The history of Workington dates back to Roman times, when it was the site of defence structures protecting the coast against attacks from Irish and Scottish tribes, of which the Caledonii were the most infamous and powerful. A fort was constructed, later known as the Burrows Walls, on the north bank of the River Derwent mouth near Siddick Pond and Northside. Another watchtower or fort would have been on How Michael to the south side of the river near Chapel Bank. The fortifications proved to be ineffective, and by the year 122 the Romans had started construction of Hadrian's Wall from Bowness to Wallsend on the North Sea. Remains of a Roman fort have been discovered around the church of Moresby to the south, and more fortifications to the north are further evidence that the coastal wall once extended down the whole Solway coast as part of the Roman Empire's defences. The Burrow Walls fort was likely known as Magis.
The origin of the name Workington dates back well over a millennium, when settlers arrived to the fertile lands led by a man named Weorc. They named their settlement Weorcingas tun, literally the settlement of the people of Weorc. The spelling of the town's named changed over 105 times throughout history, finally settling for current day Workington. The area around St Michael's Church was once home to a community of monks. Considering elevated sea levels at the time, it is possible the community may have lived on an island south of the river's mouth.
The discovery of a Viking sword at Northside indicates the possible existence of a settlement on the river mouth. The area is thought to be part of a burial site, and many more evidence of Viking activity has subsequently been discovered in the area.
Workington remained little more than a fishing village until the 16th century when docks were built to facilitate the export of coal mined around Workington. It industrialized rapidly and became an important hub for the iron and ore industry. Queen Elizabeth encouraged the mining of metal ores in the area around Keswick in 1566, and ships built in Bristol were used to transport ore and metal to other parts of England, and to import timber from Ireland to help smelting ore. At the time, England was short of metals and weapons technology, so the ore was important to support the manufacture of cannons and other weaponry. The combination of iron ore and coal deposits enabled the iron industry to flourish in Cumbria.
When Henry Bessemer introduced his process for steel making, it revolutionized the steel industry in Workington because the abundance of phosphorus-free hematite iron ore served as the prefect precursor for commercial steel production. Bessemer's revolutionary process used a novel furnace that made use of forced air convection through molten pig iron, thus burning off the carbon and turning it into steel. Workington was chosen as the site where Bessemer's company built the first 2 blast furnaces using the process named after him in 1857, and 2 more down south a few years later. The sector would continuously expand until the late 20th century, and eventually included manufacturing of many different steel goods. Workington steel mills were particularly known as manufacturer of railway rails, which were exported worldwide. During the Second World War, the Allies relocated a strategically important electric steel furnace producing aircraft engine ball bearings from Norway to Workington to prevent it from falling into Axis hands when a Nazi invasion of Norway was imminent.
From the 1970s onward, ore and coal mining in Cumbria started to struggle to remain competitive. Cheaper resources were initially imported from Sweden but by 1982 the last steel mill was forced out of business, ending 4 centuries of mineral processing in the town. With the two industries on which it was built shut down, Workington plunged into an economic depression along with many other towns and cities in Cumbria. The economic revival has been slow, and run-down factories and warehouses can still be seen around the area. Some of the workforce has since found reemployment in chemical and cardboard manufacturing industries, waste recycling, and in the nuclear industry hub around nearby Sellafield.
Workington lies south of the River Derwent on the West Cumbrian coastal plain of the Irish Sea, a section called Solway Firth. The famous Lake District is immediately to the east.
By far the most comfortable way to reach Workington is by train, as the Cumbrian Coast Line passes through the town. Get off at 1 . The journey takes ca. 2 hours from Lancaster, or 1 hour from Carlisle. The station shop sells snacks and beverages but only accepts cash.
A cycle path runs along the coastline, and the stretches around Workington have been rebuilt since the 2010s and well maintained.
There are no scheduled ferry services to/from Workington.
Buses 30, 31 and 50 travel between the station and the historic centre, where many of the tourist sites are located. Get off at. For the Old Mill, take bus 35 of 47 from and get off at from where the Mill is a 20-min walk. For Schoose, take bus 302 or X9 and get off at . Bus 300 covers most of the places of interest to the traveller. A ticket costs £1.80.
