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.
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.
|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|
|Carnforth to Ulverston||26 August 1857|
|Absorbed by Furness Railway||26 May 1862||Open|
|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|
|Sandside||4 May 1942|
|Heversham||4 May 1942|
|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|
|Lindal||1 October 1951|
|Furness Abbey||25 September 1950|
|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|
|Broughton in Furness||6 October 1958|
|Woodland||6 October 1958|
|Torver||6 October 1958|
|Coniston||6 October 1958|
|Under Hill||December 1859|
|Kirksanton Crossing||September 1857|
|Whitbeck Crossing||September 1857|
|Eskmeals||3 August 1959|
|St Bees Golf Halt (unadvertised)||February 1918|
|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.
|Carnforth to Wennington||1 July 1867||Open|
|Carnforth F&M||2 August 1880|
|Borwick||12 September 1960|
|Arkholme||12 September 1960|
|Melling||5 July 1852|
For further reading see Bibliography
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