Whitehaven’s Past.

Whitehaven’s Past

Whitehaven was a fishing village until the 17th century. The Priory of St Bees owned the village until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539.

In 1630 Sir Christopher Lowther purchased the estate. He decided to use Whitehaven as a port for exporting coal from the Cumbrian coalfield. In 1634 he built a stone pier where ships could load and unload cargoes. He then began to export coal to Ireland. In 1630 Whitehaven had a population of around 250 and by the standards of the time it was a large village.

Whitehaven soon began to grow. The original settlement was around the market place. Chapel Street and King Street were built in the 1640s. Roper Street was also built around that time. It was given its name because ropers made rope there. At the end of the 17th century rope making moved to Brackenthwaite.

In 1660 the lord of the manor gained the right to hold a market and a fair in Whitehaven. A fair was like a market but was held only once a year for a few days. Buyers and sellers would come from all over Cumbria to attend the Whitehaven fair.

The port of Whitehaven grew rapidly. Until 1685 it was officially part of the port of Carlisle but in that year it was made independent. (Officially the port of Whitehaven included all harbours between the rivers Ellen and Duddon).

By 1685 Whitehaven had a population of over 1,000. It continued to grow rapidly. By 1700 the population was around 3,000. By the standards of the time Whitehaven was a fair sized town and it continued to grow.

Whitehaven was laid out in a grid pattern. Church Street was built in the 1660s. In the 1680s Queen Street, Lowther Street, Strand Street, New Street, Duke Street, James Street and College Street were built. Irish Street was built at the beginning of the 18th century.

Then in 1693 the Church of St Nicholas was built in Whitehaven to replace an existing chapel.

The fleet of ships based in the port of Whitehaven (which included the coast from the Ellen to the Duddon) also grew. In 1676 there were 32 ships. By 1685 there were 46 and in 1689 there were 55. From the 1670s tobacco from Virginia was imported and by the 1740s only London imported more tobacco than Whitehaven. The main export from Whitehaven was coal.

In the 1720s Daniel Defoe wrote that Whitehaven had grown up from a small place to be very considerable by the coal trade which has increased so considerably of late, that it is now the most eminent port in England for shipping of coals except Newcastle and Sunderland. Large quantities of rum and sugar were also imported into Whitehaven.

Whitehaven continued to grow rapidly in the 18th century. In 1762 a survey showed Whitehaven had a population of 9,063 which made it a large and important town.

In the middle of the 18th century several new streets were built including Charles Street, Scotch Street, Catherine Street, George Street and New Town. Furthermore by the late 18th century Whitehaven was the 6th largest port in England. It had a fleet of 448 ships.

Meanwhile conditions in the town improved. In 1708 Town and Harbour Board of Trustees was formed who ran Whitehaven from day to day. Then in 1743 a scavenger was appointed to clean the streets and from 1781 the streets of Whitehaven were lit with oil lamps.

Meanwhile St Gile’s Church was built in 1715. St James’s Church in Queen Street was built in 1753 and Whitehaven castle was built in 1769. In 1783 a dispensary was opened were the poor could obtain free medicines.

During the 18th century the port boomed. Sugar Tongue Quay was built in 1735 to unload cargoes of sugar from the West Indies. Lime Quay (from which limes were exported) was built in 1754. In the town shipbuilding was a flourishing industry. (Timber was imported from the Baltic). There were also related industries in Whitehaven such as rope making and sail making. Meanwhile coal mining boomed in the Whitehaven area. Ever increasing quantities were exported from Whitehaven.

However in the later 18th century the merchants of Glasgow took away the tobacco trade from Whitehaven. The American War of Independence finally ended the trade, as obviously, the Americans stopped selling their tobacco to the British. However rum was still imported into Whitehaven in large quantities.

Meanwhile in 1778 during the American war of Independence a ship captained by John Paul Jones attacked the port of Whitehaven. Jones was born in Scotland but apprenticed as a seamen in Whitehaven. During the attack 3 ships were destroyed in the harbour. Despite the attack Whitehaven continued to flourish.

During the 19th century amenities in Whitehaven improved. From 1830 the streets of Whitehaven were lit by gas and in 1830 an infirmary was built. After 1893 the streets were lit by electricity. Meanwhile the railway reached Whitehaven in 1847.

Life in Victorian Whitehaven gradually improved. In 1851 a mansion was converted into a Town Hall and after 1852 Whitehaven had a piped water supply. In the 1860s sewers were built in Whitehaven. Then in 1880 a new market hall was built. The first public library in Whitehaven opened in 1888. Then in 1894 the old Board of Town and Harbour Trustees was abolished and replaced by a modern town council.

Meanwhile in the 19th century coal mining in the Whitehaven area continued to boom. However in the late 19th century shipbuilding declined in Whitehaven and ship builders were forced to close. In the 19th century there was a pottery industry in Whitehaven but it closed at the time of the First World War.

The port of Whitehaven continued to prosper largely because of exports of coal. West Pier was built in 1838. North pier followed in 1841. Queens Dock was built in 1876.

