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The Furness Railway owed its origins and later prosperity to iron. The company was promoted largely by two large local land owners, the Duke of Buccleuch and the Earl of Burlington (later the 7th Duke of Devonshire), to carry slate and iron ore from their mines and quarries to the quays at the then hamlet of Barrow for shipment to growing towns and industries elsewhere in Britain.

The railway when it opened in 1846 consisted of two crossing routes: from Kirkby to Piel on Piel Pier on Roa Island, the latter reached via a privately-owned causeway (and from where steamers provided a link with Fleetwood), and from Dalton to Barrow.

Although the Furness Railway rapidly prospered, expansion was very slow at first: to Broughton-in-Furness in 1848 where it was joined by the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway in 1850, to Lindal in 1851, and at last to Ulverston, the market town of Furness, in 1854.

The link eastwards, to the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway at Carnforth, and which was to become so vital to the emerging Furness Iron and steel industry after the discovery of the Bessemer process for large-scale conversion of iron into steel, was promoted and built by an independent company, the Ulverstone & Lancaster Railway (U&LR). The route included crossings of the estuaries of the Rivers Kent and Leven necessitating two long cast iron viaducts engineered by James Brunlees who was later to go on to design the similar, but longer, Solway Viaduct in the north of the county. The line was completed in 1857 to form the final link in the chain of railways round the Cumbrian coast. The U&LR was absorbed by the Furness Railway in 1862, having been working by its western neighbour from its opening.

After the beginning of iron smelting at Barrow ironworks by H W Schneider in 1859 the expansion of economic and railway activity was immense. Bessemer steel making started in 1864, the FR took over the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway in 1866, Devonshire Dock was opened in 1867, Buccleuch Dock in 1873, with corresponding growth in the minerals and iron and steel traffic carried by the railway. One of the main products was steel railway lines to build new railways round the world. The town of Barrow and its industries mushroomed, all under the guiding hand of the FR and its directors. Particularly influential was James Ramsden, later knighted, who was closely associated with the railway for 50 years, first as locomotive superintendent, then as general manager from 1850 and becoming managing director in 1863, a post he was to occupy for another 33 years. Other ironworks at Askam, Carnforth, Millom and Ulverston all generated large amounts of traffic for the railway.

However, by the 1880s new steel making processes and imported iron ores broke the monopoly of Furness and West Cumberland hematite over the steel trade and the boom was over. Although the Furness Railway extended its influence in West Cumberland with the joint takeover of the Whitehaven Cleator & Egremont Railway with the LNWR in 1878, and a working agreement with the new Cleator & Workington Junction Railway the following year, expansion generally came to an end after the completion of an avoiding line and new station in Barrow in 1882.

A change in emphasis became apparent. The late 19th century brought an increase in leisure time which few but the rich had been able to enjoy before; the five and half day working week had become increasingly accepted from the 1860s, statutory bank holidays were introduced from 1871, and by the 1890s most workers enjoyed at least one week's holiday a year, while at the same time many people had more money to spend. With the great asset of the Lake District embraced by the railway itself the Furness company had long provided for Victorian tourists, but from 1896 its new general manager, Alfred Aslett, saw the greatly increased potential for this traffic to compensate for the decline in industrial traffics. The company thus set about developing much improved services and facilities which would be publicised with considerable flair.

Though the shipyard gradually developed to become the principal industry of Barrow from the 1890s, iron and steel continued to be a very important, though dwindling, source of traffic for many years to come. With the progressive exhaustion of local iron ore resources, contraction became inevitable. The first of the iron works to close was Askam in 1919, Carnforth in 1931, North Lonsdale at Ulverston in 1938 (though to continue as a foundry), the massive works at Barrow in 1963, and finally Millom in 1968.

Today, the docks in Barrow see little commercial activity other than the occasional nuclear flask carrier and shipbuilding activities which have long concentrated on submarines for the Royal Navy. The Furness main line is shorn of its branches, with no originating freight except at Sellafield. The line does continue to provide one of the most delightful railway journeys in England as it skirts round the shores of Morecambe Bay and Irish Sea, seen on one side, with occasional dramatic views into the Lake District on the other.

See also The Furness Railway in 1921, extracts from The Railway Year Book.


The railway was opened to Coniston from Broughton by a nominally independent company in 1859 to tap the traffic from the copper mines. The FR realised early on the potential for attracting visitors and introduced steamer services on Coniston Lake even though the pier was at some distance from station. The steam yacht "GONDOLA" was built in 1859 and continued in operation by the railway until 1939 after which it fell into a state of dereliction from which it was rescued and restored to service by the National Trust in 1980. Passenger services on the branch from Foxfield ran until 1958 with goods traffic lingering on for another four years.

