Por0001 Knox 1905.1

Por0001 Knox 1905.2

This is the new bridge that was opened that day you were at Gilsland, hoping to see you up again before long with love from Ada Darragh


The “Popping Stone” Bridge, Gilsland
Published by Porthouse, Carlisle
Postmark: GILSLAND CARLISLE | 2.45pm | 4 August 1905


At the far eastern edge of the City of Carlisle lies the village of Gilsland, straddling the border between Cumbria and Nothumberland. The village’s location is remote but it has drawn visitors to this rugged and beautiful part of northern England for centuries. Today it welcomes both local and international tourists to nearby Hadrian’s Wall, but it has many of its own features which are well-worth a visit in their own right.

This postcard, sent in 1905, shows the ‘new’ bridge across the River Irthing which had recently been opened. It was built by local engineer W. Fletcher at a cost of £90 and it is still in use today by visitors to the “popping stone” and for the woodland walks. This ancient rock (now actually a group of rocks, worn and separated over time) is a place of legend and pilgrimage for those on a romantic mission. For centuries the stone has been a focus for tales of love and fertility, boosted in the mid-19th century after it was reported that the writer Walter Scott had met and proposed to his future wife here. It’s true that Scott did meet his betrothed, Charlotte Charpentier, at the nearby Shaws Hotel in 1797 and is likely to have ‘popped the question’ here too – they were married on 24 December at Carlisle Cathedral (St Mary’s Church). The legendary properties of the ‘popping stone’, however, go back much further although the origins of the folklore are still a mystery. Gilsland, and the waters, heavy with sulphur and supposed health-giving properties, were already a draw for Scott and many others, especially the working classes from the north-eastern industrial towns but reference to the magical powers of the ‘popping stone’ don’t appear until much later. It’s likely that the Scott story was revisited and revised to highlight the romanticism of the place for Victorian day-trippers.

The card itself is of interest as an early example of a real photographic image of the time. It was published by a local firm, Porthouse, who ran a photographic studio out of Bank Street in Carlisle. This is a publisher I haven’t seen before and likely the postcard output was limited; 1905 was a boom time for postcards and photographers up and down the country would have seized the opportunity to capture local sights such as this for a public clamouring for new and interesting views.