Shipbuilding In Whitehaven

Lord Shaftesbury, Whitehaven Ship

1,000+ Ships Built:

In 1690, when the coal trade with Ireland was expanding rapidly, Sir John Lowther brought ship carpenters to the town.

The earliest vessel built at Whitehaven was the Cookson, built in 1757, weighing 79 tons. The Cookson had a long life, but was wrecked at Port St. Mary, Scotland, on 6th March 1832.

Between the years of 1743 and 1786 at least 187 vessels were constructed. The busiest years being 1764 and 1765 when eleven and fourteen ships, respectively, were launched. The largest sailing ship to be built in Whitehaven was the Alice A. Leigh, a 4-masted barque, weighing 2,929 tons, launched in September 1889.

Launch Of The Alice 'A' Leigh
Launch Of The Alice ‘A’ Leigh

Over 1000 ships have been identified as being built in Whitehaven yards, most of them being collier vessels of 150 to 250 tons.

The only iron vessel which survives intact is the af Chapman – she is preserved in Stockholm harbour as a tourist attraction. She was launched as the Dunboyne in 1885, renamed in 1915 as the G. D. Kennedy then was purchased as a training vessel for the Swedish Navy. She made her last voyage in 1937. The af Chapman is the worlds third oldest surviving iron built vessel.

The only ‘surviving’ wooden ship is the ‘Vicar of Bray’. She was launched in 1841 by Robert Hardy and participated in the famous American Gold Rush. She became damaged in 1880 and is now incorporated into a jetty at Goose Green, the Falkland Islands.

The most famous of Whitehaven yards were established by Daniel Brocklebank in 1782, after his death, his two sons, Thomas and John continued to build ships on the North Shore, and also established the famous Brocklebank shipping line which operated out of Liverpool. Eventually this company was taken over by the great Cunard Line.

At the start of the 19th Century Whitehaven was still a busy port, but its importance was declining. The shallow waters of the Solway severely limited the size of ships. This eventually led to the loss of the shipbuilding which once placed Whitehaven as a port of international importance.