Whitehaven, Cumberland


Description from T. Bulmer & Co's History, Topography and Directory of Cumberland, 1901

History, Topography and Directory of Cumberland,
by T.F. Bulmer, T. Bulmer & Co., Penrith, 1901. Transcription by Don Noble © 1997


The town Whitehaven is a large and important seaport, market town, and municipal and Parliamentary borough on the Irish sea, about three miles to the north of the lofty promontory of St. Bees Head. The town is built around a small creek or inlet, which forms the harbour and is overlooked on the other sides by green hills which rise abruptly from the outskirts of the town. ... In 1633 Whitehaven was still an obscure village of some nine thatched cottages, whose name was scarcely known beyond the precincts of the parish. It was about this period the manor became the property of the Lowthers of Westmorland, and they were not slow to detect the value of the immense beds of coal in the locality. ... Its wealth and importance were becoming widely known; and in 1778 the notorious Paul Jones regarded it as a prize of sufficient value to attempt its capture. His vessel, named the Ranger, carried 18 six-pounders and 6 swivels, and had been fitted out for this hostile expedition at Nantes. Early on the morning of the 23rd of April of that year, he landed, accompanied by about thirty armed men, for the purpose of destroying the shipping. The desperadoes managed to set fire to three of the ships, but were betrayed by one of their companions, who fled into the town and alarmed the inhabitants. This timely notice brought willing hands to the defense of the port and shipping, and Jones and his followers, after spiking all the guns in the nearest battery, precipitately retreated to their vessel and sailed away. This daring attempt of the American privateer revealed to the inhabitants of Whitehaven a very weak place in their defense.
Christ Church (Anglican) was built in 1847 at a cost of £2,200, all raised by subscription, except £700 obtained from the Diocesan and Incorporated Societies. It is a neat structure in the Norman style, and was thoroughly restored and decorated in 1881. When the church was consecrated a district was allotted to it, and constituted an independent parish for all parochial purposes. St. Begh´s Church (Catholic), Coach Road. This mission was founded 200 years ago; the present erection, by Pugin, was commenced in 1864, and completed in 1868, at a cost of about £6,000. It is built in the Gothic style, and consists of chancel, nave, and side aisles. The lofty open timbered roof, and the beautiful proportion existing between the various dimensions, give the interior the appearance of extreme lightness and elegance. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the church is the elaborately carved and gilt altar and reredos standing within the apse-shaped chancel. The floor of this portion of the church is of dark polished oak. On each side of the sanctuary is a small oratory chapel. The chancel is lighted by three beautiful stained-glass windows; the centre one bears a representation of the Crucifixion, and the others are rich in ecclesiastical symbolism. Two mural figures of the patron saints Begh and Gregory adorn the walls of the sanctuary. Elaborate and beautiful decorations have been recently effected by Joseph Pippet, Solihull, Birmingham. Further extensions are in view of the bi-centenary and consecration, which will take place in or before 1906. The aisles are divided into four bays by elegant arches resting upon octagonal columns. The organ loft occupies a position at one side near the chancel, and contains a very good instrument. The present rector is the Rev. H. G. Murphy, O.S.B., assisted by the Revs. C. B. Kenglebacher, and W. I. Campbell, O.S.B. Visitors to Whitehaven would be well repaid by an inspection of this fine edifice. St. Gregory and Patrick's School-Chapel was erected by the Rev. H. G. Murphy in 1889. the foundation stone being laid by the Right Rev. Dr. Wilkinson, bishop of the diocese. The old Church of St. Gregory, built in 1834 on land given by Lord Lonsdale, is now used as a school. The Presbyterian Church, James Street. This, the oldest Nonconformist Society in the town, was formed the latter part of the 17th century, by five or six Presbyterian families who came hither from the north of Ireland. They still clung to their faith in their new home; and in 1695 they were enabled to erect a small chapel, upon a plot of land presented to them by Sir John Lowther. This small building satisfied all their requirements for about sixty years, when their increased numbers necessitated its extension. Considerable additions were made to the premises, and a residence for the minister erected, the entire cost being defrayed by a generous benefactor, named Hicks. In 1857 the church underwent thorough restoration and enlargement. The domestic style of the old chapel was improved by the addition of a Gothic front, which gave to the building an ecclesiastical appearance. These alterations were effected at a cost of about £800. The Baptist Chapel in Scotch Street is now used only for baptisms. The same religious connection who formerly worshipped here, hold their services in a room above the Co-operative Stores, and now call it the Church of Christ. The Congregational Church in Scotch Street was erected in 1874 at a cost of £10,500. It has a fine stone front, and a free rendering of the Gothic style has been adopted in the construction. The front forms an arcade resting upon granite columns, with floriated capitals. The tower carries a slated spire. The interior is unique and beautiful. One end is galleried, and the side walls are arcaded for balconies over the aisles which encircle the building. Spacious schoolrooms, class rooms, Dorcas rooms, and lecture rooms have been erected at the rear of the building. There are in addition residences for the minister and the chapel-keeper. In 1883, Mr. G. Jackson presented £500 to this church for the purchase of an organ, in memory of his daughter Agnes. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Lowther Street, erected in 1877 at a cost of£12,000, superseded the old chapel in Michael Street. It is a handsome Gothic building, of granite, with a neat square tower, from the angles of which rise tour small spires. The interior is light and elegant, the furnishings being all of varnished pitch-pine. The United Methodist Free Church, Catherine Street, was built in 1836, the year after the secession, at a cost of £1,700. It is a neat edifice, with accommodation for 1,000 worshippers. Previous to 1858, this congregation was known as the Wesleyan Association, but in that year they united themselves with the Methodist Reformers, and now bears the title given above. The Primitive Methodist Chapel, Howgill Street, was built in 1859, at a cost of £675, to take the place of the old one in Mount Pleasant, where they had previously worshipped. The funds were raised entirely by voluntary subscriptions, and the building is free from debt. This chapel is the centre of the Whitehaven circuit, which includes ten chapels. Sunday schools were added in 1878, at a cost of £600. The Salvation Army Barracks are situated in Duke Street, in the old chapel of the Independents. The Society of Friends have their meeting-house in Sandhill Lane, erected in 1727; and the Christian, or Plymouth Brethren, worship in a room in Tangier Street.

Extract from History, Topography and Directory of Cumberland, T. Bulmer & Co., Penrith, 1901.

[Transcribed by Don Noble on 3 Jan 1998. ]