Workington

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Workington is a town, civil parish and port on the west coast of Cumbria, England, at the mouth of the River Derwent. Lying within the Borough of Allerdale, Workington is 32 miles (51.5 km) southwest of Carlisle. It has a population of 24,121.

Workington is close to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Historically a part of Cumberland, the area around Workington has long been a producer of coal, steel and high-grade iron ore.

Workington is the seat of Allerdale Borough Council, which is one of three borough councils in Cumbria, and is a parliamentary constituency.

Historically a part of Cumberland, the area around Workington has long been a producer of coal, steel and high grade iron ore.

Between 79AD and 122AD, Roman forts, mile-forts and watchtowers were established down the Cumbrian coast. They acted as coastal defences against attacks by the Scoti in Ireland and by the Caledonii, the most powerful tribe in what we now call Scotland. The 16th century book, Britannia, written by William Camden describes ruins of the coastal defences at Workington.

A Viking sword was discovered at Northside, which is believed to indicate that there was a settlement on the river mouth.

In 2009 several bridges were damaged or destroyed by the river Derwent during the 2009 Workington floods

In 2006, Washington Square a £50 million town shopping centre was opened. It replaced the run down St John’s Arcade, built in the 1960s and ’70s with a modern 275,000 sq ft (25,500 m2) mixed use complex. In 2007, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors named Washington Square as the ‘best commercial project’ in the north west of England. Among the centre’s main attractions are a new Debenhams, Next, River Island, HMV and Costa Coffee.

Several new installations of public art were installed in the town centre, including:

  • Glass Canopies designed by Alexander Beleschenko
  • The Coastline by Simon Hitchens
  • The Hub by BASE Structures and Illustrious
  • The Grilles architectural metalwork at Central car park by Tom Lomax in association with pupils from St Patrick’s Primary School. and Alan Dawson.
  • Central Way public toilets with tiles designed in collaboration between ceramic artist Paul Scott and writer Robert Drake, in additio to a fish tank containing species from the Solway provided by the Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport. by Paul Scott and Robert Drake.
  • The Lookout Clock, and interactive town clock designed by Andy Plant and Matt Wand.

While successful efforts have been made to find appropriate local names for the major streets of the new shopping centre, the initial planning title of Washington Square has been retained; there is concern is over the use of the word Washington, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning the settlement of the people of ‘Wash’ for the new square in Workington, which means settlement of the people of ‘Weorc’.

A plan to build a 92,900 sq ft (8,630 m2) Tesco Extra store on the Cloffocks proved controversial with much opposition from local people; a planning application was placed in 2006 by Tesco, after it acquired the Cloffocks site for £18 million; Tesco had been competing with Asda to acquire the site since 2003. Campaigners opposed the sale, stating that the land was common ground and belonged to the people of Workington, in 2010 the Countess of Lonsdale invoked her rights to mine the land, in an attempt to prevent the development. In 2011 a closed meeting of Allerdale councillors took place to discuss the sale of the site, the council rescinded on its decision to sell the site to Tesco in June 2011. Tesco stated that they were still seeking a site for a store of around 60,000 sq ft (5,600 m2) in Workington to replace the established store.

Workington lies astride the River Derwent, on the West Cumbrian coastal plain. It is bounded to the west by the Solway Firth, part of the Irish Sea, and by the Lake District fells to the east.

The town comprises various districts, many of which were established as housing estates. North of the river these districts include Seaton, Barepot, Northside, Port and Oldside. On the south side are the districts of Stainburn, Derwent Howe, Ashfield, Banklands, Frostoms (Annie Pit), Mossbay, Moorclose, Salterbeck, Bridgefoot, Lillyhall, Harrington, High Harrington, Clay Flatts, Kerry Park, Westfield and Great Clifton. The Marsh and Quay, a large working class area of the town around the docks and a major part of the town’s history, was demolished in the early 1980s. Much of the former area of the Marsh is now covered by Clay Flatts Industrial Estate.

The Cumbria iron ore field lies to the south of Workington, and produced extremely high grade phosphorus-free haematite. The area had a long tradition of iron smelting, but this became particularly important with the invention by Sir Henry Bessemer of the Bessemer process, the first process for mass production of mild steel, which previously had been an expensive specialist product. For the first 25 years of the process, until Gilchrist and Thomas improved it, it required phosphorus-free haematite. With Cumbria as the world’s premier source of this, and the local coalfield also available for steel production, the world’s first large-scale steelworks was opened in the Moss Bay area of the town. The Bessemer converter continued to work until 1977. The Moss Bay Steelworks were closed in 1982, despite having received significant infrastructural investment and improvement almost immediately prior to the closure.

