Whitehaven Shipbuilding

In 1690, when the coal trade with Ireland was expanding rapidly, Sir John Lowther brought ship carpenters to the town. The earliest vessel built at Whitehaven was the 'Cookson', built in 1757, weighing 79 tons. The Cookson had a long life, but was wrecked at Port St. Mary, Scotland, on 6th March 1832. Between the years of 1743 and 1786 at least 187 vessels were constructed. The busiest years being 1764 and 1765 when eleven and fourteen ships, respectively, were launched.

The largest sailing ship to be built in Whitehaven was the 'Alice A. Leigh', a 4-masted barque, weighing 2,929 tons, launched in September 1889 for J. Joyce, Liverpool. The steel barque built by the Whitehaven Shipbuilding Company, Cumbria and named after the Mayoress of Stockport. Alice carried 31 sails on her lofty rig. The ship coast £25,943 to build. The barque was well-appointed inside, with a panelled saloon - the master's quarters even had a bathroom fitted with a porcelain bath.

Upon her launch, Alice came to a halt, and became stuck-fast in the harbour.  It took five days to persuade her to move into the water as hydraulic rams were used to push her along. The delay cost the shipyard an extra £1,500 - this was a lot of money, especially when the shipyard was experiencing financial difficulties. This extra cost, atop other problems, proved the death of Whitehaven's once-thriving shipbuilding industry.

The barque had several adventures, she survived a collision with the German ship Rickmers, a minor mutiny in 1904 and, in 1914, made a very fast passage of 48 days for the 900 mile trip from Mexico to Newcastle. In October 1916, she was nearly sunk by a German submarine in the Mediterranean - a French destroyer appeared on the scene and saved her.

Alice was sold in 1917 to the New York and Pacific Sailing Ship Co. She made her last major voyage to London via the Cape of Good Hope in 103 days, with a load of wool. She arrived in Auckland in August 1922 on her final voyage. On June 27th 1930, she was sunk as a wavebreaker at Moturekareka Island.

Launch Of The Alice A. Leigh
Launch Of The Alice A. Leigh
Over 1000 ships have been identified as being built in Whitehaven yards, most of them being collier vessels of 150 to 250 tons. The only iron vessel which survives intact is the 'af Chapman' - she is preserved in Stockholm harbour as a tourist attraction. She was launched as the 'Dunboyne' in 1885, renamed in 1915 as the 'G. D. Kennedy' then was purchased as a training vessel for the Swedish Navy. She made her last voyage in 1937. The 'af Chapman' is the world's third oldest surviving iron built vessel.

The only 'surviving' wooden ship is the 'Vicar of Bray'. She was launched in 1841 by Robert Hardy and participated in the famous American Gold Rush. She became damaged in 1880 and is now incorporated into a jetty at Goose Green, the Falkland Islands.

At the start of the 19th Century Whitehaven was still a busy port, but its importance was declining. The shallow waters of the Solway severely limited the size of ships. This eventually led to the loss of the shipbuilding which once placed Whitehaven as a port of international importance.

Alice A. Leigh Saloon
Alice A. Leigh Saloon
The most famous of Whitehaven yards were established by Daniel Brocklebank in 1782, after his death, his two sons, Thomas and John continued to build ships on the North Shore, and also established the famous Brocklebank shipping line which operated out of Liverpool. Eventually this company was taken over by the great Cunard Line.

Captain Daniel Brocklebank, a master mariner and shipbuilder, whose shipbuilding enterprise was first established at Sheepscutt (near Portland, Maine, North America) in 1770. Brocklebank was a Loyalist and when the Revolution took place in 1775 he sailed back to Whitehaven in his own ship, Castor. Brocklebank restarted his shipbuilding business at Whitehaven in 1785 and the plans and specifications of his yard's products from 1792 are one of the most important sources for 18th and early 19th century merchant ships. By 1795 his fleet consisted of eleven vessels totalling 1,750 tons.

