Sal Madge

Sal Madge worked in Whitehaven's colliery, drank paints and wrestled men for sport. She usually dressed as shown in the photograph below, with a man's jacket, shirt and waistcoat above a long skirt, and is said to have worn her hair cut short. She was really a different kind of woman altogether.

Sal Madge was born in a workhouse in Penrith in 1831 but lived and worked most of her life in Whitehaven. She died a pauper in 1899 but huge crowds attended her funeral. She was known for her enjoyment of beer-drinking, card-playing, tobacco-chewing and Cumberland wrestling.

Upon her death, the Cumberland Pacquet, described her as "one of the last remaining worthies of the town''. Their report stated: "The funeral was very largely attended.... It was a simple little funeral, and on the coffin lay just one cross of daffodils, a touching tribute by some friend of this strange woman.''

At the age of eight she began work at the mines. She only spent a brief period at this work at Saltom Pit - the first ever under-sea colliery in the world. Sal Madge worked at Croft and Wellington pits in Whitehaven, leading the horses which pulled wagons filled with coal and socialising with the miners.

For 90 years her grave went unmarked. Then, in 1993, the Friends of Whitehaven Museum thought it was about time her role in life was recognised. A headstone was erected in 2010.

Sal Madge
Sal Madge


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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