Industry in Barrow-In-Furness

Barrow-In-Furness is a town in the county of Cumbria, located at the bottom of the Furness peninsula and bordered by Morecambe Bay, the Duddon Estuary and the Irish Sea. It has developed over less than two hundred years from a small village of 152 to a population of over 70,000, and settled back down again to around 60,000 in recent years. Only a stone’s throw away from the Lake District, Barrow-In-Furness is popular amongst those who wish to experience the beauty of the countryside with all the conveniences of more urban areas.

Barrow-In-Furness is a relatively new town, one of few planned in England and one of the oldest towns in the UK to be planned. In the late 1800s, the mining, railway and shipbuilding industries brought huge numbers of inhabitants to the area, prompting James Ramsden to plan a town for the workforce. His planning can still be seen today, with Barrow’s grids of terraced houses and its wide tree-lined streets. Although Barrow’s mining days are over, the shipbuilding industry is still a major part of daily life, providing thousands of engineering jobs in Cumbria and supporting Barrow’s economy. It all started, however, with the opening of the Furness Railway.

Iron, Slate and the Furness Railway

Iron ores are rocks and minerals which iron can be extracted from. Iron ore was mined in Furness for centuries, and began being mined on a commercial level in the late 1700s. The iron ore mined in Furness was haematite, a mineral often black, brown or red that contains a high iron content and no phosphoric impurities. In the 19th Century, the Burlington Slate Quarries, near Kirkby-In-Furness, were also beginning to be excavated on a larger scale. This attracted workers and provided another source of income and industry in the Furness area. However, Furness at this time was incredibly isolated and thus difficult to access in order to trade the slate and iron mined there.

It became apparent, therefore, that a railway would be an ideal way of transporting the iron ore and slate. Thus, on the 23rd May 1844, Parliament passed the Furness Railway Act, allowing the construction of railways in the Furness Area.

The company responsible for this construction was the Furness Railway Company and a mineral railway was built in order to transport both iron ore and slate from other areas of Furness to the port of Barrow. The Furness Railway was founded by Henry Schneider, James Ramsden and other investors, who opened the first section in 1846. This first railway ran between Dalton-In-Furness and Kirkby-In-Furness, as the iron ore was mostly in these areas, and was later extended to Barrow-In-Furness for shipping to smelters in Wales and the Midlands.


After his arrival in Furness in 1839, Henry Schneider and other investors opened the Furness Railway in 1846 for transportation of iron ore and slate from Furness mines to the coast. Then, in 1850, deposits of iron ore – hematite – significant enough for the building of factories for smelting and exporting steel were found.

As a result of this, Schneider opened an ironworks with Robert Hannay in 1859 named Schneider Hannay and co., located near Askam. In 1865, a Bessemer steel plant was opened, allowing for the inexpensive mass-production of steel from molten pig iron, which in turn is made from iron ore. Shortly after, these two companies merged to create the Barrow Haematite Steel Company. Sir James Ramsden was Managing Director of this company, with Josiah T. Smith as General Manager.

The Barrow Haematite Steel Company was then a significant part of Barrow and Furness’s industrial landscape for a number of years and provided a range of goods. Most notable of the goods produced at the company was the steel rail, which was laid on tracks throughout Britain, Europe and America. However, towards the end of the 1800s, the industry suffered somewhat as a new process allowed phosphoric ore to be used – meaning that phosphoric-free ore such as Furness’s Heamatite was no longer necessary. At the same time, the haematite mines’ reserves were depleting and the mines themselves were frequently flooding.

If this was not bad enough, there was also increasing competition from steelworks across the globe and the company saw a reduction in railway building. This caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs, leaving 1,500 working in the Barrow Haematite Steel Company by 1911, down from 3,500. As iron ore production declined and many mines closed down, the worldwide depression after World War One delivered a further blow as the iron and steel markets collapsed.

By the beginning of World War Two, the steelworks had been closed, but was kept in working condition until it was acquired by the Ministry of Supply and began production again. The Barrow Haematite Steel Company continued on, however, as just the ironworks until they were acquired by Barrow Ironworks Ltd. Barrow Ironworks Ltd then carried on with three furnaces still in blast until around 1961 when it became no longer possible to produce steel and the works depended on the remelting of scrap. Barrow Ironworks finally came to a close in 1963. Barrow Steelworks Ltd later became a part of British Steel, and continued on until closure in the 1980s.


In the late 1800s, the aforementioned availability of steel, ideal location by the coast, and the forming of the Furness Railway Company led to the forming of the Iron Shipbuilding Company, later renamed the Barrow Shipbuilding Company upon registration in 1872. From 1871 to 1897 the Barrow Shipbuilding Company built various vessels including those for both civilians and the Navy. Throughout this time it built up a reputation for building quality vessels, leading to it becoming a part of the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company, which was later renamed the Naval Construction and Armaments Company. This was then bought by Vickers and Sons in 1897 and became known as Vickers, Sons and Maxim, Limited with the Barrow shipyard being the Naval Construction Yard. It was here that the Royal Navy’s first submarine was built, Holland 1.

The name of Barrow’s shipyard changed once again to Vickers Ltd and as the First World War started and it began manufacturing aircraft alongside vessels, employing around 17,250 workers. Vessels built at Barrow included the aforementioned Holland 1, along with 35 warships and 131 other submarines. Aircraft built at Vickers included bombers, fighters, escort fighters and biplanes. During the war, industry in Barrow included the production of munitions, including the Vickers machine gun – the standard issue machine gun for the British Army in World War One – and around 6.8 million shells completed in total. This saw the number of workers increase to around 30,000 for the war effort, although this number declined sharply once the war was over.

