Whitehaven home page

Notes on Whitehaven Harbour and Marina
by former Harbourmaster, the late Mr Neil Foskett
written circa 2008.

The 17th century, historical, substantially built Harbour, offers a quality, fully serviced Marina. It was opened in 1997 and awarded Blue Flag status in 2003. With near 24-hour access, Whitehaven Marina is set to become the North West of England's premier cruising harbour of the 21st century.

Whitehaven is uniquely situated at the South Western entrance to the Solway Firth and is ideally placed geographically to offer boat owners a superb departure point for the Isle of Man, Ireland, Southern Scotland, Clyde and Hebridean cruising or even a departure point for transatlantic cruising.
The Town and Harbour is also situated on the Western Lake District Coast, and is the ideal place to stay if you fancy a few nights in the Lakes. England's highest mountain, deepest lake and smallest church are within a 30-minute drive together with Muncaster Castle, the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, Cockermouth and Keswick. Within 1 hour you will be in the heart of the Lake District and able to explore Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere.

(Shipbuilding at Whitehaven and how they took elephants to Australia!)

Whitehaven has a wealth of Georgian architecture and was one of the first post-medieval planned towns. It has a number of high quality visitor attractions such as The Rum Story, The Beacon and Haig Colliery Mining Museum. Whitehaven also hosts regular Maritime Festivals, which attracts over 200,000 visitors, having commenced in 1999.

We most sincerely hope that you enjoy your stay with us be it long term or just a short stay. We are here to help you in any way we can, so please fell free to contact any member of staff should you have a problem or query.· The first quay to be built was the Old Quay in 1633. This was for the export of salt & coal.
· All the Quays within the Harbour are set on a foundation of squared oak. · In 1700 80% of all Irelands coal was imported from Whitehaven.
· By 1730 Whitehaven had the deepest coalmines in the world, some running beneath the sea.
· By the beginning of the 18th century Whitehaven was importing large quantities of tobacco from Virginia and Maryland in exchange for manufactured goods.
· Imports at this time from the West Indies included sugar, spirits slaves! (See the 'Rum Story', Lowther Street for the story of this nefarious trade).
· The slave & tobacco trade ceased during the American War of Independence.
· Over 1000 ships are documented as built in the port of Whitehaven ranging between 150 & 3000 tons burden.
· The second quay to be built was the Bulwark Quay, (Marina car parking). This quay was first built to the south end of the harbour, demolished and rebuilt in its present position in 1711.

· Due to the dramatic increase in trade the Sugar Tongue was built in 1734 in exactly the same place as the original Bulwark Quay had once stood.

· A Pier Master, forerunner to the Harbour Master was first employed in 1709 as the port became busier. The Pier Masters House was built in 1764 to accommodate him close to the port.
This building during later years became a public house. It is planned to bring the building back to its former glory.
· Whilst the Pier Master worked the port, it is known that 2 press gangs operated within the town of Whitehaven.
· John Paul Jones raided the port of Whitehaven on 23rd April 1778. The full story can be gleaned from The Beacon Heritage Centre South of the Harbour.
· Three of the original cannons used to repel the attack can be seen on the West Strand complete with bronze sculpture of a sailor 'spiking' the touch hole.By 1832 the outer harbour had been built at a cost of £150,000, a fraction of the cost today for such prominent walls. Both piers took 25 years to build.
The West Pier Lighthouse was built in 1832. Almost unbelievably the Harbour Commissioners at the time were reluctant to build it. Only the shipmasters constant demands finally changed their minds.

· Railway locomotives were a common site on the harbour side by the late 19th century. They were first introduced in 1848, the last locomotive being disposed of in 1986.

· By 1860 over 400 wagons per day were using the Sugar Tongue to load and off load produce.

· By late 19th century almost all of the Harbour had a rail network, even to the tip of the West Pier. The coal chutes or hurries, in the Harbour Walls can still be seen in the North Harbour.

· The steam locomotives were housed on the West Wall near to the Queens Dock gates. The steel shed still stands today. It is not known what will happen to the shed as redevelopment on the Bulwark Quay is to be undertaken in the near future.

· In 1876 the Queens 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. These gates can still be seen today. In 1999 trespassers accessing the electric motors inadvertently activated these old gates and they actually closed after all this time. Thankfully the Harbour staff were able to open them again and this time they were completely de-commissioned.

· In 1900, 72,000 tons of silt was dredged from the outer harbour. The cranes that used to tower over the Queens Dock were a much later addition to the harbour. They were erected in 1976 for the handling of phosphate rock. This trade has since terminated and the cranes have now been dismantled.
· Today the main trade of Whitehaven Harbour is fishing & leisure craft.
· Access was greatly improved to the port by the installation of a £6.7 million Sealock in 1998. The Sealocks main purpose is to protect the town of Whitehaven from tidal flooding, this having been a common occurrence prior to the installation.
· The Marina was built in conjunction with the Sealock and has gone from strength to strength. Plans for refurbishment of the Bulwark Quay to compliment the Marina facility are well underway to complement the recent total upgrading of the Harbour side.
Despite the down turn in the fishing industry within the UK, Whitehaven has seen a dramatic increase in this trade. · The main landings comprise of prawns & scallops said to be of the finest quality in Britain. Other landings include plaice, sole, lobster, crab, dogfish, whiting and even the odd shark. · At this time some 25 fish landing agents servicing the fishing fleet operate through Whitehaven Harbour.

The notes above only skim the surface of a fascinating history between Town & Harbour. All the subjects can be explored too much greater detail in and around the town and certain aspects are always being discovered. Such a case recently occurred during the recent works to improve the harbour surfaces. Whilst digging near to the north east corner of the Harbour with a JCB, the ground opened up to reveal a perfectly cut sandstone tunnel / culvert big enough to stand in leading from deep in Queens Dock up under the town. It is blocked at the eastern end and had remained undiscovered and forgotten.

harbour commissioners 2008Who knows what lies in store for Whitehaven Harbour? With a colourful 400-year-old history. The recent improvements to the fishing industry, harbour infrastructure and continuing developments are sure to become yet another chapter in its long & majestic life.

Perhaps in an other 400 years some future Harbour Master will be writing about these times with as much enthusiasm as I am here.
I sincerely hope that you enjoy your time on the Solway coast. West Cumbria has a lot to offer everyone with the beautiful Lake District nearby, but do ensure that you save some special time for our town of Whitehaven.

The late Neil Foskett - former Harbour Master

Radio Call Sign 'Whitehaven Harbour'
Marine VHF Channel 12
(licensed frequency for the Harbour)

Opening hours:
24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Please contact Whitehaven Marina Company for more information.


Whitehaven home page

Whitehaven.org.uk home page -