A Short History of the society
The inaugural meeting of Barrow Civic Society was held on May 1st 1985. It was to be a significant year for Barrow which was on the verge of great changes. The town centre redevelopment would alter the layout of the streets for the first time in over a hundred years and Barrow’s Devonshire Dock, another legacy of the town’s Victorian past, was to become the site of an indoor facility for the construction of submarines.
At the end of the inaugural meeting it was agreed that, “This meeting wishes that a Barrow-in-Furness Civic Society be formed and that a steering committee be set up to finalise the draft constitution and arrange for the election of officers for the new society”.
On May 23rd the Evening Mail reported on the first meeting of the society in the Public Library on Ramsden Square. “About 45 people attended the meeting of the society formed earlier this month, and pledged to preserve the town’s Victorian heritage and boost its image to both tourists and Barrovians.”
The newly appointed Secretary and press liaison officer, Alice Leach, was to become the driving force of the society over the next 29 years. Her pride in being a Barrovian, together with her passion for history, made her the ideal person to promote the heritage of the town.
In the early days of the society we tried to make our voice heard in civic matters. We were very fortunate to have Jack Kellett as our first Vice-Chairman. He took charge of checking through any of the planning applications relating to buildings of historical importance. He was determined that the County Council should be aware of the strength of feeling in the town about the condition of the Ramsden Hall Baths building, donated to the town by the first mayor, James Ramsden.
Jack Kellett campaigned tirelessly. His determination resulted in the restoration of the Ramsden Hall Baths building and the Technical College in Abbey Road. The Civic Society is very proud that one of its members had a part to play in preserving these significant examples of the town’s heritage.
Monthly meetings were held in the Public Library in Ramsden Square. Membership of the society rapidly increased as people were keen to learn more about the town. Guest speakers were invited and a busy programme was planned, which included local walks during the summer months.
Five years after the inauguration of the Civic Society it was decided to add the words “and Local History” to the title. Although our original aims remain the same, in recent years we have had less input into civic matters. We hope that our society offers a chance for people to appreciate the rich cultural heritage of the Furness area and invite people to join us at our meetings to find out more.
From the very early days of the society, members were encouraged to take part in visits to places of historical interest. These included day trips to Bowes Museum, Beamish, Wigan Pier, Styal Mill and York. Two visits to sites in France with connections to Furness Abbey proved to be very popular in the early 1990’s.
As one of the aims of the society is to promote civic pride, two plaques that mark significant periods in the town’s history were funded by the society. In 1989 a plaque was placed on the grass verge in Ramsden Square to remind people of the contribution made to the town by its first mayor, James Ramsden.
In 1993 a plaque was unveiled at Roa Island stating, “Piel Island and Castle were presented to the people of Barrow and District by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1920 as a war memorial to those who gave their lives in the Great War( 1914-1918)”.
We have continued to hold monthly meetings and are fortunate to have a number of guest speakers who have returned several times. We now hold our meetings in the Trinity Church Centre, Abbey Road during the afternoon on the last Friday of the month.
A collection of local history papers called the “History Collection” was written over the course of many years. We still have this collection if any members or guests would like to have access to any of the articles.
The society has also published two books. The first one was “Cumbrian Miscellany”*, a memorial anthology in memory of Dr. Bill Rollinson, the acclaimed Barrow born lecturer and author who was a founding member and President of the Civic Society.
*Published in 2000 by Fletcher and Robinson.
In 2005 an oral history group was set up to record the memories of people from all walks of life. The interviews were eventually printed as a book, “Voices from Barrow and Furness”.*
*Published in 2008 by the History Press