In 1901 Whitehaven had a population of about 19,000.

In the 1920s and 1930s Whitehaven council built its first council houses. Many more were built after 1945, principally the Mirehouse estate which was built in the early 1950s.

In 1926 Whitehaven castle was converted into a hospital. West Cumberland hospital was built between 1957 and 1964.

In the 20th century industries in Whitehaven included silk manufacture and chemicals and the port continued to be busy. However, coal mining in the area ended in the 1980s.

At the end of the 20th century Whitehaven underwent a renaissance. In 1993 a company was formed to refurbish the harbour and parts of the town. Old buildings on Sugar Tongue were demolished. A 40-metre tower called the Crows Nest with a viewing platform was built. In 1998 a sea lock was built enclosing the harbour. A 100-berth marina was built in 1997.

The whole harbour was lighted. On Lime Tongue a light sculpture called The Wave was built. This ingenious device is reflected in the sea. It is green on one side of the tongue and blue on the other. An area called the Hub was built with a tented structure.

Meanwhile the Beacon opened in 1996. Haig colliery closed in 1986 but in 1997 it was converted into a mining museum. In 2000 The Rum Story opened relaying Whitehavens carribean history.

Tourism is now a major industry in Whitehaven and the Whitehaven Maritime Festival began in 1999.

44 thoughts on “Whitehaven’s Past.”

  1. Welcome to Haigs new WordPress Blog, the sun is shining, the birds are singing on the cliffs and we are getting ready for the weekends Whitehaven Festival

  2. we are sooooo looking forward to Whitehaven Festival, we are on the harbourside again this year

  3. lovely day for the start of The Whitehaven Festival

  4. Haig is at the Kells Jubilee Party this afternoon

  5. Jim Irving said:

    I worked down Haig pit in the late 1960’s early 70’s. I was a coal face fitter on 4 shifts. Unfortunately I worked on retreat faces in the Main Band. The roof was hard to control in both Mother and Tail gates. It was not unusual to have to crawl to the face under a roof that had collapsed onto the stage loader. The work was hard but the crack was good. My mate Bill was an electrician. We still have a pint together most weekends.

    • thank you for that lovely comment Jim, my granda worked down Haig for a very long time his name was George Clements

      • Alison Adair said:

        My granda worked at Haig pit for a long time his name was William Harris cazzy was his nickname he was a deputy.

      • mike coyles said:

        geordie clements was nicknamed fingers if I remember right

    • ann doran/conway said:

      My father arthur doran was killed in haigh pit feb 1971 can you tell me if his name is in any record book could we put a memorial plaque up who would I contact

    • ann doran/conway said:

      Hi just read your comment on haigh pit site I just wondered if you knew my father deputy Arthur Doran he was killed feb 1971

    • Elliott Robson said:

      Can anyone inform me if the Mining Museum is refurbished and open yet Elliott Robson.

  6. thank you for your lovely comments

  7. William George Dunbar said:

    On 1 July 2013 we visited the Haig Colliery Mine Museum. Disappointed that we could see only a limited exhibition due to the majority of the premises being closed to the public. However, what we saw made us realise that it was a memorial to those how had lost their lives as a result of an underground explosion almost a century ago.

  8. Haig is now closed to the public for its £2.4 million refurbishment, looking to open the new visitor centre in June 2014 followed by the refurbished museum in September 2014

  9. ann doran/conway said:

    My father was killed in haigh pit feb 1971 is there a record in a memorial book of his death can we have a memorial plaque put up he was deputy Arthur doran

    • Mr Arthur Doran is in the memorial book, age 44, 28/02/1971. W e are looking at some ideas that will enable families to place a memorial of some sort in the new museum.

      • ann doran/conway said:

        Thankyou for the reply we would like to correct the date he died it was the 26/02/1971 we would raise money towards the costs will you please contact me nearer the time again thanks for your help

  10. ann doran/conway said:

    Hi just read your comment on haigh pit site I just wondered if you knew my father deputy Arthur Doran he was killed feb 1971

    • Jim Irving said:

      To ann doran/conway
      Hi Ann.
      I was working on shifts at Haig in 1971. I may have met your dad but I honestly can’t remember. If he was on a different shift or if he worked in a different area or on a different coal face we may not have met. I was a ‘high sider’, transferred to Haig from Risehow when it closed. Hard, dangerous, dirty work but the crack was great.

  11. Vaughan Birbeck said:

    I visited Haig Pit in 1979 as part of my A-Level Geography course (I wonder what H&S would say about that). I realised it would have closed by now but I’m glad to hear it has a new lease of life. I remember the engine room and winding engines particularly (I was really into Victorian enigineering at the time) and the ride out to the coal face. My own family had links to mining at Maryport. One great uncle (killed on the Somme, 1 July 1916) was listed as a “coal-pit driver”. Would this mean driving the pony tubs, or ‘driving’ the coal face?

