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By David Rooney on

Steel Yourself For A Visit To Barrow

You may have been following my recent posts on Britain’s submarine history. One thing that’s emerged has been the important role of Barrow-in-Furness in transport history.

The Vickers company, now part of BAE Systems, made most of Britain’s submarine fleet at their Barrow yard, and BAE are manufacturing our latest subs there now.

But Barrow was a transport town long before the submarines. In the mid-nineteenth century, Barrow became a centre for steel-making, as iron ore mined in the nearby Lake District was brought to the town by rail.

Experimental Bessemer converter, 1865 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

This device, a prototype Bessemer converter, was made at the Barrow Haematite Ironworks in 1865, and is on show at the Science Museum. Large-scale converters that followed enabled steel to be made in vast quantities.

This plentiful local steel supply, coupled with Barrow’s sheltered waterside, made the town an ideal place to build ships, and Barrow yards churned out countless vessels before turning towards submarines in 1900.

The railway line that transported the iron ore which enabled this whole industry to thrive was a significant network in its own right.

Barrow railway station, 1930 (NRM / Science & Society)

We’ve got lots of Furness Railway items in the National Railway Museum collections, including ‘Coppernob’, on show in the NRM Station Hall

'Coppernob' locomotive for Furness Railway, 1846 (NRM / Science & Society)

…paintings in the art collection…

Oil painting of a train on the Furness Railway, 1910 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

…and delightful archive items.

Furness Railway timetable, 1915 (NRM / Science & Society)

Today, parts of the Furness Railway are still used by the national rail network, including the line to Barrow. It’s an area with a long and enduring history.

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