Barrow-in-Furness

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Barrow-in-Furness (/ˈbærɵ ɪn fərˈnɛs/, locally /ˈbærɵ ɪn ˈfɜrns/; commonly known as Barrow) is an industrial town and seaport which forms about half the territory of the wider Borough of Barrow-in-Furness in the county of Cumbria, England. It lies 49 mi (79 km) north of Liverpool, 59 mi (95 km) northwest of Manchester and 54 mi (87 km) southwest from the county town of Carlisle.

The town is situated at the tip of the Furness peninsula bordered by Morecambe Bay, the Duddon Estuary and the Irish Sea. It has a population of 59,182, whilst the wider borough is home to 71,981 people. It is also close to the Lake District National Park.

In the Middle Ages, Barrow was a small hamlet within the parish of Dalton-in-Furness. Furness Abbey, on the outskirts of the modern day town, controlled the local economy before its dissolution in 1537. Even as late as 1843 there were still only 32 dwellings including two pubs. The iron prospector Henry Schneider arrived in Furness in 1839 and, with other investors, opened the Furness Railway in 1846 to transport iron ore and slate from local mines to the coast. Further hematite deposits were discovered in 1850, of sufficient size to develop factories for smelting and exporting steel. By the late 19th century, Barrow was home to the largest steelworks in the world.

Barrow’s location and the availability of steel allowed the town to develop into a significant producer of naval vessels, a shift that was accelerated during World War I and the local yard’s specialisation in submarines. The original iron- and steel- making enterprises closed down after World War II, leaving Vickers boat building factory as Barrow’s main industry and employer. The Royal Navy flagships HMS Hermes, HMS Invincible and HMS Albion as well as all four Vanguard class submarines, which carry Trident nuclear weapons, were manufactured at the facility. From the 1960s the shipyard increasingly specialised in the construction of nuclear-powered submarines. However with the end of the Cold War and subsequent decrease in military spending the town suffered high unemployment through lack of contracts, despite this the shipyard remains operational and the only submarine production facility in the UK.

The name was originally that of an island—the name ‘Barrai’ can be traced back to 1190. This was later renamed ‘Old Barrow’, recorded as Oldebarrey in 1537, and Old Barrow Insula and Barrohead in 1577. The island was then joined to the mainland and the town took its name. The name itself seems to mean ‘island with promontory’, combining British barro- and Old Norse ey, but it is more likely that Scandinavian settlers simply accepted barro- as a meaningless name, and so added an explanatory Old Norse second element.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Barrow was nicknamed the ‘English Chicago’ because of the sudden and rapid growth in its industry, economic stature and overall size. More recently the town has been dubbed the ‘Capital of blue-collar Britain’ by The Daily Telegraph as a result of its strong working class identity, Barrow is also often jokingly referred to as being located at the end of the longest cul-de-sac in the country (because of its relatively isolated location at the tip of the Furness peninsula).

In the Middle Ages the Furness peninsula was controlled by the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of St Mary of Furness, known as Furness Abbey. This was located in the ‘Vale of Nightshade’, now on the outskirts of the town. Originally founded for the Savigniac order, it was built on the orders of King Stephen of England in 1123. Soon after the abbey’s foundation the monks discovered iron ore deposits, later to prove the basis for the Furness economy. These thin strata, close to the surface, were extracted through open cut workings, which were then smelted by the monks in small bloomeries (early furnaces). The proceeds from mining, along with agriculture and fisheries, meant that by the 15th century the abbey had become the second richest and most powerful Cistercian abbey in England, after Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. However, Barrow itself was just a hamlet in the parish of Dalton-in-Furness on the Furness peninsula, reliant on the land and sea for survival. Small quantities of iron and ore were exported from jetties on the channel separating the village from Walney Island. Amongst the oldest buildings in Barrow are several cottages and farm houses in Newbarns (now a ward of the town) which date back to the early 17th century. Even as late as 1843 there were still only 32 dwellings including two pubs.

In 1839 Henry Schneider arrived as a young speculator and dealer in iron, and he discovered large deposits of haematite in 1850. He and other investors founded the Furness Railway, the first section of which opened in 1846 to transport the ore from the slate quarries at Kirkby-in-Furness and haematite mines at Lindal-in-Furness to a deep water harbour near Roa Island. The crucial and difficult link across Morecambe Bay between Ulverston and Carnforth on the main line was promoted, as the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway, by a group led by John Brogden and opened in 1857. It was promptly purchased by the Furness Railway.

