The Georgian town of Whitehaven was one of the first planned towns in the country. Both the shipping and mining industries on which the town was built have declined, but this masterpiece of Georgian town planning has survived and now boasts a thriving shopping centre and an impressive marina. It is also home to the Beacon; a museum and gallery telling the history of Whitehaven harbour and the story of its industrial heritage and the pit disasters of the 19th and 20th centuries. The development of Whitehaven owes much to the Lowther family. It was Sir John Lowther, inspired by Christopher Wren's designs for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666, who laid out the original grid system of streets and specified the type of houses to be built. Many historians believe that New York's street system was inspired by Whitehaven's grid system.


Whitehaven boasts historic ties to the American Navy through John Paul Jones. John Paul was a Scot serving a seaman's apprenticeship in the town. In 1764 he joined the crew of a slave ship called the 'King George' of Whitehaven. He soon quit the slave trade in disgust, calling it "an abominable trade' and went on to become a captain by the age of 21. By 1775 he had changed his name to John Paul Jones and was based in Virginia, where he was commissioned as first lieutenant of the American Navy. Another famous son of the town was Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, who lived above the harbour in his youth. It has been suggested that looking down on the sailing vessels in the harbour from his cliff-top home was instrumental in his later writings.