The Furness Railway 150
1996 marked the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Furness Railway. Built as a small local railway, then totally isolated from the rest of the embryo national railway system, it was intended to serve an immediate short-distance transport need, that of moving iron ore and slate from the hills of the Furness peninsular down to the shore at the fishing village of Barrow for shipment to markets elsewhere.
Once established, some remarkable Victorian entrepreneurs were to supervise the growth of the railway, by new construction and takeover of other lines, to become the heart of a business empire stretching along the Cumbrian Coast from Carnforth in the cast to Whitehaven and Workington in the north. Men like James Ramsden, the seventh Duke of Devon-shire, John and Alexander Brogden and Henry William Schneider have left enduring marks on the area, changing forever the economy from a rural to an industrial and urban base. The town of Barrow-in-Furness was substantially the creation of the railway, which also strongly influenced the growth of other towns in the area. Not all the early ambitions were to be fulfilled. Barrow Docks never attracted the forecast trade; ambitious plans to develop Seascale as the Eastbourne of the North fizzled out.
In later years, with a later Duke of Devonshire as Chairman and Alfred Aslett as General Manager, the Furness Railway Company was to create a popular tourism market in the Lake District, building on Wordsworth's romantic image of the area. Although no longer rail-based, this was the basis of today's mass tourism. The lake steamer services, which were developed by the Company, and which still use the original Furness Railway steamers on Coniston Water and Windermere, are very much a part of today's tourist attractions.
Furness Railway 150 is a celebration of the Furness Railway Company. Although created very much to serve the local industries which have now largely disappeared, the present Furness line, though shorn of its branches, still fulfils an important public transport function -with the benefit of being one of the most scenic routes in Britain. Where else can one enjoy, from the comfort of the train, views to rival those of the central fells of the Lake District, over the sands of Morecambe Bay and across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man?
Softback, 64 pages, black & white photographs, maps
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Updated: 1 June 2020