Whitehaven Castle

The building was constructed for Sir John Lowther as his private residence. In 1924, the Earl of Lonsdale sold Whitehaven Castle to Herbert Wilson Walker, a local industrialist, who then donated the building to the people of West Cumberland, along with £20,000 to convert it into a new hospital. After the West Cumberland Hospital opened in 1964, Whitehaven Castle became a facility for the elderly and has since been converted into apartments. The castle is a Grade II listed building.

The large quadrangular shaped building lies on the southeast outskirts of Whitehaven. At the entrance there are two Roman altars. One was found at Ellenborough, the other at Moresby. Pleasure grounds and ornamental gardens made up part of the grounds.

The land that Whitehaven Castle sits upon has been occupied since the thirteenth century, it is said to have Druidic associations. It is believed that there was once a stone circle with the name of Corpse-Circle, meaning Dead-Ring on this site.

The land was given to the priory of St. Bees in 1250 by Gilbert of Hothwaite. 'Hothwaite' was the land between the new road out of Whitehaven and Midgey Ghyll. Situated on this land was the Flatt mansion. Eventually this land fell into the hands of Sir George Fletcher.

Sir John Lowther purchased the Flatt in 1675 from Sir George Fletcher for £1000 and made many improvements.

In 1686 the castle was described by Mr Denton as, "a stately new pile of building, lately erected by ye said Sir John Lowther".

Following a devastating fire, Sir James Lowther had the Flatt rebuilt. Sir James employed Robert Adam to turn the principal fa├žade of the house - by then known as Whitehaven Castle - towards the sea, add a bow, towers, and crenellations, all in the castle style, and to refit various interiors. Typically of Lonsdale, however, Adam was never paid for these designs.

Adam's alterations to the fabric of the house were carried out in 1766-c1770, but it is not known if his interior decorative schemes for the drawing and dining rooms were brought to fruition. The north and west fronts of Thackeray's original house survive, as do the exterior alterations by Adam, although a small twentieth-century entrance loggia was added to the north front.

The eighteenth-century interiors, however, have been lost. Whitehaven Castle was sold by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale in 1924, and it was converted into a hospital. The hospital closed in 1986, and it has since been converted into flats.

Plan Of Whitehaven Castle, 1766
Plan Of Whitehaven Castle, 1766

1766 Plan: Elevation of the principal (north) front of a crenellated house, with a three-storey, seven-bay central block, with a pitched roof, and with a central door on the ground storey, and the central block is flanked by three-storey, single-bay wings, with pitched roofs, and with a tripartite window on each storey, and each of the door and windows is surmounted by a hood moulding.
More than 200 years after the Lowthers had initially purchased the castle, the large wall around the castle and grounds was removed, finally opening up the park to the people of Whitehaven. In 1923 the park was officially opened, along with the unveiling of the Cenotaph. The Cenotaph was designed by a local artist and is graced by the figure of 'Peace'. A roll of honour containing the names of the fallen plus a local newspaper were encased in a lead casket and buried in the foundations.

In 1924 the Earl of Lonsdale sold the castle to Mr H. Walker. The castle was donated to the town, along with monies to carry out necessary repairs and alterations. The castle was duly modified and it replaced the old infirmary which had been difficult to bring up-to-date.

In 1951, due to inadequacies at the infirmary, an architect was appointed who duly came up with the plans for the West Cumberland Hospital. The new West Cumberland Hospital was the first hospital built in England following the creation of the National Health Service. It was officially opened on October 21, 1964 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The castle infirmary and the new hospital coexisted until 1986, when due to fire regulations, the infirmary had to close to its patients. In the event of a fire the elderly patients would have to have been evacuated over the rooftop, not a satisfactory solution.

Finally vacated in 1987 by the local authority, the property was all but abandoned and suffered serious deterioration until it was rescued in 1999 and converted into apartments.

Print Of Whitehaven Castle by W Kinnebrook, 1842
Whitehaven Castle, 1842


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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