Sir Christopher Lowther initially had the first pier built in 1633 to facilitate the export of salt from saltpans which he owned. Following Sir Christopher's death in 1644, the Whitehaven estate was left to his son, John. Sir John was aged two at the time so the estate was controlled by trustees.
In 1655 Sir John began in earnest to develop the coal industry. The demand for coal in Dublin had increased substantially, so to meet the requirements Sir John had the pier lengthened. It was completed in 1665.
By 1687 the coal trade continued to be profitable, Sir John again lengthened the pier. To meet the requirements of the growing merchant fleet 'The Bulwark' was built in 1710, in 1804 the Bulwark was moved to its present position, then in 1872 it was incorporated as part of the Queens Dock.
In 1739 it was decided to build a mole behind the Old Quay for the reception of large ships when fully laden. This became known as the Old New Quay.
During 1726 twenty yards off Wharf was built on the seaward side of the Old Quay. In 1735 a second
Bulwark was built, it is known as the Old Tongue or Sugar Tongue. In 1754 a new tongue was built out from Marlborough Street, it became known as the Lime Tongue or New Tongue.
Following discussions held in 1766 the North Wall was started, more work was carried out on it following another resolution in 1780 and again in 1785 it was decided to add a return to the North Wall, this being the straight part of the Devils Elbow, the final section was added in 1804.
In 1823 plans were submitted by Sir John Rennie about extending the limits of the harbour. This work resulted in the West Pier being constructed, it was completed in 1838. It extended 340 yards from the Old New Quay.
In 1832 Rennie was consulted about sand deposits, he recommended the building of a pier extending seaward 1,100 feet, canting to the west and terminating with a round head. The work began in 1833, but was suspended due to talks about the design of the pier. In 1836 modified designs were submitted, work was completed on the pier in 1838.
As the North Pier was unfinished the harbour trustees requested Mr Ebeneezer Stiven to provide a design. Mr Stiven recommended that the jetty be taken down and the pier canted south west with a rounded head. This work was completed in 1841.
In 1869 Mr Stiven was again asked to provide a design for the harbour. this time the trustees asked for a wet dock. the plan was accepted by the trustees. Following the Dock and Harbour Act in 1871 work commenced on the construction. It was completed in 1876 and named the Queens Dock in honour of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately serious problems were encountered with Queens Dock, there was severe shrinkage and cracking, said to be due to moving foundations. In 1880 the Dock
was closed to enable necessary repairs to be carried out. In 1882 the Dock re-opened.
In the middle of the 18th Century Whitehaven had become one of the most important ports in the Kingdom. Unfortunately at the start of the 19th Century Whitehaven's importance was declining. The shallow waters of the Solway severely limited the size of ships which could enter the port. As the displacement of merchant vessels steadily increased, the deep water ports such as Liverpool and Glasgow prospered at the expense of Whitehaven.
Today Whitehaven looks forward to the future following the redevelopment of its historic harbour at a cost of £11.3 million, funded by the Millennium Commission and other interested parties.