Port History

Workington started as an old market town and seaport situated at the mouth of the River Derwent and its history dates back to Roman times when during the Roman occupation Workington was the site of a Hadrianic fort which formed part of the Roman Coastal defences.

During the 14th century Workington Hall was the hereditary seat of the Curwen family, Lords of the Manor. In 1568 the Hall was refuge for Mary Queen of Scots during her flight from Scotland.


Mary Queen of Scots sailed across the Solway Firth from Dundrennan Abbey, Scotland and landed on Workington’s shore 16th May 1568.   She was cared for in Workington Hall for three days before being escorted to Cockermouth from where she was collected and taken to Carlisle Castle. This was the beginning of her 19 years of captivity which ended with her trial for treason and execution.


Vessels were loading coal for Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century. A wagonway from Seaton Colliery was opened in 1732, reaching the River Derwent at the downstream end of Low Cloffocks where coal hurries were constructed from which vessels were loaded. The Harbour Accounts of the 1730’s show that there were buoys, marker posts, beacons, dredging work and new stone paving. These facilities were extended by a tidal cut of 1763-9. On the south side were a series of staithes linked by wagonways to local collieries. This was extended seawards by the Dock Quay of 1798, and the Merchants Quay on the other side of the cut.


It was at Workington that Henry Bessemer introduced his revolutionary steel making process. During the 18th and 19th centuries more than thirty pits were in operation, and Workington remained the centre of steel production in northwest England for 100 years. A favourite local saying referred to the railway tracks made in Workington and exported through the Port to other countries as “holding the world together”. As an area with a large quantity of haematite iron ore, Workington rapidly became an iron producing town and the Lonsdale Dock was built in 1864 to handle the trade. Opened in 1865, the dock was capable of accommodating vessels of 2,000 tonne dead weight.


Rapid growth of the iron and steel industry in West Cumberland called for increased port facilities and so, after the First World War, the Lonsdale Dock was improved and extended. The new dock was renamed the Prince of Wales Dock, being officially opened on 30th June 1927 by HRH the Prince of Wales.


Port transferred from a subsidiary of British Steel to Cumbria County Council.