Whitehaven - the West Coast.
Welcome to the EDGE Guide to Whitehaven. The historic town of Whitehaven has in recent years become one of the prettiest towns in Cumbria as restoration has been carried out in the town centre and harbour.
This restoration followed a number of years of decline in the towns traditional industry of coal mining.
The C18 heart of Whitehaven is built on a grid system. Elegant buildings (mostly of the same period), and a bustling centre of pedestrianised narrow streets, help to make this a charming place to visit.
Whitehaven market in the town centre.
Nowadays the town is a jewel on the Cumbrian coast, though still comparatively unknown. This must surely be a mistake, the town is genuinely worth visiting with its good shopping, busy centre, unique history, impressive architecture and abundance of activities in and around the town.
Attractions and activities in and around Whitehaven include:
The site of John Paul Jones invasion - The Beacon Museum & Gallery - The Rum Story Exhibition - St.Nicholas' Tower - Trinity Gardens & Labyrinth - St. James Church - Rosehill Theatre - Haig Colliery Mining Museum - The Harbour - St. Bees village - Egremont Castle - Florence Mine Heritage Centre, Egremont - Ennerdale Water - Wast Water - Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway & Museum - Muncaster Castle - Blakeley Raise and Grey Croft stone circles and more.
Whitehaven: a short history: top
Whitehaven was built on the instructions of the Lowther family who developed the export of locally mined coal to Ireland. The principal destination was Dublin, at that time expanding at the same rate as London and in desperate need of fuel.
The conditions in which the miners of Whitehaven worked were appalling, and there were many deaths. Children, some as young as six, were used in the mines for some two hundred and fifty years.
The mines were sunk nearly 1ml below the surface and some extended out beneath the sea, the first of their kind in the country.
Whitehaven's prosperity came not only from mining, but also from the trade in coal for Ireland and the burgeoning trade in slaves from Africa. Ships transported slaves to America and the West Indies and carried tobacco on the return trip.
Whitehaven became one of Britain's three largest importers of tobacco, rum, spices and sugar and at one time was second only to London as a port.
The American War of Independence interrupted this prosperity. Not only did trade with America suffer but the Government commandeered the ships of the port so the trade with Ireland was also affected.
On April 22 1778 a former inhabitant of the town, John Paul Jones, now a captain in the American Navy returned by night with the intention of destroying the harbour defences and burning as many ships as possible.
Leading a group of men from his ship the Ranger he landed in the harbour and split his force into two parties. He led his men to the harbour defences and spiked thirty two cannon, effectively rendering them useless.
The second group from The Ranger was supposed to have set fire to the many ships in the harbour but instead they all went to an inn to drink, (who can blame them). Jones found them and eventually the coal boat Thompson was set alight.
Not the greatest action in history on the face of it, but it did have the effect of embarrassing the British considerably.
This was not the only action in which Jones took part and his status increased to that of American hero. He eventually became an Admiral in the Russian Navy!
This was the last time that England was invaded from the sea.
Mildred Warner Washington, grandmother of America's first President George Washington, is buried somewhere in the church yard of St. Nicholas in the centre of the town. The grave, unfortunately, is not marked, but in 1955 a tablet in her memory was put up inside the church.
St Nicholas Church.
Mildred had married Lawrence Washington in Virginia and they had three children together, one named Augustin, later to father George.
Lawrence died and Mildred later met and married a man from Whitehaven who was in America to run the family's plantation. Having married, Mildred sailed for Whitehaven but died in childbirth soon after arrival.
The children from her first marriage returned to the Washington family in Virginia. George Gale, the man from Whitehaven whom Mildred had married was quite a colourful character, and went on to found the small town of Whitehaven in Maryland, USA. His grave is a few miles from the town.
During the late C19 and early C20 Whitehaven began to slip into decline as did many of the ports on the west coast, their harbours not of sufficient size to accommodate the larger ships that were then being built.
The towns long history of coal mining came to an end in 1985.
Today Whitehaven's advantages are its intrinsic charm (the town centre) and attractions,a new museum, theatres and good shopping and its proximity to other places of interest, including the Lake District which is only 6mls/10km away.
As you can see Whitehaven has alot to offer the visitor.
Take a day to see for yourself when you holiday in Cumbria.
Whitehaven: OS ref NX 975180 Sheet 89. Get the map.