Almost nothing remains of the historic centre of Workington — most of it was converted into a pedestrian shopping district, and traditional sandstone buildings with green slate roofs were demolished to make space for characterless department stores. A few architectural gems remain, most notably Curwen Hall and the churches around town. The Helena Thompson Museum is the only museum in town. In the area east of St. Michael's Church, around 2 Fisher St. for example, some of the historic outlooks of Workington have been preserved: small worker houses with white painted facade and slate roofs.
- 1 Workington Hall (Curwen Hal). Ruins of the Curwen Estate, and classified as a Grade I listed building with cultural heritage value. The house dates back to the early 15th century and was built as a fortified tower house. Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote a letter from Workington Hall to Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1568 after her defeat at the Battle of Langside. Disguised as an ordinary woman, Mary crossed the Solway Firth and landed at Workington where she spent her first night in England as an honoured guest at Workington Hall. The house was upgraded in the 1780s, and gardens were added by Thomas White. The hall remained the home of the Curwen family until 1929. The building was then requisitioned by the War Office when the First World War broke out an suffered a fire while troops were stationed there. After the war the Curwen family decided to pass the hall over to the Workington Town Council to be used as a town hall, but it was never used for that purpose.
- 2 Helena Thompson Museum, Park End Rd, CA14 4DE, ☏ . M-F 10:00-16:30, Su 13:30-16:30. Museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Helena Thompson, with numerous artifacts illustrating her life on display as well as a Victorian parlour.
- 3 St Michaels Church. Church dating from the 12th century, with a marble plaque near the rear of the church dating it to the 1150s. An earlier 7th-century monastery may have been at the same site. 11th-century texts describe the arrival of monks from Lindisfarne bringing artifacts to Workington following the plundering of Northumbria by the Vikings in 875. The monks are presumed to have stayed at the monastery. At the time of its first construction in the 12th century, the church had a double function of worship and protection. It served a local population of fishermen and farmers. Much of the church was rebuilt between 1770 - 1170. It was damaged by fire in 1887 and again in 1994, requiring complete refurbishing of its interior on both occasions. The church was constructed in calciferous sandstone and pink sandstone with a green slate roof decorated with coped gables and cross finials. It consists of a nave with aisles, a short chancel, a polygonal north vestry, and a west tower. The Norman tower is the oldest surviving part of the original church.
- 4 St John's Church. Anglican parish church and classified as a grade II* listed building on the National Heritage List for England. It was built between 1822 - 1823 after a design by Thomas Hardwick, originally as a chapel with a wooden tower. It was upgraded to a stone building in 1847 by Nelson of Carlisle, constructed in a hammer-dressed calciferous sandstone with ashlar plinth, pilasters and eaves similar to St Michael's Church. The architectural style is Neoclassical, with a green slate roof. The tower is square at the base, then becomes octagonal, with pairs of pilasters, and the round cap at the top. The sides of the church are lined with tall round-headed windows. The galleries on three sides of the church are supported by thin fluted cast iron columns. The flat plastered ceiling is decorated with ribbing and coasts of arms. Notable on the west end is the completely gilded Italianate baldacchino, designed by Ninian Comper, as were the cover of the front, the stained glass in the east window, and the organ case in Ionic style. The organ was built in 1905 by Richard Heslop, then rebuilt in 1961 by Rushworth and Dreaper.
- 5 St Mary's Church. Church erected in pink St Bees sandstone in 1885, with a tower added in 1905 - 1907. It has dressings in calciferous sandstone and red sandstone, and a Welsh slate roof with coped gables and a cross finial. Its interior consists of a single nave, and a chancel with north vestry. The west tower has three stages, incorporating a porch, with Tudor-style windows and bell openings. At the top is a corbelled battlemented parapet.
- 6 Joseph Pirt And Co Engineering Works. Late 18th-century iron foundry erected in a calciferous sandstone with quoins, with a green slate roof with coped gables. The three storey building has a central projecting square chimney in calciferous sandstone at the base, and stepped in brick in the upper parts. Its arched window heads are one of the most recognizable features.
