Beauties Of England, 1802

THE effects of trade industry and enterprise have scarcely ever been so strikingly exemplified as in the rise progress and increasing importance of this rich and flourishing town. From an obscure hamlet to the village of St Bees it has become in the course of little more than a century and a half of considerably greater magnitude than many cities and both in extent of buildings and in population by far exceeds the capital of this county.

Its rapid advancement to prosperity will be easily conceived when it is stated that in the year 1566 it consisted only of six fishermen's cabins and a small bark in 1633 of nine or ten thatched cottages in 1693 its buildings were sufficiently numerous for 2272 inhabitants in twenty two years afterwards for 4000 in the year 1785 its population amounted to 16,400 but since this period there has been some considerable variation yet as the numbers returned under the late act do not appear to be correct we forbear to state them.

The increase of shipping has been equally progressive in 1685 the whole number of vessels belonging to the port was forty six exclusive of boats in 1772 they amounted to 197 in 1790 to 216 and have since increased to about 230 the quantity of tonnage is nearly 74,000 tons.

The honour of raising this town to its present high importance must be given to the Lowther family by one of whom Sir John Lowther Knight the lands of the dissolved monastery of St Bees were purchased for his second son Sir Christopher about the commencement of the reign of Charles the First.

At this period the use of coals first became general and it seems that Sir Christopher conceived the idea of making his possessions productive by opening some collieries but no considerable progress was made till after the Restoration when Sir John Lowther who had succeeded to the estates formed a plan for working the mines on a very extensive scale and that all opposition to his intended series of operations might be prevented he procured a grant of all the ungranted lands within the district. This was in the year 1666. Two years afterwards he obtained a further accession of property by the gift of the whole sea coast for two miles northward between high and low water mark Sir John now directed his attention to the port which was neither large nor convenient and by his judicious schemes laid the foundation of the present haven It has since been greatly improved particularly during the last reign when an act was obtained to perfect and keep it in repair by a tonnage on shipping.

This haven is protected by several piers or moles of stonework three of them project in parallel lines from the land a fourth bending in the form of a crescent has a watch house and battery and at its extremity a lighthouse. At low water the port is dry and the shipping within the moles lie as in dry docks. The coal staith or magazine adjoins the harbour on the west side of the town here on an under floor sufficiently extensive to contain about 3000 waggon loads the coals are deposited when there are no ships ready to receive them. The method of delivering the coals into the vessels is singular the greatest part of the road from the pits is on a gentle descent along which railways are laid which communicate with covered galleries terminating in large flues or hurries placed sloping over the quay. When the waggons are loaded they run by their own weight on the railway from the pit to the staith where the waggon bottoms striking out the coals fall into the hurries whence they are discharged into the holds of the ships rattling down with a noise like thunder. Each waggon is guided from the pits by one man and where the descent is so steep that the motion becomes too rapid he retards it by pressing down one of the wheels with a piece of wood called the convoy which is fixed to the waggon for that purpose When the waggons are emptied they are carried round by a turn frame and drawn back to the pits by a single horse along another road. Eight or ten vessels from an hundred to one hundred and twenty tons burthen each are commonly loaden at one tide and on extraordinary occasions twelve the expense of loading is ten shillings per vessel.

Most of the coal exported from this haven is conveyed to Ireland the quantity raised annually on the average of twenty years is about 90t000 chaldrons. When the bands of coal near Whitehaven were first began to be worked a level was driven from the bottom of the valley which reaches from this town to St Bees till it intersected the seam now called by the workmen the Bannock band where it drained a very considerable bed or field of coal which has been drawn out by pits from twenty to fifty yards deep. Another level was then driven more towards the south than the former and by continuing it to the westward the seam called the Alain Band was intersected and a large bed of coal effectually drained. The coals at this period were drawn out of the pits by men with windlasses and were carried to the ships in packs each measuring about three Winchester bushels upon the backs of galloways or small horses. A subsequent attempt to obtain coal was made lower down the valley at a place now called Gins from the machines worked by horses and employed here to raise both coals and water. Near these gins a few houses were erected and have since been increased by additional buildings to a considerable village.

This mode of raising the water by horses having been found greatly to diminish the profits of the colliery the late Sir James Lowther erected a steam engine the materials of which he is said to have purchased in London where it had been used for raising water for the service of the city. As the number and depth of the pits increased the difficulty culty of freeing them from water augmented and another more powerful engine was erected. By these two engines considerable bands of coals were drained from which the markets were wholly supplied for some years. Afterwards a pit sunk about half a mile from the Staith and called the Parker pit and from this the first railed waggon way was laid in county. The next working for coals was made at Saltom about one mile south west of the town this was a very expensive undertaking a steam engine with a forty inch cylinder was erected and within a few years afterwards a second of the same dimensions the united powers of these machines discharged the water from a number of new pits and the collieries became very flourishing.

