The first mention of Whitehaven as a harbour comes from 1172, but the foundation for the first quay was laid in 1633 by Sir Christopher Lowther for construction of the Old Quay to export salt and coal.
The Bulwark Quay was completed in 1711 making Whitehaven the third largest trading port in England during the eighteenth century and the most important rum port in the UK. Construction of The West Pier Lighthouse, West Pier and North Pier surrounding the Outer harbour began in 1832 and finally the Queen’s Dock was built in 1876.
Over 1,000 ships are documented as being built in the port of Whitehaven. The most famous shipyard was that established by Daniel Brocklebank which eventually became part of the Cunard Line.
Since 1990, £20 million of grant funding has been invested in and around the harbour improving public access. The harbour no longer sees the amount of trade vessels it used to. However, the harbour still has an active fishing industry with vessels bringing in a large variety of fish including sole, skate and prawns.
The sea locks themselves not only let the inner harbour stay water-filled at all times, the massive gates also act as flood defences. For centuries, the town was flooded by fierce storms, but with the help of the Environment Agency, the sea lock now helps to keep the town dry.
Now, the tourist industry is of growing importance to town’s economy.