Almost ten years after the First World War, in 1927, Vickers Limited merged with Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth and Company to form Vickers-Armstrongs. This combination made for one of the most significant warship manufacturers in the world. It was also involved in the production of armaments, including guns used on tanks and aircraft guns. Other military vehicles, besides war vessels, produced at Vickers-Armstrongs included military vehicles such as tanks, most notably the Valentine Infantry Tank, and military aircraft. The Spitfire, one of the most well-known fighter planes in Britain, was produced by Supermarine Aviation Works, a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong.

In World War Two, between 1939 and 1945, Barrow contributed to the war effort once again, building various ships, destroyers and numerous submarines. Barrow-In-Furness was even bombed by the Luftwaffe targeting Vickers and the steelworks, since the yard was contributing so significantly.

The shipbuilding division of Vickers-Armstrongs, the part Barrow-In-Furness was most involved in, became Vickers Armstrongs Shipbuilders, Ltd in 1955 and then Vickers Limited Shipbuilding Group in 1968. In 1977 the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act meant that the aviation, shipbuilding and steel businesses were all nationalised, creating the companies British Aerospace and British Shipbuilders. This lasted until 1984 when the Vickers warship yard was sold to the employee-led VSEL Consortium, renamed as Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited (VSEL). This company continued to be successful, and Barrow’s shipbuilding industry thrived until the end of the cold war when reductions in defence spending lost thousands of jobs.

In 1994, the General Electric Company (GEC) took over VSEL and the company was renamed Marconi Marine (VSEL). This lasted until 1999 when the defence division of the GEC merged with British Aerospace and BAE Systems was formed. As a result of this, Marconi Marine (VSEL) became part of the BAE Systems shipbuilding subsidiary – BAE Systems Marine. This subsidiary then split to form both BAE Systems Submarines and BAE Systems Naval Ships. The subsidiary based in Barrow was part of BAE Systems Submarines, which then underwent a few more name changes – BAE Systems Submarine Solutions in 2007 and then BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines in 2012.

Energy Generation

Barrow-In-Furness is also home to the Rampside Gas Terminal, which has been another significant part of Barrow’s industry over the years. The gas terminal, opened in 1985, is on the Irish Sea coast and connects to gas fields in Morcambe Bay.

Rampside gas terminal is made up of three gas terminals – Rivers Terminal, North Morecambe Terminal and South Morecambe Terminal. Gas is transferred to the terminals for processing and compressing, before being supplied to the National Transmission System.

Centrica Energy is a utility company which supplies electricity and gas to both business and domestic consumers across the United Kingdom and North America. It is the largest supplier of gas and one of the largest suppliers of electricity to domestic consumers in the UK. The Centrica terminals employ around 400 people, and have recently announced that they are investing £84 million in a construction project at the Barrow Gas Terminals to create 300 jobs. This project began in the Spring of 2014, and is due for completion in late 2015.

The Rivers Terminal is operated by Centrica Energy, and imports gas which is rich in nitrogen and hydrogen sulphide. The gas is transferred from this terminal to the North Morcambe Terminal and waste hydrogen sulphide from this terminal is used to produce sulphur dioxide to be converted to liquid sulphuric acid for industrial use. The North Morcambe Terminal is also operated by Centrica Energy, and the gas imported here is high in carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Finally, the South Morcambe Terminal – also operated by Centrica – receives lower levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and receives gas from the South Morcambe field only.

Until very recently, Barrow was also home to the Roosecote Power Station, a gas-fired (originally coal-fired) power station. The coal-fired power station opened in 1984, and generated energy until its closing in November 1986. The station became gas-fired in 1991, and supplied electricity to the United Kingdom’s National Grid until it was mothballed in 2012. The plant was finally demolished in January 2015, as it was considered no longer economically viable.

The Barrow Offshore Wind Farm is also a significant part of industry in Barrow, alongside the Walney offshore wind farm and the West of Duddon Sands wind farm. The Barrow Offshore Wind Farm was built between 2005 and 2006, and is operated by Barrow Offshore Wind Limited, which is owned by Dong Energy. The farm was originally owned by Centrica Energy, Dong Energy and Statkraft, but both Centrica and Dong Energy bought Statkraft’s stake in 2004 so each company had a 50% share. Centrica then sold their share to Dong Energy in late 2014.

The Walney Wind Farm is one of the world’s largest offshore windfarms – with a 367MW capacity, which is enough to power up to 320,000 homes a year. The wind farm was developed by Walney (UK) Offshore Windfarms Limited through a partnership between Dong Energy and Scottish and Southern Energy.

Finally, the West of Duddon Sands wind farm is a relatively new addition to the area’s industry, beginning generating power in January 2014. It was developed by Scottish Power and Dong Energy, and should be able to generate 389MW of electricity – enough to power over a quarter of a million homes. The project has employed over 1,000 people, helping boost the local economy and further improving the outlook for those seeking engineering jobs in Cumbria.

Barrow’s industries are constantly growing, and Barrow continues to thrive despite setbacks. Many engineering jobs in the North West have relied on Barrow in the past, and many continue to do so. Over the years, Barrow’s position on the tip if the Furness Peninsula has ensured its continual survival as it uses its surroundings to fuel its success. If you would like to find out more about jobs in the area, contact recruitment agencies in Cumbria such as Recruitment Cumbria today.