Municipal Borough Council

Whitehaven Municipal Borough Council was incorporated by Royal Charter on the 11th July, 1894. Previous to this the government of the town and harbour was vested in a body of twenty-one trustees, as appointed by an Act of Parliament obtained in 1708.

The Town Council consisted of the Mayor, six Aldermen, and eighteen Councillors. The borough was divided into six wards, each of which returns three councillors. The first Mayor of Whitehaven was The 5th Earl Of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther - The Yellow Earl.

Hugh Lowther was one of the richest men in England, with estates which included the Whitehaven collieries. He led an ostentatious lifestyle and used his wealth to pursue his various sporting passions, including hunting, boxing (he became the first president of the National Sporting Club and was the instigator of the Lonsdale Belt), horse-racing and show jumping (first president of the International Horse Show) and cars (first president of the AA).

A borough was a town in which certain inhabitants (called burgesses) had been granted special privileges. In the middle ages, boroughs were usually created by charters obtained from the sovereign or from an important nobleman.

In the medieval and early modern period, boroughs were powerful bodies and were independent of the county authorities and, along with certain other rights, had the right to hold their own court of Quarter Sessions.

The idea of legal incorporation developed in the late 16th century when many boroughs sought royal confirmation of their rights. An incorporated borough could hold land and act in the name of the corporation and was treated as a body rather than a group of individuals. It also enjoyed perpetual succession and possessed a common seal. The burgesses elected a mayor and aldermen who constituted the governing body of the borough. They appointed various officials including the chamberlain, coroner, recorder, sergeants, bailiffs and ale tasters.

By the 18th century, boroughs discharged responsibilities for the repair of public buildings, social welfare, building control and poor relief. They also administered various trusts and charities. However, they were ill-equipped to deal with the problems caused by the industrial revolution and urban expansion. New authorities such as Improvement Commissioners and Boards of Health were created to implement schemes for sewerage, drainage, lighting and public health improvements. Boroughs were empowered to act as Boards of Health.

The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act deprived some boroughs of their status and replaced the remaining corporations with councils which were elected by ratepayers of 3 years' standing. Councillors and aldermen now faced re-election after 3 and 6 years respectively. The 1882 Municipal Corporations Act consolidated the 1835 Act and incorporated new towns too. Some boroughs became county boroughs under the 1888 Local Government Act. County boroughs were to be independent of the administrative counties with equivalent powers and functions to those of the counties themselves. Existing borough councils were demoted to town councils (having the same status as parish councils) under the 1974 Local Government Act when district councils took over their functions. Some of the new district councils applied for permission to be called borough councils.

  • Copeland Borough Council superseded Ennerdale and Millom Rural District Councils, and Whitehaven Municipal Borough Council in 1974.

The first Mayor of Whitehaven was The 5th Earl Of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther
Hugh Lowther, First Mayor Of Whitehaven


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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