Industrial town in Workington parish, Allerdale above Derwent ward, Cumberland. This entry treats township of Workington and extra-parochial place of Cloffocks, which formed core of Workington MB, established 1883. For adjacent areas, see Harrington; Seaton; Stainburn.


township of Workington covered 3,355 acres [1,358 ha] and Cloffocks (extra-parochial meadow or common land beside River Derwent) 108 acres [44 ha]. In 1894 those parts of Workington township not included in MB became Workington Rural CP, which was, in turn, abolished 1934, when part was reunited with Workington, and remainder transferred to Winscales CP. On expansion of its boundaries in 1934 Workington MB also gained parts of Harrington and Stainburn.


y early 12th century Workington seems to have been part of extensive estates of Ketel son of Eldred; what became fee of Workington also included Harrington, Winscales and Seaton, on coast, and Lamplugh and Kelton inland. Ketel’s descendants took surname Curwen (from Colvend in Galloway) and Workington Hall became seat of Curwens from 13th to 20th century. Male line ended on death of Henry Curwen 1778, when estate passed to his daughter Isabella, who married John Christian (1756-1828) of Ewanrigg (q.v.), who added surname Curwen to his name; Workington descended through their heirs to 20th century. Workington Hall, a fortified house from late 14th century, remodelled in 16th and 17th centuries; Curwen family left 1929; Hall bequeathed to town 1946; now derelict.

Origins and growth of the town:

Workington appears to have been centre of some significance from early date, as suggested by wealth and early foundation of its church (attested by finds of Northumbrian age sculpture) and manor’s position as focal point of fee of Workington. By 16th century Workington was port and small fishing community – ‘where shyppes cum to wher ys a lytle prety fyssher town’ as John Leland described it c.1540 – particularly noted for its salmon fishery at mouth of River Derwent. New dock, between existing ‘harborye for botes’ at mouth of Derwent and ‘fyssh houses’ on shore, was planned 1569. Market charter granted 1573, reflecting growth of trade; salt-making (salt pan on coast) and coal shipments to Ireland recorded 1604-5. Sir Daniel Fleming, writing 1671, described Workington as ‘good haven for ships which carry forth coals, salt and other commodities’. Thomas Denton (writing 1688) valued salmon fishery at £300 per year and implied that sea fish and wildfowl were also exploited. He valued Curwen’s coal mines at £200 per year and wrote of Workington Hall and its extensive demesnes: ‘I do not know of any one seat in all Brittain so commodiously scituate for beauty, pleasure & plenty as this place is’. By early 18th century Workington was firmly established as coal port, shipping coal from Curwens’ collieries in Workington, Harrington, Seaton and Clifton. Coal mining in Workington township expanded in later 18th century, main pits being in Moorbanks, Banklands and Chapel Bank areas. However, by 1820s flooding and catastrophic inflows of sea water into under-sea workings had become serious problems and collieries began to decline; a disaster at Chapel Bank colliery in 1837, when 27 men and boys and 28 horses were drowned, put paid to that colliery. Jane Pit was sunk inland in 1843 but by 1850 coal seams in township were becoming exhausted. Shipbuilding, recorded by 1738 with shipyards at mouth of Derwent, expanded across later 18th and early 19th centuries. Ancillary maritime industries, such as rope walks and sail-making, grew. By mid-19th century other industries included paper-making (at Derwent Paper Mills), brewing (established 1792), iron founding, brick-making and quarrying (for freestone and limestone). Town grew up hill to south-east of early core beside Derwent: planned grid of new streets, centred on Portland Square, laid out 1780s. Workingon’s population stood at 5,716 in 1801 but rose only modestly to 6,280 in 1851. Outside town, John Christian Curwen established his renowned experimental model farm at Schoose c.1800. By mid-19th century coal mining was in decline but Workington experienced major expansion as centre of iron and steel making. By 1860 only Jane Pit was in operation and Workington Colliery ceased production 1875. (Costly attempt was made to re-start coal production by sinking new pit, Solway Pit, 1937; it closed 1973.) Opening of ironworks in Seaton (q.v.) by Workington Haematite Co. 1856 heralded expansion of iron and steel industry and major growth in population, which leapt from 8,413 inhabitants in 1871 to 14,361 in 1881 and 23,749 by 1891. Arrival of railway 1847 linked Workington to other industrial centres in west Cumberland and port’s capacity expanded with construction of Lonsdale Dock (on Seaton side of river) 1865 and further harbour works 1917. Lonsdale Dock deepened and made wider to accommodate larger vessels (and renamed Prince of Wales Dock) 1927. However, coastal trade declined in late 19th century: 80-90 ships had belonged to port c.1870, but only a mere ‘seven to nine’ by 1900. Moss Bay Haematite and Steel Co., established 1871, erected two Bessemer converters at Moss Bay 1872, adding rolling mills 1877. This massive steelworks continued until later 20th century: last converter blown out 1974 and production ceased 1982, though railway rails continued to be made using steel manufactured elsewhere until 2006. Other ironworks c.1900 were Derwent Haematite Iron Co., between Moss Bay and New Yard, which was ‘new’ in 1883; and Kirk Brothers ironworks at New Yard, Marsh side and Derwent Rolling Mills. Shipbuilding continued in second half of 19th century, making merchant vessels. Population growth levelled off in early 20th century, to stand at 24,751 in 1931 (last census year before boundary changes of 1934). On eve of Second World War, Kelly’s Directory summed up Workington’s economy thus: ‘The chief industries here are concerned with the manufacture of iron, steel rails and tinplates; there are also works for the manufacture of iron bridges, fences, gates, rivets, boilers, and railway spikes ... There is also a brewery and a ship-building yard’. Port remained crucial to town’s economy, importing iron ore and exporting iron and steel, as well as coal and lime. Decline of heavy industry after Second World War resulted in downward drift in population across later 20th century, from a peak of 29,552 in 1961, to 24,295 by 2001.

