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History in the streets and architecture

Lowther Street    King Street    Queen Street     Duke Street

Whitehaven was a new town in the 17th century. A small hamlet had existed there for centuries but it was described as a handful of cottages when Christopher Lowther acquired it. His son John Lowther, a contemporary of Wren, had a clean sheet of paper beyond the old town on which he laid out a regular grid of streets. This was a scheme adopted by subsequent planners, particularly in America. As the wealth of the town was based on Lowther's mines and the shipping of his coals to Ireland, Whitehaven could also be considered the first company town of the industrial revolution. As with later Victorian company town's such as Cadbury's Bournville and Saltaire, John Lowther had ideals of creating an attractive environment along with industry and controlled development with rules such as the one stating that buildings should all be three storeys high. As the storeys could be of different heights this had the great advantage of allowing enough variation to prevent tedious uniformity, yet providing an attractive conformity that also stopped one building pinching another's light. This along with broad streets which mitigated against the spread of fire, as had happened in London, and buildings using quality local materials, such as carved sandstone for windows and doorways and Lakeland slate for roofing, led to Whitehaven being described by Thomas Pennant in 1772 as "one of the handsomest in the North of England...as populous as it is elegant".

Whitehaven c1738 engraving from Read painting

As industry increased so did the population until the regular plan could no longer hold and extra houses were built in existing gardens and courtyards as well as extending up the valley sides. From a fine town Whitehaven became one of extreme poverty and squalor and the medical officer J.S. Bristowe recommended in 1863 that the only cure was to rebuild. Finances didn't allow for wholesale reconstruction of the town centre and so more Georgian buildings survived than elsewhere. This left Whitehaven to be described as one of the 50 architectural gem towns by the Council for British Archaeology. An entire volume is devoted to Whitehaven's architecture by The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.

However, in the 1960's regeneration did start and whole blocks were demolished - notably everything above George Street to make way for flats, and most of the old town to the West of the Market Place. Modern shops have obliterated most architectural features at ground level on King Street but raise your eyes to the second level and the often dilapidated Georgian remains. Since the 1970's development has been more sensitive with many of the older buildings restored and new buildings have often been built with more than nodding acquaintance to their Georgian surroundings.

A look at the history of the buildings and these streets soon reveals the lives of the people and the industries that made Whitehaven for a time one of the greatest ports in England.

List of Whitehaven Streets in the town centre

Addison Street Albert-Square Albion Street Bardywell Lane
Barker Lane Brackenthwaite Bransty Row Carter Lane
Catherine Street Chapel Street Charles Street Church Street
Coach Road Coates Lane College Street Corkickle
Cross Street Duke Street Flatt Walks Foxhouses Road
Fox Lane Gale Lane George Street Ginns
Greggs Lane Hamilton Lane Hicks Lane High Street
Hilton Terrace Howgill Street Inkerman Terrace Irish Street
James Pit Road James Street Johns Lane Kelsick Lane
King Street Littledale Lane Love Lane Lowther Street
Market Place Mark Lane Marlborough Street Michael Street
Mill Street Mount Pleasant Newhouses New Lowther Street
New Street Newtown Nicholsons Alley Peter Street
Pipehouse Lane Plumblands Lane Pottery Road Preston Street
Quay Street Queen Street Ribton Lane Richmond Terrace
Roper Street Rosemary Lane Sandhills Lane Schoolhouse Lane
Scotch Street Senhouse Street Strand Street Swing Pump Lane
Tangier Street Tickell Lane Wellington Row West Strand
Williamson Lane Windmill Brow

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WAWL 2008