The following is an edited version of the entry in the fourth volume of the Universal British Directory.
Whitehaven is a seaport and market town, distant from London three hundred and fourteen miles, one hundred and thirty four from Manchester, seventy nine from Lancaster, fifty seven from Kendal, twenty seven from Keswick, thirteen and three quarters from Cockermouth, and seven from Workington. The town is situated between two hills, and the harbour lies in a bite from the sea, and the tide formerly used to flow where the town now stands. A storm did great damage to this place in March 1793, when the tide rose six feet above its usual height. In the American war Paul Jones landed here and spiked up the guns, and set fire to two ships in the docks; but by the vigilance of the inhabitants, there was but little damage done, and he was forced to retreat.
Whitehaven has grown up by the encouragement of the Lowther family, from a small place, to be very considerable by the coal trade, which is so much increased of late, that it is the most eminent port in England for it next to Newcastle; for the city of Dublin, and all towns of Ireland on that coast, and some parts of Scotland, and the Isle of Man, are principally supplied from hence. It is frequent in time of war, or upon occasion of cross winds, to have two hundred sail of ships at a time go from this place to Dublin laden with coals.
It is a large, rectangular, well-built town, about one third bigger than the city of Carlisle, but containing three times the number of inhabitants. These inhabitants are all perfectly well lodged, all embarked in profitable employments, of one kind or another; so that they are in a continual scene of unaffected industry, and carry on their affairs with great dispatch, and yet without hurry or confusion. They have a plentiful and commodious market, supplied by and supplying both necessaries and conveniences to a very extensive neighbourhood. The country roundabout, and especially towards St Bees, is admirably cultivated, and strewed with neat and pleasant houses.
In regard to the port, which has a custom house, and a proper appointment of officers, it is now well secured by numerous and costly works, and has every convenience its situation will permit.
The number of ships belonging to this port in September 1792 was 477, tons, 56,415.
The coal mines at this place are perhaps the most extraordinary of any in the known world.
Here are three churches, viz. St James’s, Trinity and Holy church. Likewise Methodist, Quarter and Presbyterian, meetings. James Hogarth Esq. has been a very great benefactor to this town. In 1785 he built a church on Mount Pleasant, which cost sixteen hundred pounds; but as he could not get it consecrated, he opened it for the Methodists. The above gentleman continued building for forty two years, in which time he built two hundred houses, which are still his property: he also built ten square ships, from two hundred and fifty to four hundred tons each. He is the principal subscriber to the Dispensary, and wishes to advance it to an hospital. He also erected a charity school, and endowed it with twenty pounds per annum; he was the first subscriber to the Sunday schools, and still continues one of the principals. He erected and manufactory of work for the poor; he likewise gave a premium for industry. What is remarkable, he always did his business without a clerk.
Market days: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; fair day, August 12.
Peter Barfoot and John Wilkes, Universal British Directory, vol. 4 (London: c.1796)