In 1801 Daniel Brocklebank died and the firm became Thomas and John Brocklebank, later shortened to Thos. and Jno. Brocklebank. The firm suffered somewhat in the Napoleonic Wars but by 1809 it was sending ships as far as South America. By 1816 the fleet totalled seventeen ships. In 1815 the new ship Princess Charlotte's maiden voyage to Calcutta was a successful venture following the end of the East India Company's monopoly. Her return freight was estimated to realise more than £10,000 in profits for her owners and other merchants. This trade was eventually to eclipse Brocklebank's South American and China trades.

In 1819 Thomas Brocklebank moved to Liverpool and an office was opened there in 1822. His brother John remained in Whitehaven to run the Bransty shipyard and the ropery. In 1829 Brocklebanks began trading to China but on an irregular basis. In 1831 John Brocklebank was killed by a fall from his horse, while trying to avoid a small child who ran into his path. Daniel Bird became manager of the Whitehaven shipyard. In the same year Thomas Fisher Brocklebank moved to Liverpool to assist his uncle, Thomas Brocklebank, in the family business.

In 1843 Thomas would make his nephew, Thomas and cousin, Ralph (later to become Chairman of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board), partners in the firm. Thomas (Jnr.) was politically and socially active and became a Baronet in 1885. By 1844 the fleet had reached its highest number, comprising fifty vessels.

The Whitehaven shipyard was closed in 1865 and larger iron and later steel sailing ships were bought mainly from Harland & Wolff, Belfast. Their first steamer, Ameer, was not purchased until 1889. In 1911 Brocklebanks ceased to be a family business. A substantial shareholding was sold to Sir Percy, Frederic and Denis Bates (grandsons of Sir Edward Bates) who had built up an Indian trading firm and were major Cunard shareholders. In the same year Cunard acquired the Anchor Line, which retained its independence and in turn gained a controlling interest in Brocklebanks in 1912.

Captain Daniel Brocklebank's Castor With Other Ships
Captain Daniel Brocklebank's Castor With Other Ships

Some of the ships built in Whitehaven:

