The history of the Crossfield family who designed and built the famous Morecambe Bay Prawners (Nobbies) is a complicated one that spans 4 generations in the village and many relatives, who over time dispersed across the UK and beyond.

The Crossfield family can be traced back to the 17th Century to Poulton (now Morecambe) where they farmed as husbandman (small landowner or tenant farmer)

As the shipping trade and boat-building grew around the port of Lancaster family members appear to have become involved as wood-workers and sailmakers.

[1]John Crossfield, a ships' carpenter at Milnthorpe, and his wife Margaret first arrived in Arnside around 1818 and set up home with their 5 children. Their two sons, [2]Thomas and [3]Francis John, followed their father in being apprenticed to the carpentry trade and around 1830 they joined him in the establishment of a lath-cleaving business based on a sloping site close to the shore which is now occupied by an art gallery, formerly a bank. This business carried out all kinds of woodworking needed in the village from coffins to barrels and boat repairs.

The first brother, Thomas, concentrated on the Lath cleaving business, and it was his wife and son [4]James who later established the local grocery company James Crossfield which traded from a shop on the promenade. Thomas eldest son, [5] Frances John set up a timber importing business in Barrow and his grandson was Robin Crossfield, High Sheriff of Westmoreland who lived in Brantfell (now Crossfield House) which was left by his wife Miriam to be used for older residents in Arnside. 

The second brother [6]Francis John, meanwhile developed the boat building business, building his first boat in 1838. He was married twice, first to Jane, in 1842 and then to Mary Mason in 1853 after the death of his first wife. He was father to nine children, eight of whom sur*vived to adulthood. 

His five surviving sons ([7]William, [8]Francis James, [9]Thomas, [10] John and [11]George) were to carry on the boatbuilding business, firstly working with their father and then eventually taking over the business to trade as the Crossfield Brothers. Other members of the family were employed in the business, for example John Dickinson, Francis John's grandson who was apprenticed to him. [9]Thomas married and moved to Ulverston to live with his wife's family. 

In 1860 the business was moved from the shore yard to the ChurchHill building at Rock Terrace which has until recently been continuous use as a joinery workshop. 

The business thrived and expanded and in around 1893 [7] William (credited with being the main designer of the Nobby boats) opened another boatyard at Beach Walk on the shore beyond Ashmeadow - a site with much easier access to the water, while [10]John remained in charge of the ChurchHill workshop.

Eventually, William's two sons, [12]Fred 1878- 1963and [13]William took over the business until their retirement in the late 1940's. 

The boatshed was subsequently sold first to John Gill, then to John Duerdon, and finally to Stanley Ogden. Boatbuilding, repairs and chandlery carried on there until 1983 under the name of "Crossfield successors"

It is important to note that the Arnside Crossfields moved around Morecambe Bay and much beyond in their search for work, training and trade. This meant that their boatbuilding and business skills spread with them.

In 1910 one of the Crossfield brothers, [10]John, moved his family to Conway in North Wales to set up his own boatbuilding business there. His eldest son, [14]Francis George, did not move with the rest of the family as he was already married and he eventually settled in Barrow where he worked at Vickers shipyard. His descendants still live on Walney island today.

The sons of the youngest brother, [11]George, moved to Hoylake in 1914 though their lives were soon to be interrupted by WW1. [15]Herbert died early and [16]George Jnr moved on to settle in Conway.  

The role played by the Crossfield Women, though it is much less documented, must have been significant. While caring for their large families they also rented rooms, kept shops and perhaps helped manage the boat-building and other businesses.

The brief version of the family tree we present here is simplified to concentrate on the members of the family closely involved with boat building. it is closely adapted from the account given by Leonard Smith in his book Kendal's Port and cross checked with information placed on the genealogical site Ancestry by a member of the family, [17]Anne Crossfield. It also draws on Nick Miller's account published in the Lancashire Nobby which in turn was based on a family tree researched by another family member, [18]Harold Crossfield (a copy of his hand-drawn tree can be found in the exhibition folder). Anne Crossfield and Judith Whitmarsh gave invaluable help to make our account as accurate as possible.


Please bear in mind that the same first names are used repeatedly for different family members. Also, the surname Crossfield does not necessarily mean this is a member of the boatbuilding family. It is important to check with family trees to correlate.

  • Ann Crossfield 77 1916
  • Arthur 23 1911
  • Edith 85 1975
  • Eleanor 78 1919
  • Emily 67 1932
  • Francis 85 1935
  • Frederick 85 1963
  • George 52 1909
  • Harry 25 1908
  • James 64 1904
  • Jane 84 1937
  • Mabel 50 1929
  • Margaret 65 1916
  • Margaret H 42 1922
  • Martha 78 1932
  • Rowland 18 1908
  • Sarah 33 1911
  • Sarah A 79 1958
  • William 74 1921
  • William 61 1941
  • William D 1958

Prior to 1905/7 burials would have been at Beetham.


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