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Stage 2 - The Beacon and John Paul Jones
Whitehaven Harbour has seen all kinds of action, the John Paul Jones attempt of attacking the harbour being one of the most dramatic – or at least it could have been had not his fellow sailors gone to the pub and stayed there!
Whitehaven was once one of the largest ports in England in the 1700s - second only to London.
Coal-mining and shipbuilding provided work and wealth for the town.
Over 1,000 vessels were built in the Whitehaven shipyards.
The third oldest iron-built ship still in use was built in Whitehaven in 1888 and has been moored in the centre of Stockholm since 1949 as a floating youth hostel under the name 'Af Chapman'.
Whitehaven was once the most important rum port of the UK - that intoxicating drink was a favourite of many.
Tobacco was another favourite trade good and Whitehaven soon became the main importer on the West Coast.
Whitehaven was the first planned town since medieval times and is said to have inspired the grid lay-out of New York.
John Paul Jones, the founder of the American Navy was trained in the town and he was also in charge of the only American invasion of the English mainland - in Whitehaven.
The grandmother of the first president of the USA, Mildred Gale, is buried in Whitehaven.
As we come over to the other side of the sea lock, we will soon be on the Old Quay.
Capt. David Allan is our harbour guide* and as the ex-harbour master he is well acquainted with Whitehaven harbour.
"There is a difference in the construction of the stone work and that was extended in about four different periods after 1634."
Half-way along the Old Quay, there is quite a significant depression in the pier itself which came from settlement of the whole quay.
The Pier Master's House
"I understood that they laid the foundation for these pier walls on oak trees. Well of course, that oak, over 400 years would have rotted a wee bit."
After considerable amounts of reinforcing the inner bits of the old piers with a cement grouting and steel shutters, the Old Quay is now stable.
The house and watch tower on the right hand side of the pier is better known as the Pier Master's House.
The only unfriendly American invasion
John Paul Jones was a Scot who had learnt his seafaring trade in Whitehaven and who would become the founding father of the American navy.
After sailing to America on the "Friendship of Whitehaven", Jones grew up as an adopted American - returning to Whitehaven in the late 1770s.
During this time, the wars of independence were playing out and John Paul Jones, now a commander in the Continental Navy set sail for Europe.
In 1778, The Ranger was sailing up the western coast, causing havoc on British vessels.
Capt. Allen recalls the story of the story of the John Paul Jones invasion;
"The American sailors sneaking up at night and coming up these stairs, overpowering the pier master to keep his silence.
John Paul Jones - US Navy Image
"And then his boats had the intention of coming into this inner harbour on the tide.
“Of course the old ships and briggs and brigantines, schooners were really thick, piled in here either loading cargo or waiting cargo or whatever and the intention was to set fire to the whole fleet and cause havoc.
“It didn’t come off because I think from the report I’ve seen the American sailors came ashore and got sniff of the rum and beer locally and ended up a little bit tight and went back out to sea with the tails between their legs.”
Paul Jones and the Ranger continued up the coast, but without getting off the ship.
“Here in Whitehaven was the only place where he actually set foot and committed this act of gross aggression as we call it.”
The incident is remembered with a series of statues on the South Harbour quayside, called ‘The Whitehaven Battery’.
As you walk past it, notice the three cannons. They were previously used as bollards in the harbour for years until they were uncovered in the overall work of the harbour.
They were probably not used in the John Paul Jones invasion, but give a good idea of how things might have happened all those years ago.
Whitehaven forgives the Americans
During the first Maritime Festival in 1999, American Marines travelled up to Whitehaven to take part in the festival.
On the Sunday of that first festival, Mr Allen, then harbourmaster, together with the harbour commission and an officer from the American navy signed a proclamation forgiving the 1778 raid by John Paul Jones and the American navy.
“We offered them the freedom of the harbour, much like the freedom of the town – you can send one of your military ships to Whitehaven once a year and we won’t charge you any fees.
“The Americans took this very seriously and that proclamation ended up on the desk of Bill Clinton.
“It’s now on display in the American navy academy at Anapolis in Maryland, another copy is in the Beacon Centre and the third copy is in the harbour commission’s office.”
You can listen to Capt. Allen talking about the John Paul Jones invasion by clicking on the audio links at the right of the page.
The Beacon Centre
The Beacon centre is the home of most of Whitehaven’s maritime heritage with a resource centre and exhibitions.
Sailor ready to spike the cannons
At the top floor of the centre, surrounded by stunning views over the harbour and the Solway Firth, visitors are able to have a go at presenting the weather in the Met Office Weather Gallery.
All around the museum, exhibitions that tell the story of Whitehaven give visitors an insight into life of the ordinary sailors and the trade most of them took part in.
The Beacon offers an excursion to the Whitehaven walk, somewhere to shelter you if the coastal weather gets the best of you.
For opening times and entrance fees, click the Beacon link for more information.
Take the comfy chair tour if this part of the walk by clicking the Picture Gallery link and you'll see some of the highlights!
*Please note that there are no official guides provided for this walk. The guides used in this feature were local experts who offered their expertise to help us put together this feature. This is not an official Whitehaven walk, it has been put together for information and enjoyment only, and will not be recognised by local tourism agencies.
last updated: 11/03/2008 at 12:23
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