Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels was written by Jonathan Swift. As a child, it is reputed that Swift dreamt up the story during a stay in Whitehaven. Overlooking Whitehaven harbour is a former Inn (A Grade II listed house, formerly known as The Red Flag.), known locally as 'Jonathan Swift's House'.

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667. It is reputed that he stayed at this building as a child. In his autobiography, Swift claims that when he was a year old his nurse stole him away from his widowed mother and his uncle and took him over the sea to her home town of Whitehaven. The nurse, Swift claimed, was "under an absolute necessity of seeing one of her relations, who was extremely sick, and from whom she expected a legacy".

The nurse was so careful of Swift during his stay in Whitehaven, that before he returned to his home in Dublin, he had learnt to spell; and by the time he was three years old 'he could read any chapter in the Bible'.

At age five, Swift returned home to Dublin with his nurse, but his mother, Abigail Swift, née Erick, no longer lived there, having gone to live in Leicester, where her parents came from and where she still had family. Swift was taken into the family of his uncle Godwin, by whom he was sent to Kilkenny school when he reached six years of age, and there he remained for about eight years. (Jonathan Swift's father died seven months before he was born).

Swift also was often heard to tell, at the dinner table, the story about the nurse carrying him off in his babyhood to Whitehaven. As Deane Swift wrote, the story `gave occasion to many ludicrous whims and extravagances in the gaiety of his conversation'. Swift was to describe Gulliver, a finger-sized manikin among the giant Brobdingnagians, being parted from his giant nurse-girl, wafted in his carrying-box over the sea by an eagle, and dropped into the water to float on till he was rescued. Its believed that when he wrote Gulliver's travels, that Whitehaven was in the back of his mind.

There is no doubt however that the infant Jonathan Swift was brought to Whitehaven and the view of the bustling town from the cliffs above was likely to have lodged in the young child's mind. Indeed, if you were to look down over the town of Whitehaven from Jonathan Swift House, you can imagine his thoughts as a young child, looking down upon the 'midget people'.

Swift became a very successful literary figure in London, but eventually returned to Ireland and became Dean of St. Patrick's, in Dublin, in 1713. In 1742, Swift was diagnosed with a form of Dementia, meaning his affairs had to be dealt with by guardians. He died in 1745.

Oldest Known Illustration Of Whitehaven c1630
Oldest Known Illustration Of Whitehaven c1630


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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