    • Hi Vaughan, sorry its taken so long to reply we have been busy opening a new museum http://www.haigpit.co.uk/ a coal pit driver could mean a someone who was driving the conveyors underground, they were usually haggers at the pit face. You must have amazing memories going to the face regards Haig

      • Vaughan Birbeck said:

        Thanks for the reply, that fills a little more of the family history of my great-uncle Tom Kirkbride. I’m suprised he was allowed to leave the mine when the country needed coal for the war effort, but it was all going to be over by Christmas wasn’t it? He volunteered in September 1914, was at Gallipoli in 1915, died on the Somme but has no known grave.

        Yes, the ride out to the face at Haig was fabulous – clattering along on the man-rider. In the enclosed space it seemed incredibly fast. Our guide said the operator was a bit too flash sometimes, but we all loved it.

        Best of luck with the new museum!

  12. I worked at haig in 1968 decorating the canteen and pit head baths and changing rooms a great guy john messenger took me to the farthest face working ah happy memories

  13. david mcclean said:

    enjoyed all the comments, i was a pipe fitters mate in 1971 at haig.
    david (clem) mcclean

  14. rebecca raby said:

    Hi do u have a email address. X

  15. Stephen Coates said:

    My grandfather worked in a Whitehaven coal mine (I don’t know which one) while living in Hugh Street. Were houses owned by the mines and would knowledge of which mine owned houses in this street tell me in which mine he worked?

  16. laura bowes said:

    My Dad Is 91 hes been telling me about when he lived in Whitehaven all our relatives off Dads side are over there. Dad passed to go to Grammar but his family were poor and he ended up down the mine from age 14. He worked in Haig pit.
    Dad told me about a tragic accident occured that occured there. A lad called William Hall asked my Dad would he swop shifts they were doing the same job at the time William got killed on the shift my Dad would have been on

    . My Dad is totally deaf now we are writing things down to communicate with him. He also told me he was working underground in a very narrow tunnel thought he said 2ft high ? He heard a noise above ground and it was shaking he was scared he got to the top men were running away an older man dragged him away from there the tunnel he had been in collapsed.

    My Dads Name is Joseph Gibson. When he was 15 he was in the home guard and also working in the mines he worked a short spell on the top of the mine as a boy when he left school but some men from down below left to join up so Dad and his mates were asked to go underground where they worked for 15 shillings a week

    When he was old enough he joined the army and was in Egypt and Palestine. He lived in 1 Walkers buildings as a boy he said they were by the Newhouses his mum was spotlessly clean but the houses were slums shared toilet between 4 houses and a pipe outside for water.

    • Hi just read your post my father would have been a similar to your father. He was deputy Arthur doran but sadly he was killed down the mine at Haigh pit on the 26th of February 1971.we had recently had a photo framed to put above the memorial book alas the museum has closed .hopefully it will be temporary it was nice with a cafe to have lunch. Grand kids enjoyed a walk around it. Fingers crossed

  17. Bill Taylor said:

    My name is Bill Taylor and I am from Midlothian in Scotland…worked 38 years in the coal industry in Scotland…..That is just to introduce myself…….My principle reason for coming on to your page is that an old lady in my home town has given me a n originally framed velum sampler ..over printed with the details of the Whitehaven disaster at Wellington pit…all the names of the deceased are lsted with a drawing of the pit…..I have contacted the Whitehaven News a few weeks ago giving the same information..asking if there was a museum that would accept this artifax of the past….I am involved with our own Scottish Mining Museum here at Lady Victoria Colliery ./…but believe that this piece of history belongs in Cumbria…….I would be grateful if any light could be shed on the reason for this piece of artifax being produced before WW1….and is there any others around that you know off…..Your help would be appreciated…

  18. emmahammer said:

    Awesome report. I would love to see a map on the page so I can see all the different developments. Thanks so much to the writer for giving such a concise and interesting account of Whitehaven’s history. 🙌

  19. Sheila Nixon said:

    We would like to know what is going to happen to the Museum and its contents after its sudden closure. My husband’s great grandfather Andrew Sharp 1841-1919 was a Liberal County Councillor,and the first Labour Canditate for Whitehaven. We understand that his portrait is in the museum.Sheila and Derek Nixon

  20. Michael Wilkinson said:

    In 1978 I visited the pit as part of the ONC Chemistry course that ran at Whitehaven collage.
    I remember lying on the belt “man rider” and walking towards the end of the belt.

  21. Jan Stoney said:

    Hi I am researching my ancestors from Whitehaven and on of them, William Holliday, b 1921, died in the Haig Pit in 1955. I cannot find any data on the pit from that date on the web. Does anyone have any details they could let me have? Many thanks, Jan

  22. Im looking for fotos ov the hagh miners

  23. John Lucas said:

    My wife’s Greatgrandfather was born in Whitehaven and moved to the Durham area in the mid to late 1800’s. We believe that he was a miner. His daughter was born in 1881 Annie Connelley he was John Connelley we believe of Irish decent.
    Is there anywhere where we can view miners records to try to complete our research?

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