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Whitehaven is the home of the Borough Council of Copeland, part of the County of Cumbria. Located on the coast outside the Lake District National Park, Whitehaven grew into a major coal mining town during the 18th and 19th century and also became a substantial commercial port on the back of this trade.

The town's fortunes waned rapidly when ports with much larger shipping capacity, such as Bristol and Liverpool, began to take over it's main trade.

Historically linked to the author Jonathan Swift, George Washington (through his grandmother Mildred Washington) and John Paul Jones, founder of the American navy, who attacked the town during the War of Independence, it is the most complete example of planned Georgian architecture in Europe and recently has been pursuing growth through tourism.

The major industry is the nearby Sellafield complex, with which most of the population has links.