Whitehaven was a major Atlantic port in the mid-seventeenth century, acting as a conduit for tobacco from the American colonies for European and domestic markets. In his 1720s Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain Daniel Defoe noted: “it is now the most eminent port in England for shipping off of coals, except Newcastle and Sunderland and even beyond the last.” At its peak in the mid-eighteenth century, the port was the second busiest by tonnage after London in large part due to the export of Cumberland coal to Ireland. Whitehaven was also exemplary for northern polished living as it is the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain. Its fashionable regular streets laid out in a right-angled grid system was initiated by Sir John Lowther in the 1680s. Whitehaven also had a long history of theatrical entertainment, being one of the first northern towns to construct a purpose-built theatre when Mr Hayton built the Assembly Rooms and a theatre next door in 1736.

After the 1707 Acts of Union abolished excise duties between England and Scotland, Glasgow began to compete over tobacco and came to dominate the trade by the end of the century. The ensuing loss of prosperity reduced efforts to modernise. Today, Whitehaven contains the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe and with 177 listed buildings appears as if frozen in time, a gem from a lost trading route.


Image engraving by J. C. Armytage after a picture by W. H. Bartlett, Whitehaven Harbour, 1842

Associations to Whitehaven