Places of worship:

Medieval parish church of St Michael (dedication recorded as St Mary in 12th century), an early foundation to judge by discovery of pre-Conquest sculpture; rebuilt 1770-2 and again 1887-90; reconstructed again after fire 1994. Chapel, called the ‘watch chapell’ in 1569, on coast at Chapel Hill (otherwise ‘How Michael’ or ‘St Michael’s Mount’); roofless in 1883, when known as ‘Old Chapel’. With growth of population, second Anglican church, St John’s, Washington Street, built at opposite end of town from parish church 1821-3; tower rebuilt 1847. St Mary’s church, Westfield, built 1889, as chapel of ease to St John’s. Protestant cemetery on Harrington Road consecrated 1879. Roman Catholic mission established at Banklands 1811 and Benedictine priory opened 1813, with chapel dedicated to St Michael. Increasing immigration from Ireland led to need for larger building; church of Our Lady Star of the Sea built adjacent to priory 1873-6. Catholics were buried at Bank Cemetery. Presbyterian congregation formed in town 1742; chapel built on Thompson Street 1750; enlarged 1858 but replaced by larger building on same site 1888; closed 1972, then used by other denominations; now demolished. Independent (Congregational) chapel, William Street, built 1780; enlarged 1855 and rebuilt 1884; became United Reformed Church after merger with Presbyterians; congregation merged with Methodists 2008; now Workington United Church. Methodist chapel, Tiffin Lane, built 1791 and replaced by larger building in William Street 1840, which burnt down 1889 and was replaced by Trinity Methodist Church on same site, built 1890; closed after merger with United Reformed congregation 2008; sold 2016. Primitive Methodist chapel built 1827; replaced by larger chapel in Gothic style 1882; closed 1965 and demolished. United Free Methodist church, Victoria Road, built 1890-1; closed and sold 1939; now Bolton Street Community Hall. Wesleyan Methodist chapel, Queen Street, an iron church, built 1894; closed 1950s (later used by amateur operatic society). Baptist chapel, Harrington Road, built 1886; demolished 1980s and replaced by modern building on same site on corner of Gray Street; now Grace Evangelical Baptist Church. Seamen’s Christian Friends’ Society built Bethel chapel on quayside 1899; now used by Christian Spiritualists. Other nonconformist places of worship by end of 19th century included Salvation Army barracks, Edkin Street; several mission halls and Christian Brethren meetings in Dent Hall. By 1938 there were also places of worship for Plymouth Brethren and Church of Christ and church on Vulcan’s Lane, now Emmanuel church of Evangelical Connexion of Free Church of England.