The description given of the latter in Nicholson and Burn's History of Cumberland apply to this period as it relates some curious particulars of the internal economy of the works we shall here insert a condensed extract from that publication. These Coal Mines are perhaps the most extraordinary of any in the known world. The principal entrance for men and horses is by an opening at the bottom of a hill through a long passage hewn in the rock which by a steep descent leads down to the lowest vein of coal. The greatest part of this descent is through spacious galleries which continually intersect each other all the coal being cut away except large pillars which in deep parts of the mine are three yards high and twelve square at the base.

The mines are sunk to the depth of 130 fathoms and are extended under the sea to places where above them the water is of sufficient depth for ships of large burthen. These are the deepest coal mines that have hitherto been wrought and perhaps the miners have not in any other part of the globe penetrated to so great a depth below the surface of the sea the very deep mines in Hungary Peru and elsewhere being situated in mountainous countries where the surface of the earth is elevated to a great height above the level of the ocean.

There are here three strata of coal which lie at a considerable distance one above another the communication between each is preserved by pits. The vein of coal is not always regularly continued in the same inclined place but is sometimes interrupted by hard rock and in those places the earth seems to have sunk downwards from the surface while the part adjoining hath retained its ancient situation. These breaks the miners call dykes and when they meet with one of them they first observe whether the direction of the strata is higher or lower than in the part where they have been working. If to employ their own terms it is cast down they sink a pit to it with little trouble but should it on the contrary be cast up to any considerable height they are frequently obliged to carry a long level through the rock with much expense and difficulty till they again arrive at the vein of coal. In these deep and extensive works the greatest care is requisite to keep them continually ventilated with perpetual currents of fresh air to expel the damps and other noxious exhalations and supply the miners with a sufficiency of that vital fluid.

 In the deserted works large quantities of these damps are frequently collected and often remain for a long time without doing any mischief but when by some accident they are set on fire they produce dreadful and destructive explosions and burst out of the pits with great impetuosity like the fiery eruptions from burning mountains. The coal in these mines hath several times been set on fire by the fulminating damp and continued burning many months until large streams of water were conducted into the mines and suffered to fill those parts where the coal was on fire. Several collieries have been entirely destroyed by such fires of this there are instances near Newcastle and in other parts of England and in the shire of Fife in Scotland in some of which places the fire has continued burning for ages. To prevent as much as possible the collieries from being filled with these pernicious damps it has been found necessary to search for those crevices in the coal whence they issue and then confine them within a narrow space from which they are afterwards conducted through long tubes into the open air where being set on fire they consume in perpetual flames a they continually arise out of the earth.

The late Mr Spedding who was the great engineer of these works having observed the fulminating damp could only be kindled by flame and not liable to be set on fire by red hot iron nor by the sparks produced by the collision of flint and steel invented a machine in which while a steel wheel is turned round with a very motion flints are applied to it and by the abundance of sparks emitted the miners are enabled to carry on their in places where the flame of a lamp or candle would occasion dreadful explosions. Without some invention of this sort the working of these mines would long ago have been impracticable so greatly are they annoyed with these inflammable damps mines however have been ruined by fire than by inundations and here that noble piece of mechanism the steam engine displays its beneficial effects. When the four engines belonging to this colliery are all at work they discharge 1228 gallons of water every minute at thirteen strokes and after the same rate 1,768,320 gallons every twenty four hours. The two engines at Saltom being nearly worn out were removed about twenty years since and one only but of greater power than both the others erected in their stead. This has two boilers of fifteen feet diameter each a seventy inch cylinder and a working barrel eleven inches and a half. The quantity of water raised by it is 9225 hogsheads every twenty four hours.

The subterranean passages by which men and horses descend to the coal works are locally termed Bear mouths where these have not been made no horses can be employed under ground and the workmen are let down the shaft by the windlass. In the Howgill colliery south west of the town the King pit is 60 fathoms deep and has five valuable seams of coal besides several that are smaller and of little consequence this colliery abounds with dvkes In those places where the coal is drawn from under the sea which it is in various parts to the extent of eight or nine hundred yards the pillars left to support the roof are about eighteen yards square. Here nearly one third only of the coal is removed the rest being left to sustain the incumbent weight. Those works which are at the greatest depth below the level of the sea produce the largest quantity of fire damps in the works above the level the damps are but trifling. It is observed that the best coals are invariably the lightest the seams are always found at equal distances from each other and all dip to the west about one yard in ten.

