James Milham

James Milham was a prominent sea captain, trading in tobacco with Virginia. Whitehaven was growing in importance in international trade.When the Captain lived here, there was only his house and the church to be seen. By the 1960s, his house had become a rundown building famous only among local residents for the activities they undertook as members of the YMCA. The former Whitehaven YMCA at 44-45 Irish Street was built c1713.

Milham was a rich merchant and master of ships who wrote a book about navigating American waters. His fine house had two projecting wings, one his office and the other his warehouse. In 1706 he married Elizabeth of the well-known Gale family and the property at Irish Street remained in the family until it was sold in 1872 to a local chemist. William Kitchen. Kitchen lived there with wife Elizabeth, a housemaid and cook, until he abandoned town living for the countryside, and moved to Ellerslie, at Gosforth.

The building is of significant historic importance and the location, at the southern end of the town’s historic market place is a key feature of Whitehaven’s Georgian landscape.

The building served as both a warehouse and family residence, which was a common arrangement at the time. The building is of particular historic interest as it was built off the Street. The Lowther family objected to this arrangement and shortly after brought in regulations to require future buildings in the town to be built on the street.

The building has undergone a number of changes over the years with the previous owners, the YMCA, taking over the building in the early 1900’s. By the 1990s, the house was derelict. The billiard tables were destroyed by a leaking roof, the wood panelling by dry and wet rot.

It was only in 2009 that Howgill Family Centre and Impact Housing decided to buy the derelict building and seek funding to renovate it and turn it into West Cumbria’s first Young People’s Foyer. Seven years later, the first young residents moved in.

The building has had many uses including private residence, social venue and now The Foyer which provides accommodation for young people as well as office space. This building and others in the surrounding area has since been totally renovated with over £1 million funding as part of the Whitehaven Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI), with the restoration of the former YMCA building completed in 2017.

James Milhams Former Home c1900
James Milhams Former Home c1900


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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