Whitehaven rose as a port from its early fishing village past following Sir Christopher Lowther building the first stone pier in 1634 for the export of salt and coal. By 1700 nearly 80% of Ireland’s coal was imported from the town. The second quay to be built was the Bulwark Quay which was demolished and repositioned to its present position in 1711. Sugar Tongue Quay was built in 1735 to unload cargoes of sugar from the West Indies and Lime Quay (from which limes were exported) was erected in 1754.
By the middle of the 18th century Whitehaven was a larger port than Liverpool, ranking only after London and Bristol in size and trade. With the building of ever larger iron steamships the harbour was too shallow. The construction of West Pier (1838) and North Pier (1841) were followed by Queens Dock being built in 1876. The sea lock now enclosing the harbour was only built in 1998.
With the decline of the coal and iron industries in the late Victorian period, the port relied more heavily on the local fishing industry which grew in the first half of the 20th century. Since then the fleet of some 200 boats has declined with the larger over 20 metre sized boats tending to be registered in Irish Sea based ports and contributing the majority of the current 15,000 tonnes catch landed in Whitehaven each year.