Skip to main content


Elizabeth Dawson in her munition workers uniform.

Worker of the Week: Elizabeth Dawson

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s post again originates from a family research inquiry. These type of inquiries are invaluable to The Devil’s Porridge, and nearly always uncover some interesting historical story!

Elizabeth was born in Carlisle in August 1892. In the 1901 census, Elizabeth, then aged eight, is living with her parents and siblings, still in Carlisle. Her father, William, is working as a foreman of a wool and cotton weaving shed. Unfortunately, both of Elizabeth’s parents died during her childhood–her mother in 1904, and her father in 1908. By 1911, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth is living with her older married sister and had followed her father into the weaving occupation. From this it looks like Elizabeth was local to the eventual location of H.M. Factory Gretna for much of her youth. This was a common occurrence–many munitions workers came from the surrounding villages and border towns to work at the Factory.

Elizabeth, her husband Thomas, who was a soldier during WW1. and their daughter Isabella.

In 1913, Elizabeth married Thomas Davison Dawson in 1913, and they had their daughter, Isabel in 1914. We know that Elizabeth worked at H. M. Factory Gretna because of this photo of her wearing the uniform:

Many of the munitions workers at Gretna had similar photos taken of themselves, and we think this was probably done at a local photographers. I think it shows a pride in identifying themselves as a crucial part of the war effort, and of memorising their experiences at Gretna. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a mention of Elizabeth in our collections. This may be because we have limited access to our archives because of COVID-19, but it could also be that Elizabeth just isn’t mentioned in any of the surviving material–we don’t have a complete list of workers at the Factory and much of what we know we learn from research enquiries from members of the public.

In keeping with Elizabeth’s firm roots in the local area, later in life she and her husbands managed several Government-run pubs in Carlisle. Carlisle was the main site of the State Management Scheme. This was an experiment began during World War One where the Government took over control of public houses and breweries, with the idea that a disinterested management who had no incentive to sell alcohol would reduce drunken behaviour and negate its effect on the local community. Carlisle was one of the locations of this scheme because of its proximity to local arms factories, including H. M. Factory Gretna. To find out more about this fascinating (and not very well known aspect) of WW1 history, click here.

The King’s Head pub, which Elizabeth and Thomas managed. Source:

Elizabeth and Thomas managed several pubs in Carlisle, including the Kings Head in Fisher Street, the Bee Hive on Warwick Road and the Currock Hotel. Indeed, it was at the Currock Hotel where Elizabeth sadly died in 1944, at the young age of 52.

Botchergate Carlisle with trams running.

Old Postcards of Carlisle

By Collections blog

It is always very interesting to view old postcards of what the local and surrounding areas looked like in the past and how much they have changed throughout time. These postcards of Carlisle date from different time periods showing different parts of the city throughout time.


The first postcard shows Botchergate Street in Carlisle sometime around WW1.


This shows Carlisle Cathedral from the North Side.


The Museum keeps many postcards of the local area and has many more of other towns and villages nearby showing what it might have been like living there during and after the First World War.


This  shows the entrance to English Street.


These postcards show some of the most recognisable streets in Carlisle that anyone who has been there or lives there would recognise which is why it is so interesting to see how they have changed overtime.



This postcard is a more recent overview photo of the Citadel and Carlisle Train Station. This postcard also shows the more updated roads and the removal of the tram system, which can be seen in the Botchergate postcard.

Past archive photo of The Rand, Eastriggs.

Old Postcards of the Local Area

By Collections blog

These old postcards show what life was like in these local towns and villages and how much they’ve changed. We do not have exact dates from when the photos were taken but they show a very different time.



This postcard shows the Scotch Express leaving Carlisle Train Station which as you can see looks very different in this photo than it does today.


The Central Hotel in Annan looks a lot different here. Shame that it has now fallen into disrepair. This postcard also shows how different the roads were back then with no road markings and the roundabout not yet in place.



This postcard shows what Powfoot looked like quite some time ago. The old sandstone house now being part of the Powfoot Golf Hotel.



This postcard shows The Rand in Eastriggs and what it looked like with all of the houses built for the workers of HM Factory Gretna and used as hostels. These hostels were all purpose built to house the workers of HM Factory Gretna during the First World War.

The Devils Porridge Museum Podcast

By News

Welcome to The Devils Porridge Museum Podcast!


The Devils Porridge Museum Podcast has been created as part of an inter-generational oral history project. The project is now available for you to listen to online.