- 7 Jane Pit engine house. The Jane Pit engine house, built in 1843 in calciferous and red sandstone on a rectangular plinth, has a battlemented parapet, a bracketed cornice, an unusual two-bay oval tower with higher circular chimney, and architrave doorways and windows. The chimney has brick-arched stoke holes at the base, and just like the adjacent chimney a battlemented parapet below its neck. The engine house and chimneys were built to house machinery for the Jane shaft of a coal mine.
- 8 Schoose Mill (Byres Farm). A 19th-century model farm erected in calciferous sandstone with pilastered quoins and a hipped green slate roof. It featured a prominent windmill, of which the tower remains as a landmark.
- 9 The Old Mill. An early 19th-century water mill on the north bank of the River Derwent, 3 km north east of Workington. The house remains, built in a typical local calciferous sandstone with quoins and a Welsh slate roof with coped gables. The two storey building has two bays, a plank door with a stone surround and a bracketed hood, and sash windows with stone surrounds and false keystones.
- 10 The harbour. 24/7. At the point where the River Derwent flows into the harbour, the old docks are a remnant of Workingtons industrial history. Two benches offer a nice view over the docks now reclaimed by leisure vessels rather than cargo ships, with the current active shipping yard to the north. Free.
- 11 Cross House. A late 18th-century house extended in the early 19th century, with angle pilasters, eaves cornice, and a green slate roof with coped gables. The doorway and sash windows have stone surrounds. It is a Grade II Listed Building of cultural heritage.
- 12 Trades Hall. An early 19th-century social club, stuccoed on a chamfered plinth with angle pilasters and an eaves cornice. Typical for the region, it has a green slate roof with coped gables. The doorway has a pilastered surround with a false keystone and radial fanlight, with windows that are sashes in stone surrounds. It is a Grade II listed building and protected cultural heritage site.
- 13 Opera House (Queen's Jubilee Hall). The Opera as it was known, was designed by T.L. Banks & Townsend, and has a small auditorium with two balconies accommodating 1130 spectators. It is equipped with a small stage with a procenium widht of 11 m, a depth of 9 m and a grid height of 14 m. It also features an orchestra pit for 16 musicians. It was gutted by fire in 1927 and rebuilt with a wider auditorium, ornamental ceiling and seating capacity upgraded to 1200. The facade was rebuilt between 1963 and 1970. The building is not listed as cultural heritage, and has been under threat of demolition by real estate developers to be replaced with retail units and flats.
- 14 Billy Bumley's Hut. Iconic shelter with precise origins unknown, it is thought to be the hut of a coastguard harbour worker. Restored by the town's civic trust and Workington Regeneration group.
Monuments and memorials
- 15 War Memorial Cenotaph. 24/7. First World War memorial constructed in 1928, consisting of a cenotaph in Shap granite designed by Robert Lorimer. The 9-m-high structure stands on a stepped base, with an alcove on each side, round-headed on two sides and circular on the other. Bronze panels depicting soldiers on two sides, and the town's industries fill the other two sides. There are carvings above the alcoves, under which the cenotaph reduces in size and is surmounted by a granite lamp. Free.
- 16 Peat Memorial Obelisk. This unusual memorial commemorates a local physician, and is erected in a polished Dalbeattie granite with a height of 7 m with an obelisk of 4 m. It stands on a tapered pedestal on a stepped base, which is inscribed with quotations in English and Latin.
- 1 The Royal Yew, Cross Keys Cottages, Dean, CA14 4TJ, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 12:00 - 14:30, 17:30-23:00 daily. A pub also serving snacks and food in large portions. Dogs welcome.
- 2 Oily's, Winscales, CA14 4JG, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Traditional British pub with a selection of beers from the Western Lake District and local cuisine.
- 1 Washington Central Hotel, Washington St, CA14 3AY, ☏ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Hotel in the centre of Workington, equipped with an indoor swimming pool and sauna facilities. As the most prominent hotel in the town, reservation in advance is recommended. Wifi password: clocktower89 £95.
- 2 The Sleepwell Inn, Washington St, CA14 3AX, ☏ . A motel just outside the commercial district of Washington Street.
- 3 Waverley Hotel, Gordon St, CA14 2EN, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Fairly posh classic hotel with restaurant and free wifi £68.
- 4 The Cumberland Hotel, Station Rd, CA14 2XQ, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Basic hotel right next to the railway station. £72.