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Whitehaven in 1837

Whitehaven is a well-built seaport of considerable importance, situate in a creek, on the western shore. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was only a small fishing village, containing six houses. In 1831 the township population amounted to 11,393, and the parish of St. Bees, including Whitehaven, contained 20,012 inhabitants.

The streets are regular, generally spacious, and cut each other at right angles. In the vicinity of the town and also immediately under it are extensive collieries. In the year 1791, 18 houses were injured, and the inhabitants greatly alarmed, by the falling in of some old coal works. Some of the collieries are wrought to the extent of two miles under the sea, so that the water above them is of sufficient depth for ships of great burden. Some of the coal-seams are 8 and some 11 feet thick.

From the pits to the quays are railways and wooden galleries, at the end of which the contents of the waggons are shot down large wooden trunks called hurries into the holds of the vessels. The harbour is commodious : some additions lately made have not answered, and are about to be altered. Several improvements in the harbour entrance are contemplated.

A narrow vale extending to the village of St. Bees, supposed to have been formerly occupied by the sea, might be cut through and made navigable for large vessels at a moderate expense ; but this project seems to be lost sight of. There are four batteries for the protection of the port, which were repaired after the hostile attack of the notorious Paul Jones in 1771, but are now in a state of decay, being no longer necessary. At the entrance of the harbour are two lighthouses.

The manufactures are of sail-cloth, linen, check, earthenware, candles, soap, &c. There are also large roperies and yards for ship building. The trade chiefly consists in the exportation of coal, lime, iron, freestone, gypsum, and grain, and importations of West Indian, American, and Baltic produce. Tea has lately been imported direct from China. Upwards of 200 vessels are employed in the export of coal. Steam vessels sail weekly between this port and Liverpool, and occasionally to Dublin, Isle of Man, and Dumfries.

There are three churches or chapels ; seven meeting-houses for religious worship ; marine, national, Sunday, and other schools ; an infirmary ; house of correction ; mechanics' institution ; custom-house ; theatre ; salt-water baths ; workhouse ; public office ; news-room and library. There is a neat market-house in a handsome area.

The market-days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – the principal market is on Thursday. A fair or great market, August 12th, has been nearly. discontinued. At the approach from the north is a handsome portico of red freestone, above which is a railway for coal wagons ; and at the S. E. end of the town is an elegant mansion of the earl of Lonsdale, called the Castle. Dr. Brownrigg, an eminent chemist and in mineralogist, who died in 1800, practised medicine here.

Whitehaven sends one member to parliament. In 1836 the number of voters registered was 476. A few miles from the town are the clerical institution and the free-school of St. Bees (the latter founded by Archbishop Grindall, a native of the parish), and the lofty promontory of St. Bees’ Head, upon which is a lighthouse.