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July 2003
Restoration - 151 Queen Street
151 Queen Street, Whitehaven
151 Queen Street, Whitehaven

As BBC TWO goes round the country with Restoration, BBC Radio Cumbria's action girl, Caz Graham, takes on the Restoration challenge in Cumbria - to find those forgotten or neglected places of historical importance.

audio Listen to Caz's article on 151 Queen Street.
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You might not think it now but back in the 1700s Whitehaven was the place to go to make your fortune. You could catch a passage to America, try your hand at trading or you might even get rich smuggling rum. 151 Queen Street, a Georgian house built in the 1730s, was right in the middle of the New World buzz.

It was built by William Gale, a merchant who imported tobacco from Virginia, and the house has links with the very origins of the United States; William's brother George married Mildred Washington, the grandmother of George Washington, first U.S. President.

The Gale's weren't quite as important as their illustrious descendants but non the less they played an important part in the development of Whitehaven. They suggested improvements to the harbour and were very successful merchants. William's house, 151, has a well preserved barrel vaulted cellar where the tobacco would have been kept along with rum and other provisions, and part of the house was even set aside for tax collection. And we think the Inland Revenue's bad now!

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.

What's behind the black door?
What's behind the black door?

It sits just back from the road behind some ancient iron railings looking a little sorry for itself. But once you step inside you realise that it's the interior that's really impressive.

There's original floor to ceiling pitch pine panelling from 1680 in many of the rooms. 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.

It's difficult to keep houses like this in good condition and to restore them using all the authentic materials can cost a fortune. Local authorities often know where you can find grants to help and English Heritage can help too, but listed buildings can be a real drain on the bank balance.

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.

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