The Great Deep:
Whitehaven originally formed part of the parish of St. Bees. The first church in Whitehaven was dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of those who made a living on the great deep.
As the population of Whitehaven grew, the church was found to be too small – a new church was built in 1687. The new church was consecrated on July 16th, 1693. The old chapel which had served
Whitehaven was demolished. In 1835 the three parish churches of St. Nicholas, Holy Trinity and St. James split from the mother parish of St. Bees. After nearly two centuries the church of St. Nicholas had deteriorated badly and so a new church was built of red sandstone, taken from a quarry near Egremont. The new church was consecrated in 1883.
In 1955 a plaque was placed in the church by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in memory of Mildred Gale, nee Warner, the grandmother of General George Washington, the first president of the United States of America. In the graveyard at St. Nicholas Church Mildred Gale is buried, the exact location of her grave though is unknown. In 1971 a fire broke out and destroyed most of the church. It was decided not to construct a new building, instead the remaining church tower was fitted out with a small chapel.
Holy Trinity Church was erected in 1715 (featured image). It was a plain stone building externally but inside it was very attractive. Originally the church was to be called King George Church in honour of the King, but it was finally decided that it should be called Holy Trinity. The church interior was very much similar to that of St. Nicholas church, over the alter was a painting of the Ascension by artist Mathias Reid.
In 1947 the church was demolished due to it being structurally unsafe. The graveyard now forms an attractive garden. The original gravestones now stand around the perimeter walls and a fine 19th Century wrought iron gateway marks the churches former site. Sir James Lowther, who died in 1755, is buried in the grounds. The iron gates which originally surrounded his tomb inside the church now mark the four entrances to St. Nicholas’ Church Garden.
In 1753 St. James’ Church was consecrated, it is a fine building which occupies an elevated position at the top of Queen Street, overlooking the town. The tower stands at about 78 feet in height. The fine plaster work on the ceiling is the work of two Italians, Arture and Baggiotti. The east side of the church ceiling represents the Ascension while the west represents the Annunciation. In 1977 St. James became the parish church of the parish of Whitehaven.
In 1671/72 following the suspension of the suppression of monasteries and the Reformation of the Church in England by King Henry VIII, Roman Catholics began to hold religious ceremonies again. In 1706 Father Francis Rich came to Whitehaven from St. Gregory’s, Douai to establish a mission. Father Rich’s cause did not gain any great strength until the latter half of the century. In 1761, Charles Conner bought a house in Duke Street which ran through a lane leading off Catherine Street.
The rear of the house was turned into a chapel, the passage way acquired the name of Chapel Lane. In 1824 the chapel was enlarged, then in 1832 following the cholera epidemic, the Earl of Lonsdale made available a plot of land on Coach Road. This church was erected in 1834 and was dedicated to St. Gregory. In 1865, due to St. Gregory’s becoming too small for its congregation, a new church was constructed, St. Begh’s was dedicated to St. Bega in October, 1886.
In 1742 the Methodist Society came into existence, and its founder, the Rev. John Wesley, visited Whitehaven many times. In 1751 Sir James Lowther gave the society a plot of land in Michael Street for the erection of a chapel. in 1818 the entire chapel was rebuilt on its original site and continued to be used until it was superseded in 1877 by the building on Lowther Street.
Whitehaven has seen many religious movements throughout the centuries, some of which have sadly closed their premises, but others come to the fore and fill the void left behind.