Pages 22-26

Magna Britannia: Volume 4, Cumberland. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1816.

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WHITEHAVEN, now the most populous town in Cumberland, and the most populous in the North of England except Newcastle and York, has no parochial rights, but is still considered as one of the townships of St. Bees.

Figure 31:

Plan of Whitehaven

The manor of Whitehaven, called in ancient records Whyttothaven (i. e. White-toft-haven), which had belonged to the priory of St. Bees, was purchased in his father's life-time by Sir Christopher Lowther, second son of Sir John Lowther, of Lowther, in Westmorland, who built a mansion near the town for his own residence. He was created a baronet in 1642, and died in 1644. Sir John, his son, removed his residence to the site of "the Castle," which is now the seat of the Earl of Lonsdale. Sir James, second son of Sir John, being the fourth and last baronet of this branch, died without issue in 1755 (fn. n1), and was succeeded in his estates at Whitehaven by Sir James Lowther, of Lowther, Bart. who in 1784 was created Earl of Lonsdale. By a subsequent patent, in 1797, he was created Viscount Lowther of Whitehaven, with remainder to the heirs male of the late Rev. Sir William Lowther, of Swillington, Bart. The Earl dying without issue in 1802 was succeeded in the title of Viscount Lowther by Sir William Lowther, Bart. (eldest son of Sir William above-mentioned) to whom he bequeathed almost the whole of his princely fortune. Whitehaven passed under the will of Sir James Lowther, who died in 1755. William Viscount Lowther was in 1807 created Earl of Lonsdale. The Castle (fn. n2), his Lordship's seat at Whitehaven, where he occasionally resides, is a large quadrangular building, the greater part of which was erected by the late Earl on the site of a former mansion. There are some good pictures at the Castle, particularly Hero and Leander, by Guido; the marriage supper, by Tintoret; St. Jerome, by Salvator Rosa; game, with Antwerp in the distance, by Fitt; the money-changers by Luca Giordano; and five large and remarkably fine ones of animals, by Snyders; besides several good family portraits.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth there was only a small fishing village at Whitehaven, containing six houses. Its subsequent increase in population surpasses even that of Falmouth, which was indebted for its rise, and much of its progress, to the Killigrew family; but its present state of population and opulence was caused by its local advantages long after that family became extinct. Whitehaven still continues to thrive and prosper under the auspices of the noble descendants of the family to whom it owed its existence.

Sir John Lowther having conceived the project of extending the collieries, procured in the year 1666 a grant of such lands as had belonged to the monastery of St. Bees, and still continued in the Crown; and in 1678 a further grant of all lands (about 150 acres) for two miles northwards (200 yards in breadth) between high and low water mark. Sir John having thus laid the foundation of the future importance of Whitehaven, commenced his great work (fn. n3), and lived to see a small obscure village, which in 1633 had consisted only of nine thatched cottages, grown up into a thriving and populous town, which in 1693 contained 2,222 inhabitants (fn. n4). Sir John Lowther died in 1705; his second son James succeeded to the estates, and about the year 1725 to the title, on the death of Sir Christopher, the eldest son, who had been disinherited. By prosecuting with zeal his father's plans, extending the collieries still further, and improving the harbour, he caused such an influx of trade, and such an increase of population, that at his death, in 1755, the town is said to have contained about 11,000 inhabitants; the shipping at the port having increased, between that period and 1685, from 46 vessels, carrying 1,871 tons burthen, to 260 sail, of nearly 30,000 tons. We are told, that in 1785 Whitehaven contained upwards of 16,400 inhabitants (fn. n5), and that in 1778 it is supposed (though their number had not been taken at that period) that it was still greater. According to the returns made to parliament at those periods, there were, in 1801, 2,104 inhabited houses and 10,628 inhabitants; in 1811, 2,615 houses and 16,167 inhabitants, including seamen and carpenters. (fn. n6)

Acts of parliament for improving the town and harbour of Whitehaven, were passed in 1708 and 1711; another act, for making the former more effectual and repairing the roads leading to the town, passed in 1740.

The trade at Whitehaven consists chiefly in the exportation of coal, lime, freestone, alabaster, and grain; and the importation of West Indian, American, and Baltic produce; flax and linen from Ireland; and pig-iron from Wales. The trade of this place, and the coalworks, have already been spoken of more at large. There are six ship-builders' yards at Whitehaven: the vessels built at this port are in great repute. There is an extensive manufactory of sail-cloth, established in the year 1786, and some large rope-yards.

A market at Whitehaven on Thursday, and a yearly fair on the 1st of August, were granted to Sir John Lowther, Bart. by King Charles II. in 1660. There are now three weekly markets,—Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for butcher's meat, fish, flour, oatmeal, and other provisions. There are two market-places; called St. George's Market and New-Market. The fair, which is now held on the 12th of August, is chiefly for Yorkshire cloths, Irish linen, and hardware. A few horses are sometimes exposed for sale.

