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Key Factors in the growth of Barrow

1) The Railway.

It was primarily iron ore which brought the Furness Railway into being and it was the transport of the ore by rail that provided its wealth.

1846 The Furness Railway was established; its headquarters were based in Barrow. This important event coincided with the emergence of Barrow's first City Father, James Ramsden. Visionary and opportunist, he was at the centre of every major undertaking; he was promoted from secretary, to general manager, to director of the Furness Railway.

William Fisher recorded the following in his diary: "Railway on the 30th April 1846 the locomotive engin belonging to the Furness Railway was for the first time driven up to Kirkby Ireleth. After staying for some time She departed for Barrow", (spelling as in the actual diary). And, on 24th August "the Railway from Roa to Dalton was opened for passenger".

1853 New railway lines were laid in the village.

2) Iron and Steel

1841 "The first day ore was led from Thwaite Flat to Barrow' (W.Fishers Diary).

1850 The important ore mine at Park was sunk; it was named the Buccleuch pit.

1856 Henry Bessemer invented his method for converting iron into steel.

1857 H.W. Schneider (another City Father), and Robert Hannay decided to manufacture iron at Hindpool and Barrow became an industrial town as well as a port.

1858 The Hindpool furnaces of Schneider and Hannay commenced and the growth of Barrow began. William Fisher records: "The Iron Furnaces was opened at Hindpool Barrow Witnessed by several gentlemen who came by special Train on the 18th October owners Messrs Hannah and Schneider. It was a Galla and a beautiful day for the season".

1864 James Ramsden formed a company to manufacture steel by the Bessemer process.

1866 Schneider, Hannay & Co. amalgamated with the new company to form the Barrow Haematite Iron & Steel Company.

1876 16 furnaces had been built with an average weekly capacity of 500 tons. "The plant then comprised the largest Ironworks and Bessemerplant in the world and the production of steel rails was undertaken on a grand scale" (Barrow & District)" by Fred Barnes.

The ironworks at Barrow kept up production well into the 1920. W G Collingwood in The Lake Counties paints a vivid picture of the scene:- Coming fresh from the mountains and abbeys with Wordsworth in one's pocket, one might feel that Barrow had little to show, with its streets of poor looking houses and tall chimneys, dominating the scene as persistently as the Pikes in Langdale. There is abundant poetry and picturesqueness, for anyone who does not travel in blinkers, at the shipyards and steelworks, and even in the streets of Barrow. I remember one December night wet and gloomy when the working folk, rough coated men and lasses hooded in their shawls, were shopping after the day's work, under the gas lamps that streamed their reflections down the pavement; and suddenly aloft from enormous towers, bulking on he darkness like some Babylonian architecture in a picture, there flared out great banners of fire, lighting up the cloud into a brown glow against inter-spaces of deep violet. It blazed and flickered and faded again, and the people of the streets were like ghosts hurrying to and fro.

Note: 1867  The incorporation of the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness.

3) Shipbuilding

1852 William Fisher records: "The first New Ship built at Barrow 180 tons was Launced the day was beautiful all the Vessels had their Flags hoisted. She was Christened by Mrs Roper Snr, the Jane Roper in respect to Mrs Thos Roper of Newland House".

1870 Large scale shipbuilding began. James Ramsden, Barrow's first mayor, knighted in 1872, persuaded the Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch to finance the dock extension, the manufacture of Bessemer steel and lron ship building.

From 1872 - 1879 the Graving, Buccleuch, Devonshire and Ramsden Docks were opened.

The first of the large docks - the Devonshire Dock was opened in 1867. There were great celebrations; a sports day, a salute of guns and a banquet. The magazine "Punch" published the following article:

"Never did Barrow on Furness make such a blaze as did Barrow in Furness the other day, when its docks were opened by Dukes, Lords, Honorable and Right Honorable, MPs, JPs, Mayors, Magistrates, Magnates, Local and Municipal in short by such as assemblage of big and little wigs as it was a triumph to have got together in the dead season. But the occasion was certainly a crown and a crow! A Barrow that has grown, one may say, from a barrow into a coach -and-four in ten years. A Barrow that has swelled almost within the memory of the youngest inhabitant from the quiet coast of some five-score fishermen, into the busy, bustling, blazing, money making, money spending, roaring, tearing, swearing, steaming, sweltering, seat of twenty thousand iron workers, and the crime and culture, dirt and disease, the hard-working and hard-drinking, the death and life, the money and misery they bring along with them! A Barrow out of which they are tipping 600,000 tons of iron every year! A Barrow big enough to hold a Monster Iron-Mining-and Smelting Company, with two Dukes among its directors, to say nothing of Lord knows who in the way of Lords, and Lord knows how many millionaires!!!

1873 The steam yacht "Aries" was launched.

1877 The yard built its first warships, the gunboats, "Foxhound" and "Forward", first of a long line of famous naval vessels

1881 "The City of Rome", a liner of 8400 tons was built for the Inman line.

1882 13 merchant ships were launched.

The golden days of the Barrow built luxury liners will always be remembered in the history of the shipyard. I was there with my dad (a shipwright), and my son on 3 November 1959 when the great "Oriana" was launched. On the day when the 41,923 ton liner sailed into San Francisco 5 February 1961, the city council named it Oriana Day.

In 1960 Queen Elizabeth II launched the Dreadnought, Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine. In the 1980s HMS Invincible and HMS Manchester were launched. The Devonshire Dock Hall was built in 1986 to allow submarines and other ships to be built under cover.

GEC bought the shipyard in 1995 and four years later their Marconi Electric Systems were amalgamated with British Aerospace to form BAE Systems. This company's workers have concentrated on the building of submarines.

Sources for the history of Shipbuilding in Barrow are as follows:

Portrait of a Shipbuilder edited by Michael Harris. A yard list of Barrow built vessels 1873-1989 is given.

Cumbria - the Lake District and its County by John Wyatt (p 106-120). This chapter also includes an excellent portrait of Barrow - past and present with a speculative look at the future.

A Century of Barrow built boats by Alan Dancer covers the submarines built for the Royal Navy 1901-1999.

        Source for mining in Furness "The Red Earth" - the iron mines of Furness  by  Dave Kelly.

The decline of the major industries

Barrow Haemetite Steel Company went into liquidation and closed in 1983. The land was bulldozed to provide land for new businesses. All that remains are the original gates, saved by the foresight of Brady's Haulage business.

Today submarine building is the shipyard's main occupation. Only one tall crane remains of the six original ones. There were 800 job losses in 1990 and by 1996 about a thousand workers had lost their jobs. The hundreds of cyclists arriving for work and departing for home is no longer a part of the shipyard's culture. The yard currently employs some 3,000.

View of Barrow Haematite Iron and Steel Works

“Pride of Launch Day”  by Wallace Trickett

Bird’s-eye View of Barrow Docks