The History of Barrow Village: Life in the Village


Clothes were home spun. Spinning wheels, like the one kept in the lumber room at the Fisher farm, were used to spin hemp, flax or wool*. Some of this farm’s windows had been boarded up to avoid paying the tax on light. This must have hindered Grandma Fisher as she sat at her spinning wheel, especially on short dark days and long winter evenings, when rooms were lit only by tallow candles or rush lights.

* Hemp and flax were grown locally; there was a hemp garth in Barrow Village.

Drawing by James Askew


The women and girls used to go into the fields in the autumn to pick the rushes when they had produced flowers. The rushes were trimmed and peeled. A thin strip of rind was left to support the white pith; this was passed through bacon fat. This rush light, about twelve inches in length, was placed in a rush light holder.

A simple form of rush light holder was just a short iron rod divided to form a ‘V’ slot. The rush light was wedged into this slot. To light a rush light, a flint and striker were used to ignite tinder – usually charred rags. Cottages and farmhouses (until the middle of the nineteenth century), were lit by rush lights and tallow candles.

Disease and Cures

Diseases such as smallpox and cholera were common during the 19th Century and spread quickly through a community. Dr William Close from Dalton introduced vaccination for smallpox in 1799, surprisingly in this remote area and only a year after Jenner’s original experiments.

In 1834 William Fisher recorded news of a cholera outbreak in Barrow Village:

“Oct. Elizabeth, the wife of Nickles Fisher of Little Mill Stile began in the Cholera on the night of the 7 and died on the 8 her Grand Daughters residing with her begun on the 12 and died on the 13 Nicholas Fisher husband of the above Elizabeth Fisher begun on the 14 and died on the 15 a daughter took it a few days after but recovered again it threw the contrey into such an alarm it was thought nessary to prevent its further spreading to burn every article in the House the Clock alone was saved and it had the desired effect. I write this Decr. 22 and there has not been another case the loss will be mad up by the Parish.”

Blood letting had been used for hundreds of years and was widely thought to be a cure for all ailments and in fact beneficial to the system. The Cistercian monks of Furness Abbey had monthly blood letting sessions, opening the skin with a knife. In the 19th century it became popular to apply medicinal leeches to patients during blood letting.

Hedgerow medicine was popular in the 19th century. Plants were used to provide some of the ingredients, while also adding whatever was available. To relieve a headache, the person’s forehead was soothed with a mixture of marigold flowers and distilled water. Honey was used for wounds and various skin complaints. Spiders’ webs were used in the treatment of sore throats. Sores were treated with mouldy cheese and bread, long before the discovery of penicillin. A tablespoon of yeast in a gill of warm porter, repeated every six hours, was given to typhus sufferers until the fever subsided.

In his diary, William Fisher included a” perfect remedy” for whooping cough:“Infust 2 Cloves of Garlick in a quarter of a pint (ale measure) of Rum for twenty four hours; rub the back and soles of the feet of the person afflicted for three or four nights at Bed time; at the same time abstaining from all animal food.”


There is evidence that dentistry was practised in the Low Furness area where the village of Barrow was situated.

John Summers, a nineteenth century dentist, from Newcastle practised his ‘profession’ in 1803 at the house in Ulverston of an innkeeper named John Burnett.

(From one of his handbills): “He begs leave to observe, that he is the only Person in the Kingdom who can extract a Tooth in the most decayed State, without Pain to the Patient; He also professes CLEANING, SCALING AND PLANTING TEETH, From one to a Complete Set. NB – He makes POWDERS AND TINCTURES for Hardening the Gums, Cleaning the Teeth, and Sweetening the Breath. Box 1s 6d – BOTTLE 2s 6d – Duty included. His Stay in this Place will be for a few Days only.


There was no village school for the children to attend, though informal education was provided in the early part of the 19th century. In 1808 a “school” was kept by Margaret Falshaw in a calf shed.

In 1822 a list of householders gives the names of two schoolteachers in Barrow Village:

Captain James Brown – schoolmaster and pilot:  Peggy Wilkinson- schoolteacher.

Six years later in 1828, a directory covering the north-west of England briefly mentioned the Furness area in a few sentences. Captain James Barrow was listed as schoolteacher. As well as taking on that role, he was also a pilot and shipping agent.

Captain James Barrow’s school was attended by William Fisher’s children; Mary, Margaret, Richard and William James. The pupils of this small school had good reason to leave their lessons if the high tide flooded their classroom, as the school room was on the foreshore. The children receiving this kind of formal education were very fortunate, as the majority of the villagers would probably been unable to read.

Margaret later attended a boarding school in Ulverston. Richard and William James were given dancing lessons, and in 1825, their father paid one pound and four shillings for a copy of Edward Baines’s History of Lancashire. In the same year, a copy of The Sunday Times was received into the Fisher household for the first time. Blackwood’s Magazine was also read.

In 1834 a dame school was kept by Miss Eleanor Fisher.


In 1843, a Chapel of Ease was built near Newbarns; before this period, people walked every Sunday to the Parish Church at Dalton, four miles away, to the ancient chapel on Walney Island, or to Rampside Chapel. A local Wesleyan preacher from Scales travelled from Dalton to Barrow once a fortnight to preach.

Children were taught the catechism by their parents, in preparation for the annual catechising of children at Dalton Parish Church. In 1826, William Fisher paid nineteen pounds for a seat in Dalton Church.

There was no Roman Catholic Church in Barrow village at this time, but some of the villagers must have been Catholics for in 1836 W. Fisher records the death of a child ….. “aged about 6 months interd at Walney without any serimony being of the Romen perswason”.

The Packman and the Mail

Drawing by James Askew

The Packman, who carried his goods for sale in a bundle or pack, strapped to his horse, was made very welcome on his quarterly visits from Ulverston. The village children also enjoyed Peggy Creary’s visits, for she came to sell buns, “wigs”, and toffee.

Letters and parcels were carried between Dalton and Barrow by foot post (1847-1886). In 1847, James Fisher, aged seventeen, was appointed Postmaster; a telegraph service opened in 1854.


Before the opening of the Furness Railway (1846), travellers used the Turnpike Road (completed in 1820), but the journey to and from Lancaster took several hours, so most people used the cross-sands route from Ulverston to Lancaster because it was quicker, and also because of the dust raised in clouds, by the carriages on the roads. Travelling by this method was very unpleasant. A regular cross-sands passenger service operated between 1871 and 1857.

However, there were many fatal accidents. In January 1841, “two young men were drowned on Leven sands . . . . and wehn found next morning,t he horse and gig was stuck fast in the channel and one of the two men entangled about the step of the gig, the other found a little below in some fishing nets the wear a long way below the ford”.

May, 1846, “a mellancoly los of life 9 Persons in attempting to Cros the Sands from Ulverstone to Cartmell on the 4 May got into what the call Black Scare hole which is a hole 13 feet deep at Low Water the wear all in one cart every one with the horse perrished it was suposed that the weare the wors for licquor”

(Extracts from William Fisher’s diary).

Cross-sands coach, Morecambe Bay

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