The Beacon opened in 1996 as a purpose-built museum to rehouse the Whitehaven Museum collection. Owned and operated by Copeland Borough Council, the collection numbers over 30,000 artefacts which include archaeology, geology, social history and decorative art as well as the fine art collection.
Originated by the Whitehaven Scientific Association, the museum's early collections were begun in the mid-19th century. These early collections comprised mostly items of fine and decorative art, natural history, prints and books. Finds of archaeology and social history ephemera, numismatics, photographs and maps formed later additions.
The collections they were later housed and exhibited in an early museum run by Whitehaven Town Council in the Public Library. In 1974, Local Government Reorganisation resulted in the transfer of the collections to Copeland Borough Council. The museum collections were displayed in the Old Market Hall in 1975 and were later relocated to the Civic Hall's Dunboyne Hall in 1987 where it remained until 1996 when the purpose-built Beacon was completed on the Harbour front. The Beacon and its associated Resource Centre are now the permanent homes for Copeland's Museum Collection.
Following a complete refurbishment in 2007, The Beacon is now equipped with new storage areas for its fine art collections, new thematic displays throughout, a refurbished Harbour Gallery for temporary and touring exhibitions and has seen many artefacts exhibited for the first time following a major programme of conservation work.
The fine art collection numbers 1,173 items and given the coastal location of Whitehaven, it is not surprising that some of the collection gems relate to maritime art. It includes an important group of maritime paintings featuring nationally and internationally renowned marine artists such as Joseph Heard who lived and worked in Whitehaven before moving to Liverpool in 1832, and Whitehaven-born Robert Salmon.
The collection also includes paintings by Oliver Ussison Hodgson, Willem van Diest, John Bousfield, William Mitchell, William Horde Yorke, Bernard McWilliams and G. Welsh.
Other key pieces include paintings by Matthias Read, especially 'A Bird's Eye View of Whitehaven', 1736. The family portrait of Christian How with her children by James Cranke (Senior) is also a popular painting with our visitors.
Approximately 10 per cent of the art collection is currently on display. Due to a policy of changing the art displays within The Beacon Gallery at least three times a year, different paintings are available for viewing throughout the year and enquiries to view the reserve collection are regularly made to The Beacon's Curator.