI bought the company (along with T&G Tweedie fertiliser manufacturers in Annan.) They tried to revive manufacturing oats in 1949 and extended their range of pre-packs to include things like pearl barley, rice and lentils, although Provost Oats themselves were being made in Thornhill at this time. In 1954 SAI transferred the business to Provost Packets in Carlisle and distribution was restricted to South West Scotland and Cumbria.


Annan had several textile Mills, many of them branches of mills in places well known for their textiles such as Dumfries, Langholm, Hawick and Northern England. One of the longest surviving mills in Annan from years gone by was that belonging to Wolsey’s of Leicester.

Wolsey’s were established in 1755 when workers contributed to the ‘cottage industry’ by working from their own homes. Henry and Ann Wood increased their output via this method and became a successful company. The invention of the stocking knitting frame was a big improvement within their industry. After Henry’s death Ann and her sons continued the business with much of their production being sold in Scotland via George Walker, a wool merchant and hosier from Glasgow. His son Robert eventually became a partner in the company and was responsible for housing machinery in factories rather than homes. 

Their range had been steadily enlarged to included under and outer garments as well as hosiery and the company registered a new trademark name – Wolsey – after Cardinal Wolsey who was buried in Leicester Abbey. The company continued to grow becoming well known for the quality and reliability of their products. Their underwear was chosen by both Captain Scott, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton for their various expeditions. During WW1 underwear, jerseys and scarves were supplied to the Government for British and Allied troops and sportswear subsequently became another major part of their business.
In Annan the Wolsey factory began in Mafeking Place in the building that now houses the Ex-service Men’s Club (which was founded in 1947) They also eventually had factories in Dumfries and Carlisle too.  Evaluation Rolls show they were there from about 1916 until 1946/47.

They employed workers in the factory but also had many glove knitters who worked from home. In 1946/47 they moved to a bigger factory at Silverlaw, again with workers both in the factory and in their homes producing gloves and socks. It eventually closed in 1963.

In 1950 the Wolsey Annan Girls’ Pipe Band was formed from employees at the factory. They were not very musical to start with but by 1951, under the tuition of Pipe Major Richard Lennox, they were ready for their first engagement. They even went to Leicester, the home of the Wolsey company, on tour and appeared at the Caledonian Society’s Ball in 1952. They appeared throughout SW Scotland, the Borders and NW England and were regulars at home matches of Carlisle FC until the band disbanded in 1957.

In 1966 Wolsey became part of the Courtaulds Textile Group with business continuing to spread far and wide across the world.  In the early 2000’s it was acquired by the Hargreaves family (better known as Matalan) and in 2005 celebrated their 250th Anniversary.