The docks built between 1867 and 1881 in the more sheltered channel between the mainland and Barrow Island replaced the port at Roa Island. The increasing quantities of iron ore mined in Furness were then brought to Barrow to be transported by sea.

The investors in the burgeoning mining and railway industries decided greater profits could be made by smelting the iron ore into steel, and then exporting the finished product. Schneider and James Ramsden, the railway’s general manager, erected blast furnaces at Barrow that by 1876 formed the largest steelworks in the world. Its success was a result of the availability of local iron ore, coal from the Cumberland mines and easy rail and sea transport. The Furness Railway, who counted local aristocrats William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Buccleuch as investors, kick-started the Industrial Revolution on the peninsula. The railway brought mined ore to the town, where the steelworks produced large quantities of steel. It was used for shipbuilding, and derived products such as rails were also exported from the newly built docks. Thus Barrow’s population, only 700 in 1851, reached 10,000 by 1864 and 47,000 by 1881, forty years after the railway was built.

The sheltered strait between Barrow and Walney Island was an ideal location for the shipyard. The first ship to be built, the Jane Roper, was launched in 1852; the first steamship, a 3,000-ton liner named Duke of Devonshire, in 1873. Shipbuilding activity increased, and on 18 February 1871 the Barrow Shipbuilding Company was incorporated. Barrow’s relative isolation from the United Kingdom’s industrial heartlands meant that the newly formed company included several capabilities that would usually be subcontracted to other establishments. In particular, a large engineering works was constructed including a foundry and pattern shop, a forge, and an engine shop. In addition, the shipyard had a joiners’ shop, a boat-building shed and a sailmaking and rigging loft.

During these boom years, Ramsden proposed building a planned town to accommodate the large workforce which had arrived. There are few planned towns in the United Kingdom, and Barrow is one of the oldest. Its centre contains a grid of well-built terraced houses, with a tree-lined road leading away from a central square. Ramsden later became the first mayor of Barrow, which was given municipal borough status in 1867, and county borough status in 1889. The imposing red sandstone Town Hall, designed by W.H. Lynn, was built in a neo-gothic style in 1887. Prior to this, the borough council had met at the railway headquarters: the railway company’s control of industry extended to the administration of the town itself.

The Barrow Shipbuilding Company was taken over by the Sheffield steel firm of Vickers in 1897, by which time the shipyard had surpassed the railway and steelworks as the largest employer and landowner in Barrow. The company constructed Vickerstown, modelled on George Cadbury’s Bournville, on the adjacent Walney Island in the early 20th century to house its employees. It also commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to design Abbey House as a guest house and residence for its managing director, Commander Craven.

By the 1890s the shipyard was heavily engaged in the construction of warships for the Royal Navy and also for export. The Royal Navy’s first submarine, Holland 1, was built in 1901, and by 1914 the UK had the most advanced submarine fleet in the world, with 94% of it constructed by Vickers. Vickers was also famous for the construction of airship hangars during the early 20th century. Well-known ships built in Barrow include the Mikasa, Japanese flagship during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, the liner SS Oriana and the aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and HMAS Melbourne. Thousands of local men fought abroad during World War I, 616 were ultimately killed in action.

During World War II, Barrow was a target for the German air force looking to disable the town’s shipbuilding capabilities (see Barrow Blitz). The town suffered the most in a short period between April and May 1941. During the war, a local housewife, Nella Last, was selected to write a diary of her everyday experiences on the home front for the Mass-Observation project. Her memoirs were later adapted for television as Housewife, 49 starring Victoria Wood. The difficulty in targeting bombs meant that the shipyards and steelworks were often missed, at the expense of the residential areas. Ultimately, 83 people were killed and 11,000 houses in the area were left damaged. To escape the heaviest bombardments, many people in the central areas left the town to sleep in hedgerows with some being permanently evacuated. Barrow’s industry continued to supply the war effort, with Winston Churchill visiting the town on one occasion to launch the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable. Besides the dozens of civilians killed during World War II, some 268 Barrovian men were also killed whilst in combat.

The end of the war saw the beginning of a long decline of mining and steel-making as a result of overseas competition and dwindling resources. The Barrow ironworks closed in 1963, three years after the last Furness mine shut. The by then small steelworks followed suit in 1983, leaving Barrow’s shipyard as the town’s principal industry. From the 1960s onwards it concentrated its efforts in submarine manufacture, and the UK’s first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought was constructed in 1960. HMS Resolution, the Swiftsure-class, Trafalgar-class and Vanguard-class submarines all followed.