There are four batteries for the protection of this port. They were repaired, and furnished with an additional number of guns, in consequence of the daring attempt made by the noted American pirate, Paul Jones, in the year 1778, to destroy the port and shipping, which would have proved but too successful, had not one of his men deserted and given the alarm to the inhabitants. There are now 18 guns mounted on the different batteries. (fn. n7)

There had been a small chapel at Whitehaven previously to the year 1687, but it being found very inadequate to the accommodation of the inhabitants, who were daily increasing in number, a subscription was then set on foot for building the present chapel of St. Nicholas on a larger scale, to which Sir John Lowther contributed 200l. It was not ready for consecration till the year 1693. The ecclesiastical courts for the district are held twice a year in this chapel; and the Bishop of Chester holds visitations and confirmations in it. Trinity Chapel was consecrated in the year 1715. Before its consecration it was called George Church, and afterwards generally the New Church, till the erection of St. James's Chapel in 1752. In Trinity Chapel is the monument of Sir James Lowther already mentioned; and that of James Spedding, Esq. engineer of the works at Whitehaven, who died in 1788: the latter has a head of the deceased in a medallion. These chapels are endowed with an income of 40l. each, arising out of the rent of pews; and they have each had a parliamentary grant of 800l. There are four houses (three of which are of small value) belonging to the chapel of St. Nicholas; and two belonging to Trinity Chapel. As a further augmentation of their endowment, the Earl of Lonsdale has recently given the small tithes of St. Bees, the profits of which are to be divided in equal portions between the ministers of the three chapels. Another chapel, on the hill, built by Mr. Hogarth, was intended to have been consecrated as a chapel for the Church of England, but a caveat having been entered against it by the impropriator of St. Bees, the consecration never took place, and the chapel is now occupied by the Calvinistic methodists, who have another meeting-house in Michael Street. There are two meeting-houses for the Scotch presbyterians (fn. n8); one for each of the following sects—anabaptists, quakers, and Wesleyan methodists; and a Roman catholic chapel: the Glassites and Sandemanians also have small congregations. A school for the education of poor children in the principles of the established church, on the system recommended by Dr. Bell, was established in the year 1813. There are now about 200 boys and 150 girls in this school.

The Whitehaven Dispensary, instituted in 1783, has been conducted on an extensive scale, suited to the population of the town, and has contributed in a very great degree to alleviate the distresses of the poor. Since its institution, the total number of patients has been 125,396. Of these, 53,887 have been registered patients, whose cases have required continued attention, and of the latter 50,000 have received their cures.

Loweswater, though not enumerated in the return to parliament, among the townships of St. Bees, and sometimes esteemed a parish, is, properly speaking, a chapelry of St. Bees. The chapelry takes its name from the Lake so called: it is about eleven miles distant from the mother church. The manor was anciently parcel of the Barony of Egremont, a part of it as such still belongs to the Earl of Egremont; the remainder which had been given to King Henry VIII. by the Earl of Northumberland, was granted to Robinson, passed by sale to Stanley, by marriage to Herbert, and by successive sales to Patrickson and Lawson. It was sold after the death of the late Sir Wilfred Lawson, to the late Joshua Lucock Bragg, Esq., of whose trustees it has been lately purchased by John Marshall, Esq. of Water-Millock. The chapel was augmented by lot in 1723. Mrs. Mary Moorhouse built a school at Mockerton in 1782, and endowed it with the interest of 200l.

There is a sheep-fair at Langthwaite green, in Loweswater, on the second Friday in September.


  • n1. He was buried at Trinity Chapel, Whitehaven, where there is a monument to his memory with the following inscription: — "Seræ posteritati consecretur memoriæ Jacobi Lowther Baronetti, viri perantiquâ majorum prosapiâ oriund. naturæ & fortunæ dotibus locupletati; qui patris præstantissimi vestigiis insistens, non tam sibi quam in publicos usus largas erogavit opes. Judicio gravi et subacto, ingenio prompto et acuto præditus, summo effecit consilio, ut oppidum hoc in quo, pauculis abhinc annis, nihil ante oculos observabantur præter magalia et humiles piscatorum casulas, quasi in splendidam urbem, florentissimam commercii sedem exsurgeret, portu tutissimo, ædificiis amœnis, perpulchro platearum ordine & magnâ hominum frequentiâ exornatum. In senatu se incorruptum & patriæ ornatissimum adhibuit; ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, libertatis legum vindex acerrimus; nec privati civis munia minus fideliter administravit, omni sané laudatione dignus propter temperantiam et primævam morum simplicitatem: pietatem erga Deum, & charitatem erga pauperes et egenos, non speciosam istam & commentitiam quæ in propatulo gaudet famam inanem aucupari, sed veram et genuinam, sejunctam scilicet et a publica luce semotam. Diem obiit supremum iv nonas Januarii Anno salutis 1755 et ætatis 81. Gulielmus Vicecomes de Lowther, cui luculenta ejus et magna hæreditus obvenit, marmor hoc poni curavit, gratissimi animi et amoris fidissimi testimonium."
  • n2. This mansion, described by Mr. T. Denton in 1688 as "a stately new pile of building called the Flatt," was then made the manor-house. The former manor-house had been at the west end of the town, at the foot of the rock. Denton's MS.
  • n3. The pier was erected by Sir John Lowther before 1687. Mr. T. Denton describes the harbour as rendered so commodious by it, as to be capable of containing a fleet of 100 sail. MS.
  • n4. Mr. T. Denton's MS. describes it as only containing 1,110 inhabitants in 1688.
  • n5. This must have included the seamen, carpenters, &c.
  • n6. These were not included in the enumeration of 1801.
  • n7. Three 42-pounders, eight 32-pounders, seven 18-pounders, besides eight 24-pounders unserviceable; and of dismounted guns, three 42-pounders and three 18-pounders serviceable, and four 42-pounders unserviceable.
  • n8. One for the presbyterians of the established church of Scotland, and one for the seceders or burghers.