Vessel/ Rig/ Tonnage/ Master/ Owners

Albion sh 220 T. Holmes J. Birkett and owners
Albion sh 208 J. Watson Captain and owners
Ann sh 226 R. Woodall W. Stitt and Co.
Argo br 161 John Duke Captain and Co.
Argo br 132 John M'Millan R. M'Millan and Co.
Atlas br 167 R. Black Captain and Co.
Ant br 156 J. Christopherson Captain and Co.
Ann Eliza br 136 -------- M'Peter Captain and Co.
Alexander br 183 J. Hodgson Captain and Co.
Active br 134 T. Taylor Captain and Co.
Allison br 91 W. Adamson Captain and Co.
Ann sn 200 W. Nixon W. Younghusband and Co.
Anna sl 50 J. Holliday J. Gourley and Co.
British Queen sh 300 W. Ormandy W. Stitt and Co.
Blake br 130 W. Christian W. Corkhill and Co.
Betsy br 157 W. Branthwaite Captain and Co.
Brown br 220 Robert Fell W. Fisher and Co.
Brittania sn 200 W. Nixon Captain and Co.
Betty sn 145 T. Hair J. Hair and Co.
Bryer br 82 M. Redferne Captain and Co.
Balfour br 310 W. Frazer T. and J. Brocklebank
Brothers sl 60 A. Kerr Ellwood and Co.
Bee sm 15 R. Coulthard T. Losh and Co.
Baltic sn 153 H. Towers Captain and Co.
Clarendon sh 507 W. Atkinson W. Stitt and Co.
Chilham Castle sh 402 T. Hammond W. Stitt and Co.
Columbine sn 150 T. Twentyman Huddleston and Co.
Clementson br 132 J. Peele Captain and Co.
Concord br 170 N. W. Frazer Captain and co.
Carleton br 130 Wm. Park R. Cormack
Carrier br 127 T. Huddleston Captain and Co.
Charlotte br 135 H. Hind J. Stewart and Co.
Ceres br 74 P. Rooney Captain and Co.
Clyde sl 60 W. Wilson H. Bragg and Co.
Caesar sm 20 J. Birkett W. Moore
Dispatch br 100 A. Parrott A. Parrott and Co.
Dallam Tower br 97 J. Mitchell Captain and Co.
Dale br 153 J. Mitchell Captain and Co.
Diana br 142 J. Sherwen W. Sherwen and Co.
Diana br 167 J. Bulman Captain and Co.
Dove br 122 J. Wilson J. Wilson and Co.
Druid sh 215 J. Beck J. Stewart and Co.
Earl of Lonsdale sh 502 D. Crake W. Stitt and Co.
Europa sh 349 J. Burnell W. Stitt and Co.
Elizabeth br 157 W. Davis Captain and Co.
Edward br 152 J. Fell Harrison and Co.
Ellen br 104 ------- Edmondson Captain and Co.
Eleanor br 184 J. Lister Captain and Co.
Eleanor br 128 J. Potts J. Wilson and Co.
Experiment br 89 J. Young R. Barker and Cp.
Eliza sn 200 R. Coulthart W. Coulthard
Endeavour br 155 I. Bell Captain and Co.
Fortune br 127 R. Hind Captain and Co.
Friendship br 97 R. Wood Captain and Co.
Flora br 137 J. Delany Captain and Co.
Fame br 188 J. Stobow W. Thompson and Co.
Friendship br 83 G. Sallany Captain and Co.
Favourite br 152 W. Cowman Captain and Co.
Friendship sn 175 W. Corkhill Captain and Co.
Fanny sn 209 T. Connell W. Plaskett and Co.
Fame sn 110 W. Harper R. Barker and Co.
Friend's Delight sl 47 A. Benson Captain and Co.
Four Sisters sl 45 J. Quay E. Perry
Friendship br 199 J. Jackson W. Bowes and Co.
Farmer sl 15 J. Newby, sen. Captain
George br 83 W. White Captain and Co.
George br 89 J. Fell R. Cormack
Grizel sl 57 J. Denniston H. Bragg and Co.
Happy br 170 I. Lawson W. Thompson and Co.
Harrys br 110 J. Kneale Captain and Co.
Halcyon br 160 Ben. King Captain and Co.
Harmony br 270 E. Towerson W. Stitt and Co.
Harriet sn 168 D. Pearson W. Stitt and Co.
Hope br 244 J. Collins Captain and Co.
Hero sn 206 Wm. Burton J. Stewart and Co.
Hebe br 157 R. White Captain and Co.
Hercules sh 301 H. Jackson Brocklebanks and Co.
Jane and Mary br 112 J. Fisher Captain and Co.
John & Joseph br 159 W. Pagan J. Pagan and Co.
Jane br 122 J. Thompson H. Piper and Co.
Jamaica Packet br 166 H. Flinn Captain and Co.
Industry br 206 T. Cragg, jun. T. Cragg and Co.
Isca sn 157 A. Edgar Captain and Co.
John br 161 H. Rookin Captain and Co.
