Out and about in Whitehaven and surrounding areas...
It would be impossible to appreciate the many things to see around the beautifully preserved town and harbour of Whitehaven without having a little background knowledge of its illustrious past.
Originally a fishing village, the town was developed by the Lowther family in the 17th century, and laid out in a right-angled grid pattern. In fact, some historians believe that Whitehaven was the blueprint for New York City's streets. Often referred to as 'Britain's forgotten port', Whitehaven has a fascinating maritime and industrial history, forging links with the New World, Africa, the Caribbean and The Baltic.
During the 18th and 19th centuries it grew to become a major coal-mining town, and the port prospered as commercial activity, including ship-building, flourished. By the mid 18th century it had become Britain's third largest port, exporting and importing goods such as tobacco, sugar cane, rum, limestone, coal, iron-ore and timber.
Today almost all the original quays and docks remain unchanged and you can learn more about the importation of sugar cane and Whitehaven's dark slave trade past by visiting THE RUM STORY on Lowther Street.
As its prosperity and influence grew, wealthy merchants and industrialists commissioned elegant new houses to be built, and the town is cited as one of the most complete examples of planned Georgian architecture in Europe. Having over 250 listed buildings, Whitehaven has been designated as one of only 51 architectural 'gem towns' by the Council for British Archaeology.
The fact that Georgian Whitehaven remains so well preserved and survived the fate of most other industrialised towns - the demolition of Georgian buildings to make way for more 'modern' Victorian architecture - occurred by chance rather than judgement.
Gradually the heavy industrialisation took its toll, overcrowding of the town led to great poverty, and the town's fortunes waned as the port lost much of its trade in favour of the larger ports of Bristol and Liverpool. By 1863 the town had fallen into abject poverty, neglect and squalor. With no finances to fund reconstruction of the town, its buildings survived.
Since the 1960s a major programme of regeneration has been under way, though not always sensitively, with whole blocks being demolished to make way for flats. However, since 1970s development has been more in keeping and many of the old buildings have been sympathetically restored. Today, a walk around Whitehaven's network of narrow streets, visiting the historic, recently restored waterfront and the harbour-side BEACON MUSEUM is a must.
Many famous historical figures have links with Whitehaven, one of the most notable being Mildred Gale, the paternal grandmother of the first President of the United States, George Washington, who is buried in St. Nicholas Church. Literary figures too, including Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift have all had fleeting connections with Whitehaven.
Just a few miles to the south is the pretty village of St. Bees, with its spectacular coastline and wide sandy beach. To the north are the towering red sandstone cliffs of St.Bees Head, the most westerly point in England and an important seabird reserve. This is also the starting point for the famous Wainwright Coast-to-Coast walk.