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While researching my family, I have been surprised at the number of people involved in mining, as I never considered Furness to be a mining area.  Growing up in Barrow, I remember Vickers and the iron works, and if I think about it there were old pits around, but they were ancient.  I suppose to a twelve year old playing on the spoil heaps round Yarlside, the mines were of the same period as the remains of Furness Abbey not somewhere my Grandfather would work.

Even as a twelve year old, I loved maps so it was natural for me to turn to maps to try to find out why so many people worked in the mines - and why the mines all vanished again.  And being into computers, I naturally turned to the Web to supply the information.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of old maps you can find on-line (even if some of the quality is not great), and I have pulled extracts out of most of the better ones on these pages.  Click on any of the extracts to see the original source pages.


The Furness peninsula is an area of reasonably fertile land which is bounded by the rivers Duddon and Leven and the southern edges of the Lake District.  This made it an ideal place for an Abbey, but meant the industrial revolution was somewhat late in arriving.  The areas of sand and mud restricted access for large ships, with quays limited to one at Ulverstone and one at the Pile of Foudrey (Roa Island).  Small boats could also get up to Kirkby Pool, and this was the original transport route for the Burlington Slate Company which supplied slate to the expanding towns of Manchester and Liverpool.  The first sign of the Burlington quarry is on Greenwood's map of 1818, but this was simply the first large scale exploitation.  Looking at a larger scale map, eg the Ordinance Survey 1 inch map from around 1850, shows small slate quarries scattered the length and breadth of Swarthmoor.  Those shown in this extract are just above Moor Side at the South end of the moor.

There was also a small iron industry using the very high quality iron ore found locally - this giving the local stone it's deep red colour.  The ore was often overlain with a layer of limestone, which with wood  from the local forests provided the basic raw materials for smelting iron.  The monks of Furness Abbey worked this iron, and the first mention of iron mines on a map predates Burlington's quarry by thirty years when Yates identified them near Lindal in 1786.  In 1804 Smith also showed these mines - but managed to mis-spell the village name.  Again, the extract from the OS 1850 map shows one of these mines, and reveals that not only was the ore mined (as shown by the shafts), but it was also an iron works and probably used limestone dug from a pit right in the middle of the works.  The presence of a smithy reflects that horses were still the main source of motive power.  There is a reference on the Lindal web site (in Harrison Ainslie's Shipping Interests) to the Whitriggs Horse Level, suggesting horses were used underground at this mine and probably at others in the area.  See the Lindal and Marton Community Website for this and other information about the area.

Further evidence that horse and foot were the main ways of travel is shown by the route of the turnpikes.  The original land-based transport routes relied on crossing the sands, from Slyne (Hest Bank) to Cartmel,  from Lower Holker to Ulverston, and from Ireleth to Millom.  The Lune and Leven estuaries were largely mud flats, not really suitable for heavy loads, so the original turnpikes ran up the Leven to Newby Bridge then cut across to Kendal (lots of hills), or headed more South to Lindale (one big hill) then across towards Milnthorpe (nice and flat).  Anybody approaching Furness on the A590 should recognise this route - apart from the bypasses and diversions, it still follows the line of the 1818 turnpike.

Despite what's shown on the map above, the turnpike did not turn sharply right in Ulverston but inJohn Cary 1787 map of Lancashire from reality  ran down to Lindal before heading across to Ireleth and straight over the sands to Millom.   This saved a day's travel compared with walking up to Duddon Bridge, and the sand was firm enough to take a carriage or cart.  This shows up in John Cary's map of 1787 which also shows the path ('fordable at low water')  across the Leven estuary.

This map also shows the relative importance of Aldingham and 'Much Urswick', especially when compared with Barrow which at that time was an island rather than a town.  Barrow started growing as a town when the railways arrived and started demanding steel by the mile.  Furness had the high quality iron ore and the limestone to produce that steel - yet strangely the first railway bypassed Barrow for the more traditional harbour at 'the Pile of Foudrey' or Piel Channel as it's more commonly known these days.


Interesting Links


Old maps of Lancashire

More old maps

Lancashire County Council Maps

Barrow Borough Council Maps

Lindal in Furness web site


Saltmarsh Factsheet

In fact, the first railway line in the area was built to transport slate and iron ore from Burlington, Kirkby and Ireleth to Piel - or more precisely to Roa Island on the other side of the channel.  A causeway linked the island to Rampside and new staithes were built Map by Moule, 1836 showing railway from Kirkby Ireleth to Rampsideout into the deep water channel allowing bigger ships to carry more slate and ore.  The general course of this railway can be seen on Moule's map of 1836 although I think this was sketched in rather than being surveyed in any detail.  The mapmaker also got confused at the South end, because there is only one island shown between Rampside and Walney (positioned nearer to the proper location of Roa), so he has drawn in 'Piel Pier' in the middle of the mud flats.

As the demand for iron increased the cost of transhipment from train to boat became prohibitive, and by 1840 plans were in place to run a railway from Carnforth (already on the main London to Glasgow line) through to Furness and on to Millom, Workington and eventually through to Carlisle.  The biggest hold-up to this was bridging the three estuaries - the Lune, Leven and Duddon.

As early as 1840, Archer was showing an expansion of this railway, with branches to Ulverston and Barrow and an extensive viaduct across the Duddon.  As maps of that period always respected County boundaries, we cannot say whether this line terminated at Millom or continued up the Cumberland coast.  We do know that the pressure was on the Furness railway to extend up the coast - the Carlisle and Egremont railway had plans to extend South, so the Furness laid it's own tracks from Egremont down to Millom ready for that viaduct.  Creighton's map of Cumberland in 1848 shows this line again with a viaduct, although now at a different  (and more realistic) angle.

By about 1850, the viaduct had been abandoned in favour of a simpler bridge further upstream, whilst the map by Wyld (which Barrow BC claim to be '1840s') shows not only this bridge but also the two viaducts to the East, and the railway connecting straight through to CarnforthMap by Hughes, 1885 showing railways round Furness.  Unfortunately this map is too big to use here, so I have selected an extract from a map by Hughes from 1886 which shows these lines and also the Ulverston to Lakeside and the Broughton to Coniston lines.

Whilst no doubt there were very good financial arguments for building it, the Lakeside line is often regarded as being James Schneiders private railway.  After making his fortune from Iron, he moved into a large house at Bowness and commuted by steamer and railway to Barrow.  The Broughton to Coniston line, on the other hand, was a working line mainly intended to bring slate down from the Coniston fells.  It was also popular with visitors, attracted by Ruskin, and by Wordsworth's Daffodils.  Wordsworth himself was against railways because they gave the working class access to beauty they could not appreciate - “Let then the beauty be undisfigured and the retirement unviolated”  (Wordsworth's Arguments Against the Kendal and Windemere Railway)


We have wandered round Furness looking at railways, but haven't yet seen much of the family.  Click here to see how they tie in together.