This Georgian town, situated on the west coast of Cumbria, was one of the first post-renaissance planned towns in the country. Built on shipping and mining, both industries have now declined, but Whitehaven is never-the-less an attractive town and is one of the 40 Gem Towns in England (the only other in Cumbria being Cockermouth).
The development of Whitehaven owes much to the Lowther family, it was Sir John Lowther, inspired by Christopher Wren’s designs for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666, who laid out the original grid system of streets and specified the type of houses to be built. Many historians believe that New Yorks street system is inspired by Whitehavens grid system.
On Flatt Walks, looking down Lowther Street is Sir John Lowther’s former home, known as ‘The Castle’ since the beginning of the 18th Century. The building became Whitehaven Hospital in 1926, and is now housing. It was designed by Robert Adam, the most fashionable architect of his period.
The port development was linked to the exploitation of rich local deposits of coal and iron ore. Some coal mines extended for several miles beneath the sea bed. You can learn more about the history of mining at Whitehaven at the Haig Colliery Mining Museum. The first undersea mine in England was constructed in Whitehaven in 1729. By 1931 it was the deepest undersea mine anywhere at the time.
On 17th June 2005 a sculpture was unveiled near the Beacon, as a memorial to the town’s mining history. By Colin Telfer, it is a unique mix of coal, slate and casting resin, and features a pillar of coal with four figures – a deputy overman, representing mine management; a mines rescue man, representing safety and rescue work; a coal face worker, showing manpower; and a screenlass, to illustrate hardship and poverty.
Whitehaven was the last place in Britain to be attacked by American naval forces. On 23rd April 1778 during the American War of Independence, John Paul Jones arrived in Britain with the intention of setting the whole merchant fleet on fire. The alarm was raised, and he retreated forthwith. Another American link is that Mildred Warner Gale, the grandmother of the American president George Washington, came from Whitehaven. She was buried in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church, on 30th January 1700/1. Visitors may climb a narrow spiral stair in the Clock Tower, to see the workings of the clock, and to see a small display relating to the Gale family.
Whitehaven has had a large grant for regeneration of the harbour area for the millennium. It is now host to many visits from Tall Ships.
Whitehaven has over 250, mostly Georgian, Listed Buildings, many tastefully restored, including St James’ Church, once described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘the finest Georgian church interior in the county’.
Whitehaven is the starting point of the popular 140 mile long C2C Cycle Route. The cycle route travels along the Whitehaven to Ennerdale Cycle path, through the scenic delights of the Lake District and on over the roof of England to the remote North Pennines before reaching the north east coast.
- The Beacon – tells the history of Whitehaven and its harbour, the Lowther family, the development of coal mining and its disasters, and Whitehaven’s shipbuilding history.
- The Rum Story – the Dark Spirit of Whitehaven, in Lowther Street, is set in the original shop, courtyards, cellars and bonded warehouses of the Jefferson family business. Here you can find out about the story of the UK rum trade, which originally centered on the port of Whitehaven.
- Haig Colliery Mining Museum
- The Harbour
- St Nicholas Church Tower
Related Links :
- Facebook Visit Cumbria – photos of Whitehaven
- Visit Whitehaven
- Whitehaven and Western Lakeland – lots of pictures of local events
- BBC guide to Whitehaven
- BBC Cumbria – Making Waves – from washing powder to walkers.
Performing Arts Related Links :