Through conversations and interviews, our volunteers and others from the local community will be sharing their personal stories and memories with The Devils Porridge Podcast team.


This week on the Podcast we talk to David Ramshaw – author of ‘The Carlisle Ship Canal’. He was due to give a talk on the book in July but it was cancelled due to lockdown.


The Carlisle Ship Canal had a very short life compared to most canals. Construction work began in 1819 and the canal was closed in 1853. As a result there is probably less known about it than many other canals which still exist today.



More episodes will follow over the coming weeks, so please come back and listen to more installments throughout the summer.


If you would like to get involved in the project to share your own stories and memories or if you would like to find out more about joining our production team please contact:



You can listen to the podcast below:

Group of workers at H M Factory Gretna.

New photos of World War One workers

By Collections blog

The Museum was recently contacted by someone with family connections to HM Factory Gretna (the greatest factory on earth in World War One and the main focus of much of The Devil’s Porridge Museum).

30,000 people worked in the Factory and 12,000 of them were women.  At present (as far as is known), there is no complete list of all the people who worked there so we are always pleased to know names of workers and see their photographs and hear their stories.  Thanks so much to the donor who shared this information with us.

Agnes Calder at HM Factory Gretna

Agnes Calder (maternal grandmother of donor – worked at HM Factory Gretna)


BIRTH 21 JAN 1895

Grahams Court

Ashley Street




Bower Street


Agnes’s daughter was Joyce Sarginson (née Bisland – photographed above).  She became the Mayoress of Carlisle and also served in World War Two in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as  a Radar Operator.

Group photo of female workers from donor’s collection.

Beatrice Calder  (sister of Agnes and great aunt of donor, worked at HM Factory Gretna)


BIRTH 1 MAY 1892


DEATH 1928


Both sisters and their father died of TB

Bertha Sarginson

Bertha Sarginson (great aunt of the donor, worked at HM Factory Gretna)



Potters, Place



                            DEATH 07 JUNE 1990 Carlisle

Bertha worked at HM Factory Gretna.  Here she learned to drive and in 1917 volunteered as a Ambulance driver and was sent to Boulogne in France.  She worked transferring injured soldiers off hospital trains and onto boats back to England.

Photograph of workers at HM Factory Gretna. Interestingly, one young woman is holding a symbol of a swastika. This is an ancient symbol of the sun and was a widely use good luck symbol at the start of the 20th century, nothing to do with the Nazis until later.

In 1920, Bertha married Joe Robson (of the 4th Battalion Border Regiment Reserve) from 6 Melbourne Street, Carlisle.  Joe got a job at Carr’s Biscuit Factory as a fitter, his father worked there as an engineer.  Bertha and Joe got their first home in Brewery Row, Caldewgate. Bertha continued to work in a shop called Sarah Jane’s.

Their first son Joseph was born 22 November 1920. He became an altar boy at St Barnabas Church, Brookside Raffles when the family moved to Brookside. Joe Jr. Joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was a Sergeant in training to become a pilot when he was killed 5th September 1940.

If you would like to know more about HM Factory Gretna in World War One, the following may be of interest to you:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

Gretna’s Secret War

Munition Workers’ Poems

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook


Castle Gateway in Carlisle on a postcard.

Old Postcards Photos of Carlisle

By Collections blog

Recently the Museum was donated lots of postcards. Some of the postcards have photos of Carlisle and the surrounding area, some have photos of Gretna (will be posted at a later date) and some have cartoons and birthday wishes etc.



Many of the postcards which we have showing Carlisle during the First World War with one even showing the Carlisle Women Munition Workers Football Team (shown below).



The two images below show the interior and exterior of the Gretna Tavern in Carlisle.



The photo below is of Warwick Road in Carlisle from 1923


The photo below is of the War Memorial Bridge in Carlisle


Recent Donation of State Management Labels

By Collections blog

These State Management labels were donated to the Museum recently and feature many different types of alcohol which would be sold at pubs in Cumbria and South West Scotland. These items belonged to a gentleman who was the Head Maltster working in State Management. He worked there from the end of the Second World War until it closed in the 1970s, these items were donated to us by his granddaughter.

