On the Edge


‘On the Edge’ aims to generate a new perspective on West Cumbria, a sub-region that has been historically and culturally distinct from the Cumbria most of us are familiar with. The project aims to address questions about the value of place, and what makes a place – questions that can have a wider relevance than just the local context in which they are developed – and more particularly to contribute to and inform discussions about the present and future of West Cumbria as a place facing big changes in the coming decades.

As well as producing a range of textual and visual outputs, it aims to instigate processes and initiatives with a range of partners to further enrich the cultural understanding of this unique and often overlooked corner of the North West of England.

Researcher: John Scanlan
Location: West Cumbria
Years: 2017 – ongoing
Partners: Cumbria County Council Libraries; Allerdale District Council; Florence Arts Centre, Egremont; Eden Arts, Penrith
Funder: Samuel Lindow Foundation

A Cultural Tour of West Cumbria

If Cumbria’s Lake District became, in modern terms, a place to ascend to the heights in contemplation of nature, or even simply to ‘escape from reality’ as critics would suggest, then the landscapes of West Cumbria, by comparison, exemplified something like the exact opposite. Rather than the open space and elevated viewpoints afforded by the mountainous Lake District, West Cumbria was another world; a place darkened by smoke and soot, and grime and pollution. It contained countless mines – hundreds of them – ensuring that its people spent much of their lives underground and in darkness. Whitehaven, its first port of any significance, was able to boast the first sub-marine mine in the world, which extended miles out from the coast under the seabed. This was remarkable enough to attract 18th century tourists who found the industrial underworld at once exotic and terrifying.

This 21st century tour of West Cumbria (undertaken in June 2019), was a means of revealing some of the other cultural and geographical factors that shaped this place on the edge. Working with partners in the region, the project will publish a number of cultural tour guides in 2020.

West Cumbria and the A66

This element of the project departs from an examination of the cultural landscapes of Cumbria, looking in particular at the way the two Cumbrias (of the Lake District and the coastal west) have been formed as distinctive places through literary, environmental, economic and other influences over the last three hundred years. This work has focused in particular on the role of roads and other modern incursions in making the region – and West Cumbria, specifically – accessible against what was historically perceived as the natural barrier of the Lake District mountain landscape. The landscapes of the Lake District and the coastal region of West Cumbria are revealed as culturally distinct, yet now forever tied together through the construction of the A66 road.

West Cumbria: On the Edge

West Cumbria: On the Edge is an exploration of a place that has existed throughout its modern history on the edge of things. Drawing insights from cultural and economic history, geography, architecture and the built environment, as well as literary and artistic representations, this illustrated publication presents a perspective on a place defined not only by its western location, its coast and other boundaries, but by its existence on the margins of the Lake District. West Cumbria: On the Edge reveals a little known and often overlooked place that by contrast with its more celebrated neighbour has always pushed up against and into the future.

In Certain Places

VB005A, Victoria Building
University of Central Lancashire