Whitehaven

Whitehaven

Whitehaven, town (1991 pop. 27,512), Cumbria, NW England, at the mouth of Solway Firth. Whitehaven is a seaport and industrial town. There are chemical works, iron foundries, and other industries. Whitehaven was attacked by John Paul Jones in 1778 and by a German submarine in 1918. Local Calder Hall is the site of Britain's first nuclear power station.
For the neighbourhood in Memphis, Tennessee see Whitehaven, Memphis.

Whitehaven is a town and port on the coast of Cumbria, England. It is the meeting place and headquarters the Borough Council of Copeland, part of the County of Cumbria.

Located on the west coast of the county, outside the Lake District National Park, Whitehaven includes a number of former villages, estates and suburbs, such as Kells, Mirehouse and Hensingham.

The major industry is the nearby Sellafield nuclear power complex, with which a large proportion of the population has links.

Early days

...grown up from a small place to be very considerable by the coal trade, that it is now the most eminent port in England for shipping off of coals, except Newcastle and Sunderland and even beyond the last. They have of late fallen into some merchandising also, occasioned by the strange great number of their shipping, and there are now some considerable merchants; but the town is yet but young in trade.

Although there had been a Roman fort at Parton, about 2km to the north, Whitehaven was largely the creation of the Lowther family in the 17th century. It grew into a major coal mining town during the 18th and 19th centuries and also became a substantial commercial port on the back of this trade.

John Paul Jones led a naval raid upon the town in 1778 during the American War of Independence; it was the last invasion of England by some definitions.

The town has links to many notable people: Jonathan Swift, who claimed that an over-fond nurse kidnapped him and brought him to Whitehaven for three years in his infancy; Mildred Gale, grandmother of George Washington; and William Wordsworth, who often came into town to visit his family.

Whitehaven is the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe and recently has been pursuing growth through tourism. Due to Whitehaven's planned layout with streets in a right-angled grid, many historians believe that Whitehaven was the blueprint for the New York City street grid system.

Harbour

The town's fortunes as a port waned rapidly when ports with much larger shipping capacity, such as Bristol and Liverpool, began to take over its main trade. Its peak of prosperity was in the 19th century when West Cumbria experienced a brief boom because haematite found locally was one of the few iron ores that could be used to produce steel by the original Bessemer process. Improvements to the Bessemer process and the development of the open hearth process removed this advantage. As with most mining communities the inter-war depression was severe; this was exacerbated for West Cumbria by Irish independence which suddenly placed tariff barriers on the principal export market.

Railways

Whitehaven has a rich railway history. It used to be a terminus of the Furness Railway, and still has two railway stations, Whitehaven and Corkickle), on the Cumbrian Coast Line, which runs from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness.

The harbour was once riddled with railway lines, when steam engines would shunt trucks full of coal, iron, gypsum and many other cargoes onto the quays for ships to take elsewhere in the world.

The railway reached Whitehaven in 1847 - steam powered engines finally reached the town following an agreement between the Earl of Lonsdale and George Stephenson. Stephenson was the engineer placed in charge of the construction of the new railway line. The railway became known as the Whitehaven Junction Railway. Even before this line was built, the nearby Lowca engineering works began to produce locomotives. Over the life of the works, some 260 were produced - mainly for industrial lines.

Mines and pits

The Whitehaven coal mines were the first to extend under the sea. This was achieved when Saltom pit was sunk in 1729. Saltom pit was also the first pit thought to have used explosives to assist in the sinking of shafts. By the 1730s Whitehaven had the deepest mines due to the necessity to drive ever deeper shafts to reach new seams of coal.

One of the earliest steam engines, built by Thomas Newcomen, was installed at Stone pit in Whitehaven to help in drainage and haulage. William Brownrigg, Whitehaven's most eminent scientist, was the first to investigate the explosive mine gas fire damp.

In 300 years over 70 pits were sunk in the Whitehaven and district area. During this period some 500+ people were killed in pit disasters and Mining accidents. The largest local disaster was in 1910, at Wellington pit where 136 miners lost their lives. In 1947, at William pit there was another disaster of similar proportions where 104 men were killed. Today there is no mining carried out in Whitehaven. The last pit to operate in Whitehaven was, Haig.

