The area around Workington has long been a producer of coal and steel.
Between AD 79 and 122, Roman forts, mile-forts and watchtowers were established along the Cumbrian coast.:10 They were coastal defences against attacks by the Scoti from Ireland and by the Caledonii, the most powerful tribe in what is now Scotland.:11 The 16th-century 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 at the river's mouth.
In 2009 several bridges were damaged or destroyed by the River Derwent during the 2009 floods.
Early 2000s regeneration
In 2006, Washington Square, a £50 million shopping centre and 275,000 sq ft (25,500 m2) mixed use complex, was opened to replace the run down St John's Arcade, built in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2007, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors named Washington Square as the 'best commercial project' in North West England.
Several works 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 addition to a fish tank containing species from the Solway provided by the Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport. by Paul Scott and Robert Drake.
- Lookout Clock, an 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 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'.
Workington Stadium plans
In February 2019 plans for a new stadium for Workington were announced, this would in involve the demolition of Borough Park and Derwent Park.
In June 2019, it was announced by the new leadership of Allerdale Borough Council that the new sports stadium would not be built.
Cloffocks Field Tesco development
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.