The end of the Cold War in 1991 marked a reduction in the demand for military ships and submarines, and the town continued its decline. The shipyard’s dependency on military contracts at the expense of civilian and commercial engineering and shipbuilding meant it was particularly hard hit as government defence spending was reduced dramatically. As a result, the workforce shrank from 14,500 in 1990 to 5,800 in February 1995, with overall unemployment in the town rising over that period from 4.6% to 10%. The rejection by the VSEL management of detailed plans for Barrow’s industrial renewal in the mid-to-late 1980s remains controversial. This has led to renewed academic attention in recent years to the possibilities of converting military-industrial production in declining shipbuilding areas to the offshore renewable energy sector.

In the 2002 Barrow-in-Furness Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, 172 people were reported to have caught the disease, of whom seven died. This made it the fourth worst outbreak in the world in terms of number of cases and sixth worst in terms of deaths (see list of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks). The source of the bacteria was later found to be steam from a badly maintained air conditioning unit in the council-run arts centre Forum 28.

At the conclusion of the inquest into the seven deaths, the coroner for Furness and South Cumbria criticised the council for its health and safety failings. In 2006, council employee Gillian Beckingham and employer Barrow Borough Council were cleared of seven charges of manslaughter, but both admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. Beckingham, the council senior architect ultimately responsible for health and safety at the centre, was fined £15,000 and the authority £125,000. The borough council was the first public body in the country to face corporate manslaughter charges.

Many areas of the town have seen regeneration in the 1990s, and on 28 September 2007 Barrow’s £200 million Dockland regeneration project began. Due to be completed by 2020, the project includes a new ‘Barrow Marina Village’ which will incorporate an £8 million 400-berth marina, 600 houses, restaurants, shops, hotels and a new state of the art bridge across Cavendish Dock. A large watersports centre is also being built, with the possibility of a cruise ship terminal. Some cruise ships are already scheduled to dock in Barrow, mainly for tourists to visit the Lake District, although there is no official cruise ship terminal yet. Dozens of cruise ships have visited the Port of Barrow in recent years.


The shipyard has been given planning permission to construct a new assembly hall, dubbed ‘Son of DDH’ in a reference to the existing Devonshire Dock Hall shipbuilding facility. However, the building will not now be used for the construction of aircraft carrier sections as the carrier build will now take place in Glasgow. John Hutton, former MP for Barrow, has however, promised that all seven Astute Class submarines will be built at the shipyard. Following a decline in employment levels at the shipyard over the last 20 years, BAE Systems recently announced that the current workforce of 3,835 could soon grow to 5,000, although this is still only a third of the 14,000 employed in the 1980s.

Barrow is the largest town in the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness and the largest settlement in the peninsula of Furness. The borough is the direct inheritor of the municipal and county borough charters given to the town in the late 19th century. Historically it is part of the Hundred of Lonsdale ‘north of the sands’ in the historic county boundaries of Lancashire. Since the local government reforms enacted in England in 1974 the town has been within the administrative county of Cumbria. It still forms a part of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council forms the ‘lower’ tier of local government under Cumbria County Council. The town, along with Walney Island, is unparished and forms the bulk of the wards which make the entire borough’s area. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Barrow are elected annually, and hold the roles of Chairman and Vice Chairman of Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council.

Barrow-in-Furness is situated at the tip of the Furness peninsula on the north-western edge of Morecambe Bay. The town centre and major industrial areas sit on a fairly flat coastal shelf, with a gentle incline leading away from the coast. Ten miles to the north-east is the southern boundary of the Lake District National Park.

The town is sheltered from the Irish Sea by Walney Island, a 14 mile (22.5 km) long island connected to the mainland by the bascule type Jubilee bridge. About 13,000 live on the isle’s various settlements, mostly in Vickerstown, which was built to house workers in the rapidly expanding shipyard. Another significant island which lay in the Walney Channel was Barrow Island, but following the filling of the channel to create land for the yard it is now directly connected to the town. Other islands which lie close to Barrow are Piel Island, whose castle protected the harbour from marauding Scots, Sheep Island, Roa Island and Foulney Island.

Barrow’s population increased from the low thousands in the early 19th century to 60,000 in less than twenty years. Since the start of the 20th century the population of the town has gradually diminished to just under 60,000. The Barrow council district, which includes the surrounding area, has a population of 71,980 according to the most recent census, placing it 326th out of the 376 local authorities in England and Wales (however the population density of 900 /km2 (2,300 /sq mi) ranks 147th out of 376). Barrow-in-Furness can be regarded as the largest town in Cumbria, Carlisle in the north of the county having city status. It is also the 15th largest settlement in North West England and the 142nd largest in the United Kingdom. People from Barrow are known as Barrovians.

