Barrow-in-Furness is a large industrial town which grew from a tiny 19th Century hamlet to the biggest iron and steel centre in the world, and a major ship-building force, in just 40 years.
The railway was introduced to carry iron-ore, slate and lime-stone to the new deep water port. Its prosperity grew with the development of the steel and ship-building industries.
The monks of Furness Abbey smelted iron with wood in the 13th Century. In 1839 H.W. Schneider (who later had a home atBowness-on-Windermere and commuted to Barrow via steam yacht and rail) came as a young speculator and dealer in iron. In 1850 he discovered large deposits of iron, and he erected blast furnaces at Barrow, which by 1876 formed the largest steelworks in the world.
The population grew from 300 inhabitants to over 8000 in 1864. James Ramsden, superintendent of the Railway, devised a plan for the town. There are few planned towns in England, and fewer still in the 19th Century. The wide tree lined streets to this day convey a sense of space and ease. Ramsden became the first Mayor of Barrow. Ramsden also conceived the idea of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company, which became Vickers in 1897. It is now the busiest shipyard in England, with the largest covered ship building hall in Europe. By 1881 the population had jumped to 47000, reaching a peak of 74000 in 1931, but has dropped now.
Barrow’s impressive Town Hall is at the heart of the town, and its clock tower can be viewed from almost anywhere in the vicinity. Built from local red sandstone, it was formally opened in 1887 and represents the height of Barrow’s Victorian development. The building was designed by W.H. Lynn in the style known as modern Gothic. The richest detail of the interior can be found in the oak panelled Council Chamber and the Queen’s Hall, with its dazzling stained glass.
In the Borough there are 249 Grade II buildings (classed as being of special interest), 15 Grade II* ones (important buildings of more than special interest) and 8 Grade I (exceptional interest).
The 45 acre public park in Barrow-in-Furness is based on a design by Thomas Mawson. The park was recently restored to his original plans with Heritage Lottery money, even re-making and matching the buildings to old photographs. The park has since won the Landscape Institute Heritage and Conservation award 2007, a prestigious national award.
There are many fine churches and public buildings in Barrow, including the Town Hall. It was part of the Barrow plan that at the two main intersections, squares were made. In them now stand commemorative monuments to Ramsden (by Noble 1872) in Ramsden Square, and Schneider (by Percy Wood), in Schneider Square.
Walney Island is reached by a bridge from Barrow Docks. It is a 10 mile long island, reputedly the windiest lowland site in Britain, containing two important Nature Reserves. The North Nature Reserve has an area for preserving Britain’s rarest amphibian, the Natterjack Toad. Over 130 species of bird have also been recorded there. The South Nature Reserve has the largest nesting ground of Herring Gulls and Lesser Black Backed Gulls in Europe.
Between Walney Island and Barrow is the tiny Piel Island, on which is Piel Castle, built by the monks of Furness Abbey to protect their harbour from the Scots. It can be reached by a ferry from Roa Island, a few miles south-east of Barrow. Details of access are available from the Tourist Information Centre.
The Dock Museum is a spectacular modern museum built over an original Victorian Graving Dock, where you can explore the fascinating history of Barrow-in-Furness.