Isabella br 151 J. Hair Captain and Co.
Jamaica sh 252 H. Richardson R. Whiteside and Co.
Industry br 131 J. France Captain and Co.
Isaac & Jane br 175 N. Jefferson J. Nicholson and Co.
Julius Caesar sh 296 J. M'Iver ----- Stitt and Co.
Kitty br 137 B. Fisher Captain and Co.
Liberty sl 46 J. Gibson Captain and Co.
Lonsdale sn 185 E. Wilson R. Simpson and Co.
La Nymph
br 156 E. Davis Captain and Co.
Lady Elizabeth sl 58 W. Steel J. Bowness
Lady Caroline sm 37 W. Robbs T. Barwise
Lively bk 130 J. Carr A. Sibson and Co.
Langton sn 205 R. Dixon R. Dixon and Co.
Lord Donnegal br 133 J. Crenell W. Younghusband and Co.
Mary br 165 T. Fisher S. Fisher and Co.
Marston br 85 T. Hudson Captain and Co.
Monmouth br 100 J. Shepherd Captain and Co.
Martha sn 185 J. Rookin Captain and Co.
Mally br 77 ------- Captain and Co.
Mary & Betty br 150 P. Connor T. Nicholson and Co.
Mercury sc 93 J. Fearon Barker and Co.
Mary sl 33 G. Brice Captain and Co.
Mary Isabella br 144 G. Blacklock Captain and Co.
Mary Isabella br 183 H. Mossop Captain and Co.
Mary br 144 J. Folder Captain and Co.
Mary br 111 J. Hales Captain and Co.
Mary sl 45 W. Farraday E. Johnston and Co.
Musgrave br 132 J. Banks Captain and Co.
Marenham br 154 A. Wise Captain and Co.
Matty br 163 M. Hutchinson Captain and Co.
Martha br 143 T. Palmer Captain and Co.
Mary-Ann sl 57 W. Ormandy Captain and Co.
Maria sl 79 J. Hannah Captain and Co.
Mary sh 429 J. Cain W. Stitt and Co.
Nancy br 160 W. Rumney J. Dickinson and Co.
Nelly br 132 W. Birkett W. Kirby
New Draper br 141 B. Barwise Captain and Co.
New Active br 130 J. Skelding W. Maskew and Co.
Nelly & Peggy sm 15 W. Moore W. Moore
Nancy sl 56 J. Newby, jun. Captain
Providence's Success br 234 B. Robinson W. Stitt and Co.
Prosperity br 135 Wm. Christian J. Piper and Co.
Prosperous br 150 F. Tollins H. Thompson and Co.
Prince of Wales br 126 W. Gaitskell Captain and Co.
Perseverance br 158 J. Taylor Captain and Co.
Pomona br 97 J. Kennedy Barker and Co.
Pomona br 117 J. Wilson Captain and Co.
Peggy & Ellen br 72 W. Rigg Captain and Co.
Pleasant br 99 P. Ditchburn T. Harrison
Queen Charlotte br 211 J. Nicholson Captain and Co.
Rose sh 209 W. Steward Captain and Co.
Richard sh 215 J. Paxton W. Younghusband & Co.
Senhouse br 124 J. Dalton Bowes and Co.
Samuel br 170 J. Pennement Captain and Co.
Swan br 142 D. Coulthart A. Thompson and Co.
Susanna br 109 T. Cain J. Todhunter and Co.
Samuel & Thomas br 118 W. Bulman Captain and Co.
Swallow br 114 J. Bell W. Fisher and Co.
Sunton sn 170 W. Stuart Captain and Co.
Susanna sc 80 G. Cowell Barker and Co.
Thomas sn 211 J. Drury Captain and Co.
Trelawney sh 275 J. Whiteside R. Whiteside and Co.
Triton sn 254 H. Fox Captain and Co.
Triton sm 33 F. Fisher Captain and Co.
Tamar sn 111 Joseph Mundel Captain and Co.
Unity sc 47 A. Hu(x?)table B. Briscoe and Co.
Utility br 127 J. Fell W. Fell and Co.
Union sh 151 D. Dickinson Captain and Co.
Vigilant br 162 G. Leviston T. Fisher and Co.
Volunteer sh 354 J. Barwise T. and M. Hartley
Valentine br 98 T. Mitchell Captain and Co.
William & Mary br 156 J. Moore A. Moore and Co.
Woodall br 106 W. Jefferson Captain and Co.
Wilson br 212 ------ Nicholson J. Nicholson and Co.
Worsley br 131 W. Selkirk Captain and Co.
Westmorland sh 310 L. Bouch T. and M. Hartley
William sn 189 J. Boadle Captain and Co.
William & Ann sc 70 W. Park H. Bow(en?)
William sn 227 M. Clarke A. Sibson and Co.
Watson br 162 John Roper Captain and Co.
William br 146 J. Hayton Captain and Co.


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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