Archive centreWhitehaven
TitleCumbria County Council: Port of Workington
DescriptionPort of Workington; puchased by Cumbria County Council from British Steel Corporation in 1975
Operated successively under the Industrial Development Section of Legal and Administrative Services Department or Clerk and Chief Executive's Department; Economic Development and Corporate Policy Development; Economic Development Department; Economy and Environment Department
Transferred to Cumbria Contract Services Group in 1999
ContextWorkington was described as a fishing town as early as the 1530s by Leland, the Antiquarian of Henry VIII's reign, and its natural harbour at the mouth of the river Derwent provided the basis for the development of a port for mineral and industrial goods.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there was a rapid increase in the tonnage of ships visiting Workington, In 1770 97 vessels up to 250 tons increased to 134 ships totalling some 18,941 tons and by 1840 217 ships totalling 36,800 tons used the harbour.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the north bank of the River Derwent was owned by Lord Lonsdale while the south bank was owned by the Curwen family of Workington Hall. Both families had coal mining interests in the area and were keen to develop facilities for the export of coal. During this period investment took place on both sides of the river with the construction of a merchant's quay on the north bank and the erection of a jetty, known as John's Pier, on the south bank.

However the joint ownership of the harbour between the Curwen and Lonsdale families made it difficult to enforce the payment of harbour rates and revenue was unpredictable. By the mid nineteenth century the quay and pier had fallen into disrepair. In 1840 the first Act of Parliament was passed, appointing trustees to regulate and maintain the harbour.

A coal strike in the 1880s and increased local demand for coal by the newly emerging iron and steel industry lead to a permanent decline in the export of coal from Workington. By this time the Workington and West Cumberland Hematite and Iron Companies were well established close to Workington and the new dock concentrated on trade in iron products.

A further Act of Parliament, passed in 1869, transferred ownership of the Harbour to the Earl of Lonsdale. However in 1900 the Workington Railways and Dock Company was formed to acquire the dock. This then became the property of the Workington Harbour and Dock Board, a statutory body, in 1905.

The impact of the First World War, the formation of the United Steel Company Ltd and an increase in the size of ships made it necessary to improve the dock to provide modern shipping facilities. The Workington Harbour and Dock Act of 1920 was passed to enable the extending and deepening of the Lonsdale Dock and to confirm additional financial and other powers upon the Workington Harbour and Dock Board.
Work on deepening and extending the Lonsdale Dock was commenced in 1922 and completed in 1927 at a cost of £650,000. Upon the official opening, performed by the Prince of Wales, the dock was renamed the Prince of Wales Dock. The new dock could handle ships of up to 10,000 tons.

The Workington Harbour and Dock Board continued to operate the dock until the Workington Harbour and Dock (Transfer) Act of 1957. On 1st January 1958 ownership was transferred to the United Steel Company Ltd, which had for many years been the main user of the dock and owned all the loan capital of the old Board. The dock continued to be managed through a subsidiary of United Steel, known as the Workington Harbour and Dock Company Ltd.

However, by the 1970s the port of Workington was unable to take advantage of the increasing size of cargos, up to 150,000 tons, and it was cheaper to bring large cargos to ports on the east coast and transport them by road and rail to Workington. This and the rationalisation of the steel industry in west Cumbria led United Steel's successor, the British Steel Corporation, to consider closure of the dock.
In 1975 Cumbria County Council purchased the dock in order to prevent closure. In recent years the County Council has invested in new facilities such as new cranes, a roll on roll off ramp and liquid chemical storage facilities to enable the Port of Workington to diversify from traditional products. British Steel remained an important customer, however. In 1996 the port handled nearly 1 million tons of cargo.
Related materialTwentieth century legal, administrative and financial records of Workington Harbour can be found in the Workington Harbour and Dock Board papers within the British Steel collection at reference YBSC/18. Earlier records relating to Workington Harbour can be found in DCU/6 and YDX 133 and YDX 153. See also health and operational records in Workington Port Sanitary/Health Authority records at SMBWO/9.
Catalogue levelSubFonds

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CodePerson/Corporate namesDates
NAX317Workington Harbour and Dock Board
CodePlace names
PAX316Workington Harbour/Workington/Cumberland
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