Population of the borough in the 19th century
Year 1801 1811 1831 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891
Population 1,958 2,078 2,702 4,684 22,513 40,343 58,172 62,694
Population of the borough in the 20th century
Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 67,354 72,360 73,394 74,447 75,509 76,619 75,902 72,192 72,645 73,704 71,979

 

The BAE Systems Submarine Solutions shipyard at Barrow is one of the largest shipyards in Britain. It was expanded in 1986 by construction of a new covered assembly facility, the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH), completed by Alfred McAlpine plc, on land that was created by infilling part of the Devonshire Dock with 2.4 million tonnes of sand pumped from nearby Roosecote Sands.[66] DDH is the tallest building in Cumbria at 51 m. With a length of 268 m (879 ft), width of 51 m (167 ft) and an area of 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft) it is the second largest shipbuilding construction complex of its kind in Europe.

The DDH provides a controlled environment for ship and submarine assembly, and avoids the difficulties caused by building on the slope of traditional slipways. Outside the hall, a 24,300 tonne capacity shiplift allows completed vessels to be lowered into the water independently of the tide. Vessels can also be lifted out of the water and transferred to the hall. The first use of the DDH was for construction of the Vanguard-class submarines, and later vessels of the Trafalgar-class submarines were also built there. The shipyard is currently constructing the Astute-class submarines the first of which was launched on 8 June 2007. BAE Systems is currently studying the design of a new class of ballistic missile submarines. BAE Systems also has orders for submarine pressure domes for the Spanish Navy.

BAE Systems has obtained planning permission from Barrow Borough Council for the new Central Assembly Shop dubbed ‘Son of DDH’ which will provide over 700 new jobs, initially in construction of a large section of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. (hull lower block 3). Despite the large fall in numbers employed by the shipyard, Barrow retains a high proportion of workers in the manufacturing industry.

The shipyard does not build submarines exclusively: it undertook fitting out and commissioning of helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in the mid-1990s (although the ship was built by Kvaerner Govan in Glasgow), and construction of Wave-class tanker Wave Knight and Albion-class amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark.

Associated British Ports Holdings owns and operates the port of Barrow which can berth vessels up to 200 m (660 ft) long and with a draught of 10 m (33 ft). Principal traffic includes the export of condensate by-product from the production of gas at the Rampside Gas Terminal, wood pulp, and locally quarried limestone which is exported to Scandinavia for use in the paper industry. The port, which has deep water access, also handles the shipment of nuclear fuels and radioactive waste for BNFL’s nearby Sellafield plant.

James Fisher & Sons plc, a service provider in all sectors of the marine industry and a specialist supplier of engineering services to the nuclear industry in the UK and abroad, was founded in Barrow in 1847 and is the largest company to have its headquarters situated in Cumbria.Annual revenue stood at almost £90 million in 2007 (up 55% from £57 million in 2006), as well as staff numbers standing at over 1,000 worldwide, with 120 of those in the Barrow headquarters.

In 1985, gas was discovered in Morecambe Bay, and to this day the products have been processed onshore at Rampside Gas Terminal in south Barrow. The complex is operated jointly by Centrica and ConocoPhillips. Directly adjacent to Rampside Gas Terminal is Roosecote Power Station which was the first CCGT power station to supply electricity to the United Kingdom’s National Grid. Although originally coal-fired, the station is now gas-fired.

Barrow and its wider urban area form part of ‘Britain’s Energy Coast’, and has one of the highest concentrations of wind farms in the world, the vast majority are located offshore and have been built during the early 2010s. All four of these wind farms are located off the coast of Walney Island, including the 108 turbine West Duddon Wind Farm, 102 turbine Walney Wind Farm, 30 turbine Barrow Offshore Wind Farm and 30 turbine Ormonde Wind Farm.

Sellafield and Heysham nuclear power station are also located within 25 mi (40 km) of Barrow.

