The Gale Family

The Gales who became one of the leading local families, were non-conformists, as were the Lutwidges. Owing to the fact that they were excluded from offices of state and of command in the armed forces by the Test Act, non-conformists found an outlet for their talents in business. In 1672 the house of Isabella Dixon was licensed as a Presbyterian meeting house in Whitehaven. Twenty-three years later Elisha Gale, Henry Palmer, William Atkinson, William Feryes and John Shepherd had collected money for a chapel to be used by Protestant dissenters.

Sometime around 1663 to 1665 John Gale, the Elder, (c1620-1680) moved with his family from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Whitehaven, Cumberland, an ancient harbour town isolated by mountains and located not far from the Scottish border. Situated on the Irish Sea with the Isle of Man visible in the distance, it began as a small fishing village of about 50 cottages.

This family group developed to become one of the most successful Merchant families in the expanding port of Whitehaven which was based in the beginning on the export of coal from the Lowther coal pits to Ireland and elsewhere.

In the autumn of 1677, John Gale Senior was employed as the Steward for Sir John Lowther and held the post until 1707.  Lowther, the dominant figure behind the town's development, continued to expand his territory with an eye to a monopoly in the coal trade. His family lived much of the time in London, but he purchased property on the southeast border of Whitehaven in 1675 and built a manor called The Flatt, later called Whitehaven Castle, where John Gale was a frequent visitor.

In 1683, under Lowther's employ, John Gale had a causeway constructed to enable horse-drawn carts to transport coal from the pits to ships waiting in the harbour. Although primitive, the causeway significantly reduced transportation costs and was heralded as the forerunner of early railways. Another step in expansion of Lowther's coal trade was the "Act for Enlarging the Pier and Harbour of Parton in the County of Cumberland," passed during the reign of Queen Anne in 1705-06. Signers on the document included Ebenezer, Elisha, and John Gale, Jnr.

Members of John's family were members of St. Nicholas’s Church, originally built in 1693 to replace a smaller chapel. It has stood on Lowther Street for almost three centuries. The original Catholic Church in Whitehaven, located on the east end of Chapel Street at Lowther Street, was known as the Old Chapel. It can only be assumed that sometime after the 1693 building of St. Nicholas that the burials at Old Chapel churchyard were transferred to the St. Nicholas churchyard.

A third structure, built in 1883, replaced the second but a fire destroyed most of the building in 1971. All that remains of the original structure is the clock tower and the main entry. John Gale was characterized as a "bigoted Anglican" hostile to Whitehaven Dissenters, including his mother Elizabeth and youngest brother Elisha. A memorial to the family is located in the central part of the church. Known as the Washington Memorial Plaque, it is dedicated to Mildred Warner Washington Gale.

Throughout the eighteenth century Whitehaven had very strong connections with Virginia and Maryland. One of the most interesting connections was that of a marriage which nearly changed the course of history. George Gale, a member of the important Gale family was a merchant trading with the colonies of Virginia and Maryland. In 1699 he met and married a widow named Mildred Washington.

Mildred Warner, was born in Virginia about 1671. She was also born into a very prestigious Virginian family. Her grandfather had been acting governor of Virginia and her father Speaker of its House of Burgesses. She married into another important family in 1686 with the marriage to Lawrence Washington with whom she had three children John, Augustine and Mildred. Upon his death Lawrence gave Mildred and his children shares of his estate with the profits from their lands to be administered by Mildred for their education and upbringing.

In 1700 Mildred Washington then married George Gale who was part of a family of Whitehaven merchants trading with Virginia. The Gales were Irish dissenters who had fled Tralee and after suffering in Newcastle had set up in Whitehaven about 1665 under the more sympathetic wing of John Lowther. In fact John Gale appears to have lived on land originally occupied by the Wyberghs known as the Old Hall which probably became Christopher Lowther's first residence in Whitehaven.

Mildred Gale died following the birth of a daughter on 30th January 1700. She, the daughter and a Negro servant who came with them were all buried in the grounds of St. Nicholas Church. Mildred Gales will was contested by executors of her first husband's estate and the boys were sent back to Virginia.

Mildred's burial was marked by a tall dark headstone about 5ft high. It is now located about 10ft from the back wall of St Nicholas Church, looking on to Duke Street. Mildred's defiance to the slave trade was proclaimed to all the world: "Died 1700. Mildred Gale nee Warner of Warner Hall Virginia, wife of George Gale merchant of Whitehaven, Here also lie with her, her baby daughter and her African slave Jane."

Augustine married and eventually became the father of George Washington, the first president of the United States. It is interesting to think what might have happened if the will had not been contested and Augustine been brought up as an English merchants son.

George Washington became president of the United States of America in 1789, he served the country for two - four year terms but, being opposed to the principle of a life presidency, he refused to stand for a third term. Here he set a precedent and from this time sprang the tradition of two terms maximum. In March 1797, Washington retired to Mount Vernon, he died in December 1799.

The Gale family lived in Gale Mansion on Duke Street and Scotch Street. It was built 1710 at an estimated cost of £2400 by William Feryes. The property passed to his wife's family. It was used as a town hall after 1850, firstly for Harbour Commissioners, then the Corporation of Whitehaven from 1894. The building was once known as the Cupola, and was was one of the most magnificent houses in Whitehaven.

Feryes was one of the original board of Trustees that controlled the town and had also became part of the wealthy and influential Gale family with his marriage to Mehetabel, daughter of John Gayle of Whitehaven. Unfortunately he died almost as soon as it was completed in August 1710.

The mansion is shown on Matthias Reads painting, a "Birds Eye View of Whitehaven". It is shown as being 3 storeys high with additional basement and surrounded on three sides by warehouses with a garden at the back. The roof had four separate pitched and slated sections each with two chimney stacks surrounding a large central domed bell tower from which the property got its name. The current building is far less impressive having been greatly modified by William Barnes in 1851.

Gale Mansion, Whitehaven
Gale Mansion


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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