Whitehaven Marina History
Whitehaven is a Georgian town on the North West Cumbrian coast, originated in 1633 as a small fishing village, developing into the third largest trading port in the UK, exporting coal world-wide. The harbour was also home to an important ship building industry with over 1,000 vessels being built.
- The first quay was the Old Quay, built in 1633. This was for the export of salt and coal.
- All of the quays within the harbour are set on a foundation of squared oak.
- In 1700, 80% of all Ireland’s coal was imported from Whitehaven.
- By the 18th century, Whitehaven was importing tobacco from Virginia and Maryland in exchange for manufactured goods.
- Imports at this time from the West Indies included sugar, spirits and slaves! (See the 'Rum Story', Lowther Street).
- A Pier Master, forerunner to the Harbour Master, was first employed in 1709
- The second quay was the Bulwark Quay, built to the south end of the harbour. It was later demolished and rebuilt in 1711.
- By 1730 Whitehaven had the deepest coalmines in the world, some running beneath the sea.
- Over 1,000 ships from 150 to 3000 tonnes are documented as being built in Whitehaven.
- The West Pier Lighthouse and outer harbour were built in 1832 for £150,000, a fraction of the cost today. Almost unbelievably the Harbour Commissioners were reluctant to build it and only the shipmaster’s constant demands changed their minds. Both piers took 25 years to build.
- By the late 19th century, almost all of the harbour had a rail network, even to the tip of the West Pier. Locomotives were introduced in 1848, with the last disposed of in 1986. The coal chutes or hurries in the harbour walls can still be seen in the North Harbour.
- By 1860 over 400 wagons per day were using the Sugar Tongue to load and off load.
- 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 in 1938 and can still be seen today.
- 72,000 tonnes of silt were dredged from the outer harbour in 1900.
- Access was greatly improved to the port by the installation of a £6.7 million sea lock in 1998. The sea lock’s main purpose is to protect the town of Whitehaven from tidal flooding as this was a regular occurrence prior to installation.
Since 1990, £20 million of grant funding has been invested, greatly improving public access to the water and providing employment opportunities with the construction of the state of the art boat shed. In recent years Whitehaven has hosted magnificent maritime festivals, bringing many people to the harbour.
This is only a brief summary of the fascinating history between the town and harbour that can be explored in greater detail, in and around the town and local attractions.
With a colourful 400-year history, the recent improvements and continuing developments are sure to become another chapter in the harbour's long and illustrious life.