Being only around 20 minutes from the Lake District, Barrow has been referred to as a ‘gateway to the lakes’, a status which could be enhanced by the new marina complex and planned cruise ship terminal. Barrow itself has several tourist attractions, including the Dock Museum. The museum tells the history of Barrow (including the steelworks industry, shipyard and Barrow Blitz), as well as offering gallery space to local artists and schoolchildren. It is built upon and around an old graving dock. Barrow also has a popular indoor market, which features a food hall as well as stalls selling clothes and other goods. Barrow has been described as the Lake District’s premier shopping town, with ‘big name shops mingling with small local ones’, and being home to Portland Walk Shopping Centre. The town also features Hollywood Park – a leisure facility with restaurants, shops and Cumbria’s largest cinema. The town also features several other retail parks (including Cornmill Crossing, Cornerhouse Retail Park, Hindpool Retail Park and Walney Road Retail Park). The Park Leisure Centre is a fitness suite with a pool, set in the 45-acre (18 ha) Barrow Park. Walney Island has two world renowned nature reserves (the 130 hectare South Walney Nature Reserve and 650 hectare North Walney Nature Reserve). The historic ruins of Furness Abbey and Piel Castle, which are both managed by English Heritage, are also popular tourist destinations. South Lakes Wild Animal Park is one of Europe’s leading conservation zoos and has been voted Cumbria’s best tourist attraction for five non-consecutive years, it is located within the borough of Barrow-in-Furness on the outskirts of Dalton.

Other major employers include the NHS, through Furness General Hospital, which employs 1,800 staff and the Kimberly Clark paper mill which has 400 employees. Amongst many retailers that have established themselves in Barrow, the furniture store Stollers is noted as being one of the largest shops of its kind in the UK.

Barrow’s principal road link is the A590, linking it to Ulverston, the Lake District and to the M6 motorway. Just north of Barrow is the southern terminus of the A595, linking the town to Whitehaven, Workington and eventually Carlisle.

Barrow-in-Furness railway station provides connections to Whitehaven, Workington and Carlisle to the north, via the Cumbrian Coast Line and to Ulverston, Grange-over-Sands and Lancaster to the east, via the Furness Line. It handles 503,800 passengers annually. Barrow has a second railway station, Roose, which serves the suburb of the same name.

Furness Abbey, Barrow’s third main line station, closed in 1950. There was also a station on Barrow Island, used to enable workers at Vickers Limited (as it was then known) to commute directly between the shipyard and nearby towns served by the Furness Railway. This railway link was severed in 1966 when the famous cradle bridge across the docks was closed permanently for safety reasons.

Barrow/Walney Island Airport operates two Beechkraft Kingair 250 aircraft which fly to various destinations every weekday, including Manchester, Bristol and Blackpool. It is owned and operated by BAE Systems.

Despite being one of the UK’s leading shipbuilding centres, the Associated British Ports’ Port of Barrow is only a minor port. The only ferry links are between Roa Island and Piel Island, but there are proposals to create a cruise ship terminal.

Barrow is one of Britain’s few planned towns and has many fine buildings to show for it. There are many old and distinctive buildings in the town centre, mostly from the Victorian era, such as the town hall, Barrow’s main public library, the Nan Tait Centre, old Central Fire Station, Salvation Army, St. George’s Church, St. Mary’s Church, St. James’ Church and Trinity Church. There is also an increasing number of modern office buildings as well as the shipyard’s cranes and construction halls which dominate much of Barrow’s skyline. Barrow has 8 Grade I listed buildings, 15 Grade II* and 249 Grade II buildings.

Wartime diarist and local housewife Nella Last’s memoirs were adapted for television, with parts of the town used in filming. The resulting programme, Housewife, 49, written by and starring comedienne Victoria Wood, was broadcast by ITV in 2006. It won two BAFTA awards – one for Best Single Drama, the other for Best Actress (Victoria Wood). CITV children’s show The Treacle People had two villains named Barrow and Furness. Myles Wright also was born in Barrow and lived in the near by village of Marton.

Furness is unique within Cumbria and the local accent and dialect tends to be more Lancashire-oriented. Until 1974 Furness was an exclave of Lancashire. As with Liverpool for example, the Barrovian dialect has been influenced by large numbers of settlers from various regions. Up until the mid-19th century, Barrow was nothing but a small fishing village, however as the mining, steelworks and shipbuilding industries emerged and grew, thousands came to Barrow from the likes of Cornwall, Strathclyde, and Tyneside which were successful mining and shipbuilding centres already in existence. As Glaswegian and Geordie dialects mingled in Barrow numerous more migrated from Lancashire and elsewhere in England which in effect created the Barrovian dialect. In general the Barrovian dialect tends to drop certain letters (including H and T); for example holiday could be pronounced as ‘oliday (which is not at all unique to the area), with more emphasis on the letter O. Similarly the local area of Hindpool which could be pronounced “‘indpool” with emphasis on the letter I. Another example is with the letter T where twenty is often pronounced “twen’y” (again an emphasis on the letters N or Y could occur); see Cumbrian dialect as well as Lancashire dialect for more information.

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