Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Alan W Routledge

  • Whitehaven and Around From Old Photographs by Alan W. Routledge

    When asked by Amberley if I would put together, what would turn out to be my eleventh book based on old photographs of Whitehaven, it took a while to say yes because I felt there was not a lot more to add to the towns’ story. Fortunately, at much the same time I was asked by the Beacon Museum to look at a box of CDs and DVDs and catalogue what was on them. There were about 30 discs with large numbers of images stored on them. A couple had over 4000 images between them of which 3,095 were scanned image from glass plate negatives from the 1920s and 30s. These wonderful images seemed like a gift from the gods and I wasted no time in seeking and getting permission to use them in a new book, for which I am grateful to the Beacon Museum.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 3 Around the Green Market in Whitehaven in the 1930s, with marketeers offering flowers and locally grown fruit and vegetables. (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    I then set about the task of selecting some 250 images from the many images and quickly found life was not going to be simple because a very large proportion of the photographs had been produced in local studios and were of families and family events. Lovely pictures but no answers as to any who, what, when, where and why questions you may have. This reinforces the need to label up your pictures after you take them. I decided to lay out the book in 8 sections, each covering an aspect of life in Whitehaven. These included industries, education, recreation, shops and shopping and the outlaying villages and towns.

    The port of Whitehaven is situated on the west coast of Cumbria, some 50 miles or so from the Scottish Border by road or rail but only 28 by sea across the Solway Firth, the harbour is also the nearest on the mainland to the Isle of Man by a like distance. The Solway Firth is also well known for its magnificent sunsets viewed from the Cumbrian coast.

    Whitehaven itself straddles the St Bees Valley which rises steeply to 300 ft about the town centre. There are several claims that Jonathon Swift stayed at the High Bowling Green Inn directly above the harbour when he was an infant and that he based the tiny Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels on the equally small looking workers on the harbour and ships.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 1 Commercial fishing often resulted in nets being damaged by snagging on rocks or wrecked ships which necessitated a mending session after nearly every trip. (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Whitehaven was to be invaded by enemy troops in a time of war when John Paul Jones led a couple of boatloads of sailors and US Marines in a raid on 23rd April 1778 to set fire to the ships in the harbour. Fortunately for the town the US Marines headed for the nearest pub – The Red Lion in Marlborough Street – returning to their boats having done no significant damage and in a condition described by Jones himself as confused. That was not to be Whitehaven’s last close encounter with the enemy when in 1916 a German U-Boat popped up outside the harbour and in 30 minutes fired 70 high explosive shells into Lowca Tar Works. Again only a little damage was done despite the shells hitting their targets. The damage was enough to close the works for a few days though.

    During WW2 the harbour became the home of the Danish national fishing fleet from where the fishing and sailing skills of the Danes did a great deal to keep up the countries food supply in dark times. After Whitehaven passed into the hands of the Lowther family in the 16th Century it began to trade with Ireland, particularly Dublin and Belfast. Selling salt, coal and manufactured goods and returning with beef, tallow and flax. Trade grew so rapidly that it required a proper quay to provide shelter for the increasing number of boats wanting a berth. The first stone built quay was erected in 1632 and the last major commercial facility – the Queens Dock – was opened in 1875.

    By 1750 Whitehaven was the third most important harbour in England after London and Bristol. By that time trade with Virginia and Maryland had grown to the point where Whitehaven was the biggest importer of tobacco except for Glasgow. The War of American Independence brought that trade to an end leaving only trade with the West Indies as a profitable venture and bringing the Slave Trade to some of the boat owners and merchants.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 2 Haig Colliery (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The harbour slowly declined leaving only fishing as a commercial activity in the North Harbour today. It has since been delightfully restored and converted to recreational use, with a large marina. The Beacon Museum and a good quantity of artworks around the harbour are there to be enjoyed.

    Deep coal mining continued in Whitehaven until January 1986 when Haig Colliery finally closed. The chemical industry ceased in 2005 bringing an end the manufacture of sulphuric acid and phosphates. The Rum Story on Lowther Street tells the story of sugar, rum and the trade with the West Indies.

    Whitehaven and Around From Old Photographs concentrates on the 20th Century and documents changes, focusing on the 1920s, 30s and 60s. Though I am sure there is much more to learn about this wonderful old town of ours here is what I have found out so far.

    9781445662329

    Alan W. Routledge's book Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

1 Item(s)