WESTMORLAND’S only sea port might seem a surprising claim to fame for Milnthorpe, because there is barely a glimpse of the sea from the village centre.

Yet less than a mile west of Milnthorpe’s crossroads, the final eastward thrust of the Irish Sea merges with the Kent and Bela estuaries as they meander into Morecambe Bay.

At Sandside, a stump of a wharf survives as a cafe car park, while nearby coal and builders’ yards occupy sites once used by the port’s merchants.

From prehistoric times to 1857, when the construction of Arnside railway viaduct obstructed navigation over Milnthorpe sands, Kent Estuary traders served a wide hinterland.

Consequently, Milnthorpe’s Main Street is not the busier north-south road, but the west-east route, which connected the port with the old high road which ran through Crooklands.

Thus, in 1692, Daniel Flemming of Rydal reported that his wine was imported from Milnthorpe. One of the wine merchant’s premises (then called Vine House) is now Milnthorpe’s Spar.

Later the building became a warehouse for guano (manure) imported from South America by George Whittaker, who used his profits to pay for the east window of Milnthorpe church.

Coal was a major import.

In 1729, Kendal Corporation sought to improve the ‘navigation for small boats to Milnthorpe so that Kendal might be supplied with coals from Whitehaven’.

Later, in 1842, the Gazette advertised ‘three fine vessels laden with St Helens coal at 7d per cwt have landed at Milnthorpe Sandside’.

Notoriously Milnthorpe had connections with slavery.

In 1701, Joseph Grigg had two ships – the Primrose and the Phoenix – bound for ‘the slave colony of Barbados’ while, in 1810, Joseph Farrer died at Cape Coast Castle, the African centre for the already illegal trade in ‘black cargo’.

Farrer’s house, Harmony Hall, the adjacent bonded warehouse (now TT Carpets) and the original custom house, Crown Cottage (dated 1728), at The Dixies, Sandside, are tangible reminders of the port.

At The Dixies, in 1589, Barnaby Benson was licensed by Queen Elizabeth I to collect ‘groundage and wharfage due to Her Majesty at Haverbrack and Milnthorpe Haven’.

The name Dixies is derived from the Viking word ‘dyka’ for a channel and alludes to the process whereby vessels were anchored at low tide in the channels where, propped up by staves, they were unloaded on to high-wheeled carts parked on brushwood pallets to prevent them oozing into quicksands.

One ship, ‘The John of Milnthorpe’ is depicted on a teapot displayed at Abbot Hall, Kendal.

Regrettably, it and Thomas Allon’s view of Milnthorpe Sands, circa 1820, are perhaps the only illustrations dating from the heyday of ‘Westmorland’s only sea port’.