Arnside - Hincaster
Opened in 1876 for local services between Grange-over-Sands and Kendal. Its obvious potential for carrying the heavy coke traffic to Furness from County Durham was not realised until forced by the need for wartime operating economies in 1917 when FR and LNWR commenced working through between Lindal Ore Sidings and Tebay. The line closed soon after the closure of Barrow iron and steel works in 1963; local passenger services had been withdrawn in 1942 though there continued occasional use by excursion trains to Windermere.

In 1862 the Furness Railway came to an agreement with the Midland to jointly promote and build a direct connection between the two systems to enable the latter to have better access to the Lake District as well as to Barrow, to which the Midland's Irish Sea steamer services would be transferred from Morecambe where tidal difficulties were affecting their reliability. The Furness & Midland Joint Railway was to open in 1867 and be worked by the Midland. The steamers originally worked from Piel Pier but were transferred to Barrow Ramsden Dock station when this opened in 1881.

Central to the Furness Railway's promotion of tourism with its rail/steamer interchange station at the southern tip of Windermere, this branch was originally promoted to serve local industrial and commercial needs, including traders at Greenodd, gunpowder works at Haverthwaite and at Black Beck, and the small historic ironworks at Backbarrow. It was completed through at Newby Bridge in 1869, giving access to a small nearby quay, and extended through to Lakeside a few months later. Its role was strongly confirmed when the FR took over the Windermere Steam Yacht Company in 1872. Finally closed to passengers in 1965 the upper section of the branch was later purchased for re-opening as the LAKESIDE AND HAVERTHWAITE RAILWAY, a step achieved in 1973, while the steamers were sold off by British Railways in the 1980s but continue to operate from Lakeside, now under the banner of WINDERMERE LAKE CRUISES.

Note: Dates are all for passenger traffic; goods traffic may have been worked from an earlier date. Not all stations were opened with the original opening of the line and some stations may have been moved from their original locations. Goods traffic may also have continued beyond quoted passenger closure dates.

Furness Railway
Line Opened Closed
Kirkby-in-Furness to Piel Pier 24 August 1846 Open
Barrow to Crooklands 24 August 1846 Open
Kirkby to Broughton-in-Furness February 1848 Open
Crooklands to Lindal 6 May 1851 Open
Lindal to Ulverston 7 June 1854 Open
Broughton-in-Furness to Coniston 18 June 1859 6 October 1958
Plumpton Junction to Lakeside 1 September 1869 closed 6 September 1965
reopened Haverthwaite-Lakeside 2 May 1973 Open
Arnside to Sandside 26 June 1876 31 January 1971
Sandside-Hincaster Junction 26 June 1876 9 September 1963

Ulverston & Lancaster Railway
Line Opened Closed
Carnforth to Ulverston 26 August 1857
Absorbed by Furness Railway 26 May 1862 Open

Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway
Line Opened Closed
Whitehaven Preston St. to Ravenglass 21 July 1848
Ravenglass to Bootle 8 July 1850
Bootle to Foxfield 1 November 1850
Absorbed by Furness Railway 1 July 1866 Open

Station Opened Closed
Carnforth Open
Silverdale Open
Arnside Open
Sandside 4 May 1942
Heversham 4 May 1942
Grange-over-Sands Open
Kents Bank Open
Wraysholme Halt (unadvertised) c.1922
Cark & Cartmel Open
North Lonsdale Crossing June 1916
Conishead Priory 1 January 1917
Haverthwaite 30 September 1946
Newby Bridge Halt 12 September 1939
Lakeside 6 September 1965
Ulverston Open
Lindal 1 October 1951
Dalton Open
Furness Abbey 25 September 1950
Roose Open
Salthouse (not advertised) not known
Rampside 6 July 1936
Piel 6 July 1936
Barrow (1st station) 29 April 1863
Barrow (2nd station) April 1863 1 June 1882
Barrow Central 1 June 1882 Open
Island Road 1 May 1899 3 July 1967
Ramsden Dock 1 June 1881 April 1915
Askam 1 April 1868 Open
Kirkby Open
Foxfield Open
Broughton in Furness 6 October 1958
Woodland 6 October 1958
Torver 6 October 1958
Coniston 6 October 1958
Green Road Open
Under Hill December 1859
Millom Open
Kirksanton Crossing September 1857
Silecroft Open
Whitbeck Crossing September 1857
Bootle Open
Eskmeals 3 August 1959
Ravenglass Open
Drigg Open
Seascale Open
Sellafield Open
Braystones Open
St Bees Golf Halt (unadvertised) February 1918
St Bees Open
Whitehaven Newtown 3 December 1855
Corkickle 3 December 1855 Open

More information on the main line stations of the Furness Railway, including local places of interest can be found by clicking HERE. A history of the Windermere steamers may be found on the Lake Cruises website HERE.

Furness & Midland Joint Railway
Line Opened Closed
Carnforth to Wennington 1 July 1867 Open

Station Opened Closed
Carnforth F&M 2 August 1880
Borwick 12 September 1960
Arkholme 12 September 1960
Melling 5 July 1852
Wennington Open

For further reading see Bibliography