School endowed 1664 by will of Sir Patricius Curwen (d. 1664), probably forerunner of National school, Portland Square, established by John Christian Curwen 1808. School of Industry, Guard Street, founded 1816, had object of encouraging industriousness in poor girls and making them ‘notable housekeepers and good Christians’. Infant school (which became Wilson’s Infant School) added at Guard Street site 1831. By 1847 there was a second infant school, Bell Street. Spacious new National schools built c.1860 close to Anglican churches of St Michael and St John, later becoming Board schools. Further Board schools on Marsh and at Westfield (built c.1883). School run by Roman Catholic church by 1860s; St Joseph’s RC High School opened 1929. Guard Street premises of Wilson’s Infant School used for new Workington Higher Grade School, established 1894, later known as Central Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, which moved to new premises on High Street 1932. These amalgamated 1947 to become mixed secondary modern school (Newlands School), which became girls-only 1967 and closed on reorganisation 1984.

Workington - Schools

In 1664 Sir Patricius Curwen (1602-1664) endowed a school at Workington in his will. It was probably the forerunner of the National School at Portland Square, established by John Christian Curwen in 1808.  The School of Industry, Guard Street, founded 1816, had the object of encouraging industriousness in poor girls and making them ‘notable housekeepers and good Christians’.

An Infants’ school (which became Wilson’s Infant School) was added at the Guard Street site in 1831. By 1847 there was a second infants’ school in Bell Street.  Spacious new National schools were built c.1860 close to the Anglican churches of St Michael and St John; they became Board schools.  Further schools were established by the School Board on the Marsh and at Westfield (built c.1883).

The Guard Street premises of Wilson’s Infant School were used for the new Workington Higher Grade School, established in 1894, later known as the Central Boys and Girls Schools, which moved to new premises on High Street in 1932.  These were amalgamated in 1947 to become a mixed secondary modern school, Newlands School, which became girls-only in 1967 and closed on reorganisation in 1984.

There was a school by the Roman Catholic church by the 1860s.  St Joseph’s Roman Catholic High School was opened in 1929.

The County Secondary School and Cumberland Technical College, Park Lane, was built in 1912 and enlarged 1933-4.  After the reorganisation of secondary schooling in 1984, the site became Workington College of Further Education,until 1969, when it was amalgamated with Whitehaven CFE with the title West Cumberland College of Science and Technology and after 1974 as West Cumbria College. It moved to the new campus at Lillyhall, Winscales in 2001 as The Lakes College (West Cumbria).  The Park Lane site was demolished in 2005 and Workington Community Hospital and social housing was built on the site.

New schools were built on the housing estates at Moorclose and Salterbeck as the town expanded in the later 20th century, including a secondary school, Southfield Technology College.

New schools, including a secondary school, Southfield Technology College, built on housing estates at Moorclose and Salterbeck as town expanded in later 20th century.

Other institutions:

Parish workhouse opened just outside town 1793; continued to house Workington’s poor until 1853 (by which time Workington had become part of Cockermouth Union). Building converted to fever hospital (Ellerbeck Hospital for Infectious Diseases) 1888 and later became part of Workington Infirmary; closed 1965. Workington Infirmary, opened 1886, closed 2005; replaced by Workington Community Hospital, on site of former Technical College. Public halls included Assembly Room (known alternatively by 1900 as Drill Hall), Portland Square, built before 1847; Albert Hall, Fisher Street, built 1883 (it and Public Hall, Hag Hill, were said to be chief venues for auctions and concerts, 1901); and Jubilee Hall (or Queen’s Opera House), built 1887. By 1883 there were also halls in Savings Bank (built 1844), Good Templar’s Hall, Free Gardeners’ Hall and Victoria Hall. Parochial library in infant school, Guard Street; lending library at Methodist chapel and news room in Portland Square by 1847. Mechanics’ Institute opened in Savings Bank 1847; new library and reading room opened there 1891; moved to new premises when Carnegie Library and Lecture Hall opened 1904; now closed. Helena Thompson Museum opened 1949 in Park End, a house bequeathed to town 1940. Theatre in Christian Street said in 1847 to be ‘seldom visited by a company of comedians’. Lyceum Theatre, Washington Street, opened 1866; renamed Theatre Royal 1874; still open. Cinemas included Opera House (which replaced Jubilee Hall after fire 1927) and Ritz Cinema (opened 1938; closed 1988).