Originally a small fishing community, Whitehaven developed as a seaport in the early 17th century, when locally mined coal was exported to Ireland and Europe. Sadly the port quickly declined in the 1800s, once trade moved Liverpool. The town is mainly industrial but has a picturesque harbour and provides a useful centre for touring the western Lakes.

Whitehaven (credit: Pixabay)

Although the coal mines are now closed the surface working provide interesting examples of early 19th-c industrial archaeology. The extensive docks still remain and the large harbour walls look rather like the interior of a gigantic castle. The harbour provides moorings for small yachts and pleasure craft, plus a number of fishing boats, which still ply their trade in local waters.

A wealth of neatly painted Georgian and Victorian buildings reflect the town's prosperity from coal and iron, particularly in Lowther Street, near the Civic Hall. The town's wide streets of elegant terraces and public buildings also give it a regal feel.

Whitehaven benefited from the European slave trade during the 18th-c, making it a target of American privateer John Paul Jones, who disgusted with the business, opened fired on the port in 1788 damaging several trading vessels. Although the colonial tobacco trade has long since ended the town still has many ties with the USA. The relatives of George Washington were a local Lancastrian family who later emigrated to America and George Washington's grandmother was buried in St Nicholas's Church in 1701.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries the town was greatly developed by the entrepreneurial Lowther family. Sir James Lowther (1736-1802), 1st Earl of Lonsdale, rebuilt Whitehaven Castle in the 18th-c, which is now a hospital.

The magnificent 18th-c Church of St James, in Queen Street, was built by mining engineer Carlisle Spedding. The Friends' Meeting House, the lighthouse, the new quay, and St James's Church were also all built in the 18th-c.

The town has a good shopping centre and James Street Market sells locally made produce on Thursdays and Saturdays.

A few miles south of the town, St Bees Head marks the start of Wainwright's 190-mile coast-to-coast walk. The beach below the head is one of the finest along the west coast. Whitehaven bay also boasts a fine sand and pebble beach.

Attractions and Places to Visit in Whitehaven

The Beacon

This award-winning attraction and museum is superbly situated overlooking the harbour. Home to the town's museum collection, The Beacon traces the social, industrial and maritime heritage of the area using local characters, audio-visual displays and artefacts. Panoramic views of the town and coast can be enjoyed from the Met Office Weather Gallery and regular art exhibitions are held in the Harbour gallery.

Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am (closed Monday) - Admission Charge
Location: West Strand, Whitehaven CA28 7LY
Tel: 01946 592302
Website: thebeacon-whitehaven.co.uk

The Rum Story

'The Rum Story' tells the unique story of the UK rum trade, located in the old Jefferson's wine merchant premises. Set in the original shop, courtyards, cellars and bonded warehouses, this fascinating tale takes you back in time to the days of the rum trade, and its links with the slave trade, sugar plantations, the Royal Navy and barrel-making.

Opening times:daily 10am - 4pm - Admission Charge
Location: 27 Lowther Street, Whitehaven CA28 7DN
Tel: 01946 592933
Website: rumstory.co.uk

The Haig Colliery Mining Museum

Located on the cliffs overlooking Whitehaven stands Cumbria's last deep coal mine, which closed in 1986. Reopened as a museum, visitors can view the restored winding engines and learn about the harsh conditions of the miners.

Opening times: currently closed
Location: Solway Rd, Kells, Whitehaven, Cumbria CA28 9BG
Tel: 01946 599949
Website: whitehaven.org.uk

Map of Whitehaven


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