WHITEHAVEN, Cumberland - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"WHITEHAVEN, a township, market town, seaport, and parliamentary borough in the parish of St. Bees, ward of Allerdale-above-Derwent, county Cumberland, 12 miles S.W. of Maryport, and 40 S.W. of Carlisle. It is the terminus of three short lines of railway, the Whitehaven and Furness Junction, the Whitehaven, Cleator, and Egremont, and the Whitehaven Junction. The town has grown up since the middle of the 17th century through the exertions of the Lowther family, who founded the coal trade here in 1666, and laid out the harbour.

In 1778 it was attempted to be taken by Paul Jones, a native of Galloway, who had served his apprenticeship as a seaman in a vessel belonging to this port, but took service on board an American privateer, the Ranger, and landing with about 30 armed men, fired three of the ships in the harbour.

The harbour, which dries at low water, and rises 10 to 18 feet, has recently been much improved by the erection of the North and West Piers; the former executed by Rennie, in 1841, is 1,800 feet long, with a lighthouse, or harbour guide, at the extremity; and the latter is 1,350 feet long, bending to the E., with a fixed, or harbour light, put up in 1821; extending northwards from this pier is the New West Pier, a massive structure about 900 feet in length, having at its head a lighthouse, with a revolving light and three reflectors. There is another half-tide lighthouse on one of the inner piers, which serve to break the force of the sea, and together with the commodious quays are chiefly used for the transit and shipping of coal and iron ore.

The number of vessels belonging to this port in 1856 was 177, of an aggregate tonnage of 27,757, and employing 1,455 men. Steamers ply regularly from here to Belfast and Liverpool. The herring fishery is on the decline. The quantity of coal exported is 250,000 tons, principally to Ireland. Shipbuilding is carried on to some extent, and there is a patent slip on the East Strand, erected by the Earl of Lonsdale to carry vessels of 150 tons. The town is well planned, being laid out in regular streets, mostly crossing at right angles. King-street is the principal business street; it is paved, and lighted with gas by two companies. The town is well supplied with water from Ennerdale Lake, the pipes being laid underground for ten miles.

The principal buildings are the townhall, in Duke-street, containing assembly rooms and rooms for the meetings of the trustees of the town and harbour, to whom the building belongs; market-house, built by Smirks in 1813; customhouse, built in 1811, on the West Strand; the union workhouse, built in 1856, on the St. Bees road: the Whitehaven and West Cumberland Infirmary, a large stone structure, in Howgill-street; the county police-station and lock-up, in Scotch-street; county court house, in Sandhill-lane; mechanics' institute, in Queen-street; public baths, on the West Strand theatre, built in 1769; barracks, in Mill-street; old public office, in Duke-street, now used as reading-rooms; subscription library, savings-bank, two commercial branch banks, race stand, and Whitehaven Castle, on the road to Egremont, and now a residence of the Earl of Lonsdale.

The borough, which was created by the Reform Act of 1832, includes the township of Whitehaven and part of Preston Quarter, and returns one member to parliament. It is governed by the town and harbour trustees, 21 in number, aided by constables and other municipal officers. It is also a polling place for the western division of the county. The county court is held monthly, and petty sessions thrice a meek, on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. The board of guardians meet weekly on Thursday for the poor-law of Whitehaven, which embraces 20 parishes. Two old-established newspapers are published weekly, viz:, the Cumberland Pacquet, on Tuesday, and the Whitehaven Herald, on Saturday, besides two penny newspapers weekly. The horticultural and agricultural societies hold their exhibitions annually.

The population in 1851 was 18,916, inhabiting 3,627 houses, and in 1861, 18,842, inhabiting 3,751 houses. The chief industries are connected with the shipping trade, collieries, and iron mines, large quantities of ore being exported for the Welsh and Staffordshire furnaces, and pig iron from the Hematic ironworks, the demand for which has greatly increased of late years. Other manufactures of the town are cotton weaving, flax spinning, rope and sail making, iron foundries, anchor, cable, and nail factories, earthenware, bricks, tiles, and cabinet ware.

The substratum on which the town stands belongs to the New Red sandstone formation, with extensive beds of iron ore and rich seams of cannel and other coal from 2 to 11 feet thick. The collieries at present in operation are worked by shafts at the Harris, James, Lady Kill, William, and other pits, varying in depth from 50 to 150 fathoms, and running two or three miles under the sea. There are four churches, St. Nicholas, Holy Trinity, St. James's, and Christ Church, varying in value from £350 to £150. St. James's and St. Nicholas have lately been made vicarages. Whitehaven is in the diocese of Carlisle.

There are also chapels for Wesleyans, Wesleyan Association and Primitive Methodists, Presbyterians, United Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, Roman Catholics, and Society of Friends. The principal schools are the marine school, founded in 1816 by M. Piper, for the education of 60 boys, which has an income from endowment of about £90, and was rebuilt in 1820 by the late Earl of Lonsdale; the refuge school, built in 1852, for the free education of 100 boys and girls; a ragged school and reading room in Cater-street, in the parish of St. James; Whitehaven National schools, in Wellington-row; and the Earl of Lonsdale's colliery school, at the Ginns; besides National and infant schools, in connection with the several district churches.

The local charities produce about £31 per annum, exclusive of school endowments. An extramural cemetery has been formed on the St. Bees road. Market days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for provisions, the last being also for corn. A fair is held on 12th August."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]