The situation of Whitehaven is remarkable it occupies the northern extremity of a narrow vale which extends to the village of St Bees about five miles distant and from the general appearance of the soil and the discovery of an anchor at a considerable depth in the ground about half way up the vale seems to have been formerly covered by the sea. Indeed the hilly ground between this vale and the ocean is in ancient deeds called Preston Isle and the opinion that it was an arm of the sea is corroborated by the inclination of the ground which though apparently level has actually a descent each way this is evinced by the small rivulet Poe or Poe beck which on one side running northward flows in a very easy current from about the middle of the valley to the sea at Whitehaven and on the other directing its course southward from nearly the same spot falls into the ocean at St Bees in a stream equally gentle probability is that the vale has been formed by the effect of tides which flowing into it at both ends have deposited a sediment at the point of meeting and that this deposition gradually yet perpetually increasing has at length filled up the inlet as now appears. The Poe on the Whitehaven side empties itself into the which forms the harbour between two promontories one Tom Hard Rock the other Jack a Dandy Hill. The color the former a greyish white has by some writers been to have given name to the town but tradition with at least equal degree of plausibility affirms that its appellation was derived from a fisherman named White who was the first that frequented the bay and who to shelter himself from weather built a cottage which still remains in that part called the Old Town. As a confirmation that this gave name to Whitehaven it should be remarked that old people in the neighbourhood commonly denominate Whitton or White's Tow.

The creek on which Whitehaven is built is so deeply seated that the adjacent lands overlook it on every side. The from the north is singular as the heights are so much above town that only the slated roofs of the houses can be seen the traveller is nearly at the entrance which on this point is a fine portico of red free stone with a rich entablature ornamented with the arms of the Lowther family. From the south the prospect is more open the eye commands the whole town and haven the castle also the elegant mansion of the Earl Lonsdale is on this side comprehended in the view and forms a very noble and prominent feature The town itself is one the most handsome in all the northern counties the streets being regular and spacious and crossing each other at right angles. Many of the buildings are very neat and the tradesmen's shops exhibit a degree of elegance seldom seen in the north Whitehaven contains three chapels respectively dedicated to St Nicholas St James and the Holy Trinity. These are plain and convenient structures but in their outward appearance have few pretensions to beauty. They were all erected with the subscriptions of the inhabitants augmented by the benevolence of the Lowther family St Nicholas Chapel stands nearly in the centre of the town it was finished and consecrated in the year 1693 the whole charge of its building amounted to 1066l l6s 2 d. In this sum are several items for ale and tobacco which articles appear to have been given to the seamen of different vessels who during their stay in the port occasionally lent their assistance to forward the work. The altarpiece is a painting of the Last Supper over it is an excellent organ built by Snetzler and erected here in the year 1756. The interior of this chapel is neat and pleasing Trinity Chapel was erected in 1715 St James's in the year 1752. The latter is elegantly fitted up the roof and gallery are supported by ranges of pillars beautifully proportioned Besides the established chapels here are three meeting houses for Methodists two for Presbyterians and one for each of the following sects Anabaptists Catholies Glassites and Sandimanians.

In the year 1743 a large and commodious Poor house was erected and about twenty years since the distresses of the indigent were still further attended to by the establishment of a Dispensary which is supported by subscription and has been the means of relieving several thousand persons. The principal manufactories are those for cordage and sail cloths the latter was only established in the year 1786 but already furnishes employment to several hundred workmen though much of the business is executed by machinery of great variety and powers. Among other marks of the growing opulence of the town may be mentioned a handsome Theatre erected by subscription in the year 1769 on the plan of the Bath theatre.

The coast from Whitehaven southward to St Bees is bounded by bold rocks rising abruptly from the sea and making a fine sweep into the ocean. Nearly equidistant from these places is the lofty promontory called St Bees Head which forms a very conspicuous land mark and having a lighthouse near its summit is of great use to mariners. The view from this eminence is scarcely equalled for extent and beauty by any in the kingdom. The whole shore with most of its creeks bays and harbours the Isle of Man and a vast range of the Scotch coast are distinctly seen. The rocks teem with various kinds of sea fowl and samphire grows here in abundance.

The Beauties Of England And Wales, 1802.


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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