Today the town's harbour enhanced by nautical sculptures, dramatic lighting effects and a brand new marina, is the focus for spectacular maritime events.
St Nicholas' Church on Lowther Street is the resting place of Mildred Warner Washington (grandmother of George Washington, first president of the United States) who died in 1701. The site of her burial is not known, but the parish register records her death.
In the mid 18th century, Whitehaven was used as a template for the expansion of New York.
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Whitehaven and the surrounding areas offer many attractions which cater for all ages and interests. From the historic ruins of Egremont castle to the festivals and music, you can plan for your individual or family retreat.
Egremont still celebrates its medieval roots having once been a part of the Barony of Egremont. One of the high points of the year being the annual Crab Fair, incorporating the internationally famous World Gurning Championship.
Within this rural landscape of pastoral fields and wooded dells, it comes as a surprise to encounter the high-tech complex of Sellafield, Britain's nuclear reprocessing facility. In dramatic contrast to this ultra-modern spectacle the outlying villages of Beckermet and Haile quietly display their wealth of antiquities dating back over 1000 years.
In 1600 Whitehaven was a small coastal village dependent on fishing, farming and salt-making, until the wealthy Lowther family began to capitalise on the rich seams of coal in the area. Several pits were sunk around Whitehaven to extract the 'black gold' and in some places the westerly dipping coal seams were followed under the Irish Sea for up to 5 miles.
The Whitehaven mines were among the most dangerous in the world for pit explosions - one of the worst being in May 1910 when 136 miners lost their lives at Wellington Pit.
The first quay was built in 1634 to export coal to Ireland but a growth in shipping between Europe, Africa, America and the West Indies necessitated the building of additional quays, or tongues, to cope with the burgeoning trade. By 1750 Whitehaven was the third most important port in the country after London and Bristol and plans were underway to create a gracious town with elegant Georgian houses, wide thoroughfares and new churches to reflect the town's wealth. Unfortunately, the American War of Independence (1775-1783) severely affected the important tobacco trade with Maryland and Virginia, and Whitehaven's sea merchants faced bankruptcy through contraction of markets and an increase in piracy on English ships. Although the war hampered trade, it fostered a major shipbuilding industry in Whitehaven that produced over 1000 wooden ships up to the late 19th century.
Coal mining continued as an important industry until the 1930s, followed by gradual closure of the pits. In 1943 the Marchon Chemical Works was built on the site of Ladysmith pit and became a leading producer of detergent powders. Its tall chimneys dominated the Whitehaven skyline for around 50 years until closure in 2005 and demolishment two years later. The flattened site is now earmarked for landscape restoration.
Today, improvements to the harbour area and sympathetic restoration of the town's Georgian buildings are part of an ongoing regeneration programme, the latest phase of which is to upgrade footpaths, cycleways and signage along the coast to St Bees and improve access to Haig Colliery Mining Museum, Saltom Pit and the RSPB reserve at St Bees.
Priory Church of St Mary & St Bega
The priory was built by the Normans in 1120 and occupied by Benedictine monks, the west doorway being a magnificent example of Norman architecture. Opposite is the Dragon Stone lintel which represents a blending of Scandinavian and Norman art. Fragments of other carved stones and medieval grave slabs can be seen inside the church, as well as two sculptures by Josefina de Vasconcellos in the Lady Chapel.
The remains of this 12th century Cistercian abbey stand gauntly amid overgrown vegetation next to the river. It was first founded by monks from Furness Abbey, following a grant of land by Ranulph de Meschines, Baron of Egremont, and consisted of a church, refectory, living quarters, book depository, infirmary and a cloister. The monks even built an ice house (visible in the adjacent field) and operated a corn mill at Calder Bridge.
This award-winning attraction, set in the original bonded cellars, office and courtyard of the Jefferson family, graphically describes the process of making rum and its associations with the slave trade. Journey through the tropical rainforests of Antigua, visit the sugarcane plantations and peer into the original underground cellars that once stored rum and other imported goods.
The Coast to Coast Walk
The Coast to Coast Walk was the brainchild of Alfred Wainwright, and is one of the most famous long-distance walks in the country. The 190 mile (305 km) walk starts in nearby St Bees and ends at Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, passing through the spectacular countryside of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors.
From top to bottom, this award-winning museum is a voyage of discovery, with four floors devoted to Whitehaven's maritime, industrial and social heritage, and special exhibits on mining, shipbuilding and the town's links with America. The 4th floor observation gallery provides panoramic views over the historic harbour.
The castle was first erected around 1120 by William de Meschines, the first baron of Egremont. The timber buildings were replaced by stone in the 12th century and, following several attacks by the Scots in the 1300s, the walls were strengthened and a gatehouse added. Today, only the gatehouse and sections of the walls remain. The grounds are now used as a public park, with the castle providing the stage for various open air events.