In 1983, a major fault was encountered at Haig - with this, the future of the pit was in doubt. This, combined with the political situation, and the UK miners' strike (1984-1985), contributed to problems at the colliery. The workforce attempted to open a new face, but a decision had been taken to close, and after two years of recovery work, Haig finally ceased mining in Whitehaven on March 31st 1986.

During 2007, Copeland Council declared that it could no longer afford to maintain Saltom Pit, and decided to allow the pit to fall to the mercy of the Irish Sea. Following an online campaign by myWhitehaven.net , Copeland Council had a change of heart and decided to reverse this decision. They teamed up with the National Trust in an endeavour to save Saltom Pit, and obtained the necessary funding from various sources, including a 50% grant from the European Union.

In October, 2008, work began on Site Clearance (by Irving Construction) in the Saltom Pit area, with the aim of enhancing and preserving Saltom Pit. A sloping pathway will also be constructed to allow safe access to the Pit area and to the Whitehaven coastal pathway. This work, will result in Saltom Pit being saved for future generations, and will allow the pit to become a integral part of regeneration work in Whitehaven.

Marchon

In 1941, Fred Marzillier and Frank Schon moved their Marchon Chemical Company to Whitehaven to avoid German bombing. Marchon started producing some of the first detergents in the world. The new detergents were a big success as soap was in short supply due to the war. The company continued producing their own detergents as well as bulk detergent ingredients for other companies after the war. It was taken over by Albright and Wilson, often referred to as 'all bright and shiny', in 1955. The Marchon works became the town's largest employer when the mines closed down. However, it too was closed in 2005.

Sport

Whitehaven is a rugby league stronghold, its team Whitehaven RLFC play in National League one. Their mascot is a lion called "Pride". There are also several Whitehaven-based teams playing in the amateur Cumberland League. Whitehaven's female amateur R.U.F.C is named the "Wildcats".

Aston Villa and England goalkeeper Scott Carson was also born in Whitehaven. He played for Cleator Moor Celtic.

Maritime festival

Whitehaven also plays host to a maritime festival which started in 1999 and is held every two years (although building development in the harbour area is making it difficult to find space to hold the festival, and its future is in doubt).

The festival includes tall ships, air displays which include the Red Arrows, and various modern and old planes, street entertainment, and firework displays.

At the 2003, 2005 and 2007 Festivals the local Sea Cadets were very much in evidence, conducting the traditional Evening Colours ceremony each evening aboard one of the visiting tall ships, and also taking part in the Festival's official closing ceremony during the late Sunday afternoon each year.

The 2005 festival also marked the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in which Whitehaven had been designated Cumbria’s Official commemoration celebration.

Up to 1,000 veterans and ex-service personnel took part in the parade from the towns Castle Park to the harbour side, led by members of three military bands. Services were held on the harbour side and aircraft from the Royal Airforce provided a tribute display above the harbour.

Digital switchover trial

On 20 July 2006, Broadcasting Minister Shaun Woodward and Industry Minister Margaret Hodge announced that Whitehaven would be the pilot site for the switchover to Digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom. The selection of a pilot site followed on from trial switchovers held in Ferryside and Bolton.

The switchover began when BBC Two was switched off at 0200 on 17 October 2007. This was followed by the remaining analogue channels at 0200, on 14 November 2007.

As a result of the switchover, all televisions in the Whitehaven area must be connected to Freeview or the digital satellite alternative, Sky Digital.

The switchover in the Whitehaven area wasn't entirely successful. In nearby Eskdale, poor signal quality left viewers with blank television screens.

John Benson

John Benson was a famous clock maker that worked and lived in Whitehaven who married in 1750. He became a highly skilled and much respected clockmaker, and his work was mainly in brass dial 8 day clocks with rolling moons for the upper market. Many have centre calendar work and simple rise/fall, ebb/flow, tidal indicators, and include clocks with music, quarter -chiming and astronomical indications. About twenty clocks have been noted by him including one with quarter chimes and music, all of fine quality, often in superior red walnut or mahogany cases. John died 1798. His work can be seen in the main hall of 10 Downing Street the residence of The Prime Minister where its chimes irritated Winston Churchill so much that he had the musical machinery turned off.

Neighbouring towns

The main towns neighbouring Whitehaven are Workington to the north, Cleator Moor to the East and Egremont to the south. Villages close by which are not suburbs include St Bees and Beckermet to the south and Distington to the north.

Notes and references

External links

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