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Chapter 1

The Furness Railway 1846-1860

 

The Furness Railway had its beginnings in two short lines which linked the little port of Piel with Kirby-in-Furness ( on the southern shore of the Duddon Estuary)  and Dalton-in-Furness.  The company came into being largely through the energy and enterprise of WILLIAM, Earl of Burlington.  This gentleman afterwards became the 7th Earl of Devonshire.  He had considerable land and financial interests in the Furness district of Lancashire.  Among these interests were the extensive slate quarries on the hills behind Kirby which bear his name to this day.

In the early years of the 19th Century the extensive deposits of hematite iron ore in the Dalton area were being rapidly exploited, and the ore had to be carted to the coast for shipment.  Slate from the Burlington quarries had to be dealt with in a similar manner.  Like the Earl of Lonsdale further north, the Earl of Burlington was fully alive to the potentialities of railways and realised how the movement of both iron ore and slates could be expedited by the building of a line.  Thus he became the prime mover in the formation of the Furness Company.

In corporation took place in 1844, the same year as the Midland Railway.  Since the Furness retained its original title down to 1923, it was only beaten in age by the Great Western and Maryport and Carlisle Railways, among those concerns which kept their original title throughout their independent existence.

Actually a scheme for a short railway in the Furness area was put forward in 1843 by a MR. JOHN ABEL SMITH.  This was for the construction of a short embankment or causeway, carrying a railway on it, to run from Piel on to Roa Island.  MR. SMITH  described his plan in the following terms:

"To connect Roa Island with the neighbouring Island of Great Britain; for the construction of a pier at Piel, and for the development of that portion of the natural harbour as a place for import and export, and for the conveyance of passengers by steam-propelled vessels. "

MR. SMITH also prepared a scale of tolls for carrying goods.  He evidently anticipated a very diverse trade as he included in his list tolls for carrying tropical produce (including turtles); fiddles and corpses.  His charges for the musical instruments were 2d. each and for bodies, 1 pound.

The original terminus of the Furness was at Rampside and the first section consisted of the line from Kirby to Dalton (6 miles and 69 chains), together with the connecting link from Goldmire Junction to Rampside and Piel ( 6 miles and 13 chains).  MESSRS. TREDWELLS were the contractors for the construction:  MR. JAMES RAMSDEN was the first Locomotive Engineer;  MR. A. CURREY the Secretary, and MR. McLEAN the Engineer.

At a meeting of the Company held in London on November 1st, 1845, it was announced that 70,000 pounds Capital had been subscribed and it was proposed to increase this to 100,000 pounds.  In anticipation of a larger flow of traffic as time went on, the earthworks of the lines from both Dalton and Kirby were made wide enough to enable the track to be doubled without difficulty.  This wise move was justified, for the line from Dalton Junction to Rampside was doubled within a year of the opening.  After only six months life as a operating concern, the Furness Railway paid its shareholders  4 1/2 %.

The line was inspected by the Board of Trade on August 3rd, 1846, and opened for traffic on August 12th.  Probably because the railway was built primarily for mineral traffic, there does not seem to have been any special opening ceremony.  The first trainload of slates from Kirby was carried over the line the day after the opening.  This was a load of 100 tons  for shipment to Ireland.

During a single week in August the steamer run by MR. ABEL SMITH between Fleetwood and Piel carried no less than 1,500 passengers and of these over 500 were visitors to the ruins of Furness Abbey.

In 1844 the output from the iron mines in the Dalton and Lindal areas amounted to over 100,000 tons, all of which was carted to Piel.  This tonnage, which was to increase steadily, now went entirely by rail.  But in spite of the fact that mineral traffic was to be the mainstay of the infant Furness, the directors had other objects in view.  When the Furness opened their first section, both the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway to the north and the Lancashire and Carlisle Railway to the south, were in process of construction.  The Furness directorate already had plans to link up with both these concerns and as early as 1845 they commenced negotiations with a view to extending their line to Ulverston.  Powers were obtained 1846 to do so, but nothing further transpired for the time being:  Ulverston regarded itself as " too exclusive: to tolerate the presence of such a "new-fangled" idea as a railway.

To the north, however, the situation was different.  There was no opposition and the Furness was eager to extend from Kirby to Broughton-in-Furness.  At the latter place they could pick up the traffic in copper ore from the mines near Coniston.  This was being carted from the foot of Coniston Lake, after being brought down there in barges.  These barges were large iron affairs, constructed by JOHN WILKINSON who built the first Iron bridge in England.  This was at Ironbridge in Shropshire.  WILKINSON was born in 1728 at Clifton, near Workington.