During World War II, a strategically important electric steel furnace which produced steel for aircraft engine ball bearings was relocated to Workington from Norway to prevent it falling into Axis hands.

Workington was the home of Distington Engineering Company (DEC), the engineering arm of British Steel Corporation (BSC), which specialised in the design of continuous casting equipment. DEC, known to the local people as “Chapel Bank”, had an engineering design office, engineering workshops and a foundry that at one time contained six of the seven electric arc furnaces built in Workington. The seventh was situated at the Moss Bay plant of BSC. In the 1970s, as BSC adapted to a more streamlined approach to the metals industry, the engineering design company was separated from the workshops and foundry and re-designated as Distington Engineering Contracting. Employing some 200 people, its primary purpose was the design, manufacture, installation and commissioning of continuous casting machines.

One offshoot of the steel industry was the production of steel railway rails. Workington rails were widely exported and a common local phrase was that Workington rails ‘held the world together’. Originally made from Bessemer steel, following the closure of the Moss Bay Steelworks steel for the plant was brought by rail from Teesside. The plant was closed in August 2006. However welding work on rails produced at Corus Groups’ French plant in Hayange continued at Workington for another two years, as the Scunthorpe site initially proved incapable of producing rails adequately.

After the loss of the two industries on which Workington was built, coal and steel, Workington and the whole of West Cumbria became an unemployment blackspot. Industries in the town today include chemicals, cardboard, the docks (originally built by the United Steel Co.), waste management and recycling old computers for export, mainly to poorer countries. The town also houses the British Cattle Movement Service, a government agency set up to oversee the U.K. beef and dairy industry following the BSE crisis in Britain; it is located in former steelworks offices. Many Workington residents are employed outside the town in the nuclear industry located in and around Sellafield, West Cumbria’s dominant employment sector.

Workington manufactured ‘Pacer’ railbus and ‘Sprinter’ type commuter trains and Leyland National buses. The Leyland National was based on an Italian design, which included an air conditioning unit mounted in a pod on top of the roof of the bus at the rear. The bodyshells of the ‘Pacer’ trains were based on the National bus design, designed as a cheap stopgap by British Rail. This initiative led to Workington’s brief history of train manufacturing; the trains were generally considered to be badly designed, and uncomfortable to ride with a tendency to jump about much more than most trains, as they are not equipped with proper train bogies, but have two single axles per carriage, a cost-cutting design feature which has also caused problems with tight-radius corners on some lines. Some industry experts have also questioned their safety compared to other commuter train types, such as the Sprinter.

The former bus plant, located in Lillyhall, is now a depot for the Eddie Stobart road haulage company.

Workington is linked by the A596 road to Maryport, to Whitehaven via A595 road,by the A66 road to Cockermouth, and the M6 motorway to Penrith and County Durham. The town has bus connections to other towns and villages in West Cumbria, Penrith, Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness.

The Cumbrian Coast Line provides rail connections from Workington railway station to Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness, with occasional through trains to Newcastle, Lancaster and Preston. Workington North railway station opened on 30 November 2009 as a temporary means of crossing the river following the closure of road bridges.

Workington is home to three theatres. The Carnegie Theatre, Theatre Royal and the Workington Opera House. In the past Workington was a big town for variety acts and theatre and hosted many top acts including Tommy Cooper and Shirley Bassey. Workington Opera House has also hosted many circus shows which included elephants and other circus animals performing on stage.

The Carnegie Theatre and Theatre Royal are still open and put on performances all year round. The Workington Opera House is currently closed after its last use as a bingo hall. The “Opera Action” group plan to restore the Workington Opera House into a working theatre to revitalise the economy of Workington and provide top quality entertainment for the people of West Cumbria.

The town once had three cinemas, all of which have now closed and have been replaced with the Plaza Cinema at Dunmail Park.

Workington is home to the ball game known as Uppies and Downies, a traditional version of football, with its origins in Medieval football, Mob football or an even earlier form. Since 2001, the matches have raised over £75,000 for local charities. An Uppies and Downies ball is made from four pieces of cow leather. It is 21 inches (53 cm) in circumference and weighs about two and a half pounds (1.1 kg). Only three hand-made balls are produced every year and each is dated. Some players from outside Workington take part, especially fellow West Cumbrians from Whitehaven and Maryport.

Workington is twinned with Selm, Germany; Val-de-Reuil, France.

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