The state management of alcohol scheme or the ‘Carlisle Experiment’ saw the government take over many local pubs in the First World War and stop the sale of normal alcohol to substitute it with watered down state made alcohol. This was done to try and deter people from drinking in key areas related to the war, this was done in South Scotland and Cumbria because of HM Factory Gretna (The Devils Porridge Museum tells its story). The State Management scheme lasted from 1915 until around the 1970s, we think the labels which have been donated to us may be from the late 1960’s. Below you can see some of the labels above on bottles which were donated to the Museum from the State Management Scheme which we have on display at the Museum along with a few other bottles of Brandy.

The labels which were donated are of many different types of alcohol and soft drinks.  Alcohol was controlled during state management and includes many brands which people may recognise along with a few which were produced by the Government and made in Carlisle.



Landgirl Film Project Premiere at Annan Lonsdale Cinema

By Events

This takes place on the 10th of March at the Annan Lonsdale Cinema. Booking is essential! If you would like to book a place please phone: 01461 700021 or email:


Hear the oral history of a Carlisle Landgirl from World War Two as filmed, edited and animated by local young people.


In World War Two, thousands of young women did their war work on the land. This film will focus on the experiences of Bettie (Photographed). She was a young girl in Carlisle when World War Two started and she spent most of the war in Cumbria working on different farms. Her film involves tales of cows, rat catching and mole baiting along with other wonderful experiences she had along the way .


This cinema screening is free to attend. There will be brief talks by those involved in the project as part of the evening as well.


With thanks to Annan Lonsdale Cinema for generously hosting this event.

Elizabeth Hunter in her munitions uniform.

Elizabeth Hunter – Gretna Girl

By Collections blog

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hunter

Born 28 November 1893 died 20th October 1969

Worked at HM Factory Gretna 1916 – 1919

Badge No. B201047


Elizabeth originally trained as a dress maker in Carlisle, then began work at the factory. She commuted from Carlisle to work.


She had a souvenir autograph book, which was addressed to the girls in the stove room so she could have potentially worked there. Included in this autograph book was a poem written by one of the other girls.


Once she had finished working at the Factory, she worked at Carrs Biscuit Works in Carlisle before marrying a Presbyterian Minister in 1927 and moving around the country.


She had three brothers who served during WW1; two were part of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders with one killed in 1918 and the other wounded four times. Her third brother was part of the Royal Garrison Artillery and was awarded the Military Cross; he had been a prisoner of war, where he had a Bible and wrote in code with a pin details of the awful living conditions he faced in the camp. Unfortunately he died a month after the Armistice; the Bible was returned to his father but upon reading of his experience burned the copy so no-one else could read it.



The State Management Display inside The Devil's Porridge Museum.

State Management Display

By News

A recent visitor to the Museum took a photo during their visit of our State Management of alcohol display (specifically a bottle of Brandy which must date from the 1970’s at least!) here we share a little bit more about this unique social experiment in Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway.

Ten thousand (mainly Irish) navvies built HM Factory Gretna, the greatest factory on earth in World War One. They worked in difficult conditions to build the factory in a hurry and within eight months, it was fully operational and producing the Devils Porridge (cordite, an explosive)

The arrival of these hard working and hard drinking men caused social problems. Alcohol was a particular issue. On one famous night, ‘The Night of a Thousand Whiskies’, a barkeeper in Carlisle lined up 1000 shots of whisky for the navvies to consume. They drank their drink and then roamed around the streets of Carlisle raising hell. The residents of Carlisle and Annan were adamant: something had to change.

Some bottles of alcohol from the State Management Scheme

So the state took control of the alcohol supply: limiting people to buying one drink at a time, taking over the pubs, inns and taverns to make them more social with bowling greens and restaurants as well as producing their own alcohol (a weaker brew). This control of alcohol became known as the State Management Scheme or the Carlisle Experiment. It was introduced in World War One in response to a perceived immigrant disruption of social life but it remained long after the migrant navvies had left.

Statistics demonstrating the success of State Management

The State Management of Alcohol in parts of Cumbria and South West Scotland lasted until 1973. It is one of the most tangible impacts of HM Factory Gretna on this region. Many people from across the region were employed within state management.


The Devils Porridge Museum has a display relating to this experiment which showcases different bottles of wine, sherry and alcohol as well as showcasing beer pump stoppers, coasters and even dining sets (there were state managed hotels as well). A recent visitor donated to us a crate of State Managed beer. The bottles are full but I wouldn’t like to drink one! You often wonder what else is hiding out there in someone’s attic or garage and what part of the fascinating story of our region it helps to tell?

State Management Display in the Museum

Translate »