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27 November 2014

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You are in: Cumbria > Coast > Stage 4 - 151 Queen Street

151 Queen Street

The double-fronted mansion

Stage 4 - 151 Queen Street

Gale Mansion is the oldest large house in Whitehaven and you'd think it would be the town's crowning glory. Once a contender for the BBC Restoration show, it now stands empty waiting to be lovingly restored.

Maritime Whitehaven

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.

Whitehaven can boast having a wealth of Georgian buildings, trouble is a lot of them are in an acute state of repair.

The oldest of the larger houses is situated on 151 Queen Street. Built in the 1730s by  William Gale, it was at the height of Whitehaven’s merchant boom.

William Gale imported tobacco from Virginia so the house has a well-preserved barrel vaulted cellar to store the tobacco and rum.

This double-fronted house is typical of the period, with large reception rooms on the ground floor. There's original floor to ceiling pitch pine panelling from 1680 in many of the rooms.

Queen Street and adjoining warehouse

Queen Street and adjoining warehouse

Several houses round Whitehaven were once decorated like this, but 151 Queen Street is the only one left intact.

There are intricate ceiling cornices and a secret spiral staircase for the servants to use so they didn't have to disturb the ladies and gentlemen of the house.

The main house now stands empty, but its adjoining wing, once a warehouse, is occupied. The servants’ quarters and stables at the back of the house has been turned into a quaint little café.

Walking through the alley-way to the left of the house, you’ll come into the cobbled court-yard and with a bit of imagination you can picture what it might have looked like when the Gale’s lived here.

Nowadays, the past glory of 151 Queen Street is a distant memory. It's on English Heritage's Register of Building's at Risk and is a Grade II* listed building.

The Washington tie

It’s hotly discussed 151 Queen Street is central to Whitehaven's maritime history and it's hoped that in years to come there may be a way to open it up to the public.
The Gale’s American connections are one of Whitehaven’s bigger claims to fame.

Local historian Joe Bragg MBE

Local historian Joe Bragg MBE

William Gale’s brother George married Mildred Washington when he was on one of his travels to Virginia.

Mildred, a widow, had three children from her first marriage, John, Augustine and Mildred. They all travelled with George Gale back to his home-town of Whitehaven in 1699.

When they arrived, the boys were sent to Appleby school and Mildred was about to settle into life as a merchant’s wife. It’s disputed whether or not Mildred and George ever lived at 151 Queen Street, local historian Joe Bragg MBE says not;

“It’s believed she stayed in a house somewhere round the market place. This house at Queen Street belonged to her brother-in-law so I don’t think she lived there.”

Side entrance to cafe

Side entrance to cafe

Success claiming lives

Living conditions in Whitehaven were bad, with over-crowding as people moved to the busy trade town. In 1702, the population had reached 2,972 – overtaking the likes of Bedford, Northampton, Warwick and Southampton. With the overcrowding and bad hygiene came diseases, which in turn claimed many lives.

Like many other families in the town, the Gales were affected of this down-side of a successful trading port. Mildred  died not long after arriving in Whitehaven when giving birth to a daughter in January 1700 who also died.

They are both buried, alongside an African servant who had came over with them and died after falling ill, in the grounds of St Nicholas church.

After her death, Mildred’s will was contested by the executors of her first husband’s estate and the children where sent back to Virginia.

As an adult, Augustine was to father George, a boy who in turn would become the founding father of the United States as President George Washington in 1789.

It’s interesting to think about what would have happened had not Mildred’s will been contested and Augustine Washington had been brought up a Whitehaven merchant’s son.

The square on the front of 151 Queen Street has been named Washington Square and its eye-catching mural is another evidence of Whitehaven’s maritime past.

last updated: 11/03/2008 at 12:16
created: 05/07/2005

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