Not long after the opening of the line to Dalton and to Kirby, work was commenced on the extension to Broughton-in-Furness.  This was opened in 1848.  By this time the six "BURY" locomotives were becoming hard put to it to cope with the increasing mineral traffic and passenger trains which were also being provided.

In 1848 the Earl of Burlington became chairman of the board of directors, taking the place of his representative, MR. BENJAMIN CURREY.  Two years later,  MR. BENJAMIN CURREY resigned from his position as Secretary and MR. JAMES RAMSDEN became both Secretary and General Manager.

By 1851, Ulverston had become more amenable to railway communication and a start was made on the extension from Dalton.  This reached Lindal ( 1 mile and 53 chains )  in the same year, but Ulverston did not receive the line until 1854.  The delay was due largely to the somewhat heavy cuttings involved in the construction which slowed up progress.  The length of the extension from Lindal to Ulverston was 2 miles and 68 chains, with a falling gradient towards Ulverston of 1 in 76 at the steepest point.

In 1851  the Company encountered its first " spot of bother. "  They had been using MR. JAMES ABEL SMITH'S  "causeway"  line from Rampside to Piel, but evidently the relations between that gentleman and the company had become strained for the Furness now sought powers to make a new railway of their own from Lindal to Piel.  Ultimately negotiations with MR. SMITH resulted in the Furness leasing the  " causeway  " and Piel pier for 999 years.  This was in 1852.  All now seemed to be well, but an " act of God: intervened in the shape of a violent storm which broke over the coast on December 23rd 1852.  During this storm a large goods shed on Roa island was blown down; all the ships in Piel harbour except one were driven ashore and the entire length of the causeway was destroyed.  Unfortunately this storm occurred just after the whole " sep-up:  between Rampside and Piel had been valued for the purpose of arbitration between MR. SMITH and the Furness Company.  The latter now refused to accept the valuation, while MR. SMITH stuck out for its acceptance.  Eventually however the Law Courts were avoided and in 1853 the Furness purchased both the pier and the remaining property.

While all this wrangling about Piel had been going on, the Company had been taking steps to develop the little town of Barrow-in-Furness as a port.  From here a certain MR. SCHNEIDER had already begun to run screw steamers to Fleetwood and other places across Morecambe Bay.  While the process of development at Barrow was going on, it was felt that Piel would continue to be a useful "side-line"  during such time as the shipping traffic across the bay continued to be remunerative.

By 1855 things were going well.  Passenger traffic was up to 145,000 fares a year;  Ulverston had been reached and a dividend of 6% had been declared.  The iron ore traffic had gone up by leaps and bounds and by 1856 reached a tonnage of 445,000, all of which was shipped from Barrow, as the smelting furnaces had not yet been established there.  Slate traffic from the Burlington quarries was 10,000 tons annually.

These big increases in traffic brought the need for doubling of considerable portions of the track.  Crooklands to Lindal was the first section to be tackled.  This involved the enlarging of Crooklands tunnel and the contract for the job was let to MESSRS. TREDWELLS for 25,000 pounds.  Doubling was also carried out between Salthouse Junction and Barrow.  At the latter, dredging operations were commenced to improve shipping facilities and in 1855 some Steam Tugs were purchased for the harbour.

In the year 1859 an event took place which set the seal on the future prosperity of the Furness Railway.  This was the establishing at Barrow of the Ironworks of MESSRS. SCHNEIDER & HANNAY.  In the previous year (1858)  this firm had bought land from the Furness at Hindpool on which to build their plant.  This eventually became the steelworks and blast furnace plant of the Barrow Hematite Steel Company.

With the setting up of the smelting plant at Hindpool the Furness lost most of the shipment traffic in iron ore, since the bulk of this was now smelted locally; but this loss was more than offset by the pig iron and coke traffic which resulted from the establishment of MESSRS. SCHNEIDER & HANNAY'S works.  There were three furnaces in blast at the beginning of 1860.

During the next five years the Furness took over three other companies.  These were the Ulverston & Lancaster  (in 1862);  The Coniston  (in 1862)  and the Whitehaven & Furness Junction ( in 1866).  The history and fortunes of these three companies are dealt with in the next two chapters.