Whitehaven Harbour is the the gateway to the lakes.
Located on the North West coast of England, the Harbour is a safe haven with 400 marina berths.
With the first quay being built in 1634, it was originally used for the export of salt and coal. With 80% of all Ireland’s coal being imported from Whitehaven by the 1700s.
By the beginning of the 18th century Whitehaven was also importing large quantities of tobacco from Virginia and Maryland in exchange for manufactured goods. Other imports at this time from the West Indies included sugar, spirits and very occasionally slaves; A dark history that can be explored in The Rum Story on Lowther Street.
As trading boomed a second quay was built, The Bulwark Quay. This quay was first built to the south end of the harbour but then demolished and rebuilt in its present position in 1711.
As trading boomed so did the towns industry and by the 1730s Whitehaven had the deepest coal mines in the world, some even running beneath the sea. As well as over 1,000 ships documented as being built in the port, ranging between 150 & 3000 tons.
The West Pier Lighthouse, West Pier and North Pier surrounding the outer harbour started to be built in 1832 with the West Pier Lighthouse costing up to £150,000, a fraction of the cost today. However, almost unbelievably the Harbour Commissioners at the time were reluctant to build it. Only the shipmaster’s constant demands finally changed their minds, both piers took 25 years to build.
By the late 19th century, almost all of the harbour had a rail network. Locomotives were first introduced in 1848, the last locomotive being disposed of in 1986. The coal chutes or hurries, in the harbour walls can still be seen today by the South Harbour.
By 1860 over 400 wagons per day were using the Sugar Tongue to load and off load produce.
In 1876 the Queen’s Dock was built. This was a wet dock with one set of dock gates to hold the water in as the tide ebbed. The original wooden gates were replaced with steel gates in 1938 and can still be seen today.
Access was greatly improved to the port by the installation of a £8.5 million Sea lock in 1998. One of the Sea lock’s main purpose is to protect the town of Whitehaven from tidal flooding, this having been a common occurrence prior to the installation.
Since 1990, £20 million of grant funding has been invested in and around the harbour. This has greatly improved the public access and has also provided new employment opportunities with the construction of a state of the art boat repair shed. In recent years Whitehaven has hosted magnificent maritime festivals, bringing many people to the harbour and town.
These notes only skim the surface of a fascinating history between town and harbour. All of the topics can be explored in greater detail, in and around the town or at one of it's several attractions.
With a colourful 400-year-old history, the recent improvements to the harbour infrastructure and continuing developments are sure to become yet another chapter in its long and illustrious life.