Whitehaven, one of the first planned towns in England, owes much of its development to the Lowther family.
Sir John Lowther (1642 - 1705), was inspired by Sir Christopher Wren's designs for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 and laid out the town in a grid pattern. Although some of the town centre was rebuilt in the 1900's, many of the 17th and 18th century buildings remain. Today Whitehaven is the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe.
In the 18th and 19th century Whitehaven was an important coal mining town and port.
One of the first steam engines, designed by Thomas Newcomen, was used at Stone Pit in Whitehaven to aid drainage and haulage. In its heyday over 1000 ships were built in Whitehaven's shipyards and the town established important trading links with North America and the Caribbean.
'The Rum Story - the Dark Spirit of Whitehaven', an attraction in Lowther Street, brings to life the town's links with the Carribean and illustrates the story of the UK rum trade.
In 1778, during the American War of Independence, the American naval leader, John Paul Jones, mounted the last invasion attempt on the English mainland at Whitehaven. Another American associated with the town is George Washington, the first President of the United States, whose grandmother, Mildred Washington, is buried in Whitehaven.
During the 18th century Whitehaven was the third largest port in England, after London and Bristol, but it waned rapidly when ports with greater shipping capacity took over its main trade.
Tourism is now a major industry in the town. Recently the harbour has been re-developed and it is now home to one of the best marinas in the country.
Just by the award-winning Beacon Visitor Centre, overlooking the harbour, there is a sculpture by Colin Telfer, unveiled in 2005, which is a memorial to the coal mining history of Whitehaven. The industry declined in the 20th century and the last pit to operate, Haig Colliery, closed in 1986.
At the Haig Colliery Mining Museum visitors can learn all about the local coal mining industry. At their peak the mines extended far out under the Solway Firth and were extremely hazardous owing to numerous faults and the presence of gas. From the colliery there are magnificent view across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and the Scottish hills.
To the south of Whitehaven extends a 40 mile coastal strip, running from St Bees Head to the town of Millom on the Duddon Estuary. St Bees Head, 3 miles south of the town, is the highest sea cliff between Scotland and Wales and boasts wonderful views. It also has a fine beach, beautiful walks and a RSPB wild bird reserve.
The famous Coast to Coast Walk starts at St Bees (and ends at Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire).
The ancient market town of Egremont lies close to St Bees Head. A mile south of the town is the Florence Mine, the last working iron ore mine in Europe. Haematitie is still found in adundance in the limestone layers of west Cumbria and the Mine Heritage Centre offers underground tours of the deep mine and illustrates how miners once lived and extracted iron ore from the ground.
Sellafield, the BNFl nuclear reprocessing plant, stands 11 miles south of the Whitehaven, near Seascale. This plant is now Whitehaven's largest employer and also accounts for more than 60% of all employment in the district of Copeland. The Visitor's Centre at Sellafield is now closed.
The Rum Story All about the Rum trade.
The Beacon The history of Whitehaven.
Haig Colliery Mining Museum All about the local coal mining industry.
Jane Pit 6.1 miles Ruined mine buildings.
Towns Near Whitehaven To Visit - straight line distance:Workington (6.66 miles) Cockermouth (12.00 miles) Maryport (12.01 miles) Ravenglass (15.17 miles)