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Towards the close of the 19th Century the Furness Railway had got into something of a rut. The passenger service was uninspired; the coaching stock out of date and the locomotive power once again inadequate to handle the still increasing train loads. It seemed obvious that some new blood was required on the administrative side to instil some vigour and enterprise into the policy of the company.
Happily, such an event took place in 1895. In that year MR. COOK, who had served the Company faithfully for nearly 30 years (and the W. & F. J. R. for 20 years before that) retired. His position as secretary was filled by MR. ALFRED ASLETT. The latter came from the Cambrian Railway where he had occupied a similar post. Coming to the Furness when the area served by the Company was suffering from a trade depression, MR. ASLETT was the right man for the job. The concern from which he came relied mainly on passenger traffic for its revenue, and it was to such source of income that the Furness now looked for increasing returns. In the meantime the retiring Secretary was presented with a brougham (amongst other things ) by the Company on his retirement. Slightly over 12 months after MR. ASLETT'S arrival at Barrow, SIR JAMES RAMSDEN died. He had served the Furness Railway faithfully and well from its inception, and had been the moving spirit in the development of the Barrow docks and harbour. One of the docks bore his name and he had been mayor of the town. His position as General Manager was then taken over by MR. ASLETT, who continued to be Secretary of the Company also.
The new Manager didn't waste much time in putting a number of new ideas into practice. He quickly realised the potentialities of the Furness territory from a tourist traffic point of view and saw that too little attention had been paid to it in the past. Only four combined rail and coach tours were in operation during the summer months, and MR. ASLETT quickly organised no less than 20.
Of these, the pride of MR. ASLETT'S heart was the "six lakes tour" which embraced Windermere, Ullswater, Derwentwater, Thirlmere, Grasmere and Rydal Water, all for 13/-. This charge included steamer fares on Windermere and Ullswater, coach travel between the latter two lakes, rail travel from Penright to Keswick over the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line and coaching again from Keswick back to the steamer at Ambleside. Another popular short tour included a visit to Cartmel Priory and Holker Hall, for 4/3.
In the summer of 1896 a Sunday service of steamers was introduced on Windermere, and a series of cheap day tickets to pleasure resorts at single rate for the return journey, were issued. Mr. ASLETT also put in operation cheap weekly tickets, allowing for six journeys a week between any two stations on the system.
In 1897 it was decided to abolish 2nd class fares (except on the West Cumberland Joint Lines since the L. & N. W. R. still retained 2nd class.) To replace the old fares, a new variety, entitled "reserved 3rd " was brought out. By booking under this heading the passenger got a reserved seat and a small extra fee was added to the normal 3rd class rate.
A new development was undertaken by The Naval Construction & Armament Co. (now MESSRS. VICKERS, Sons & Maxim Ltd.) in the same year (1897.) This was the establishment of a Gun Testing Range on the foreshore near Eskmeals, some miles north of Millom.
In 1896 MR. MASON, the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, retired after 50 years of service with the company. His successor, MR. W. F. Pettigrew, was immediately confronted with the task of not only designing bigger and better locomotives but improved coaching stock as well. How he coped with the locomotive situation is dealt with in the next chapter.
For the comfort of the traveller on the Furness metals, MR. PETTIGREW designed a series of semi-corridor bogie coaches which compared with favourably with the rolling stock on most of the larger lines in the country. They were lit with electric lighting on Stone's system and before long most of the other passenger stock was similarly equipped. The new coaches were also fitted with an ingenious device by which an ingenious device by which an aromatic disenfectant was discharged into the lavatory compartments every time the doors were opened or closed. The new semi-corridors were first put on the through services between Barrow and Leeds and Bradford; especially on the Belfast boat trains for which the Midland Railway had previously supplied the best coaches. Later, when through carriages were run to Leeds and Bradford from Whitehaven, Coniston and Lakeside, this new stock was employed.
MR. ASLETT'S virile policy soon bore fruit. Between 1895 and 1898 the number of passenger fares went up by 265,344, representing an increase of 12%. this big rise in passenger revenue helped to off-set the decline in other directions, caused by the trade slump during this period. During 1896, for example, the Barrow steel works were closed for six months, during which time 4,000 men were out of work.
By 1898 trade was improving again and in that year goods traffic was up by 17,330 tons and minerals by 55,159 tons, in addition to the steady passenger increase already mentioned. Messrs. Vickers were now employing 7,000 men in their shipyards at Barrow and a scheme to dredge the Piel Bar near the harbour entrance was completed at a cost of £ 30,000. Barrow docks now covered an area of 294 acres. The entrance to the Ramsden dock was 100 feet wide and crane power up to 100 tons lifting capacity had been provided. While the replacement of the locomotives and rolling stock was going on, the permanent way also received considerable attention. All the main lines had been re-laid with rails weighing 99 lbs. to the yard and 45 lb. chairs, while sections of 100 lb. flat-bottomed rails were laid experimentally.
Even during the winter months of 1901, through coaches were run from London (Euston and St. Pancras,) Liverpool and Manchester to Barrow and Whitehaven; as well as to and from Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford.
As from January 1st, 1898, cheap day tickets at single fare for the return journey, were issued by all trains, all the year round. Other innovations were short date and long dated week-end and tourist tickets, the latter being available for two months from the date of issue.
In 1900 an additional steamer was placed in service on Windermere. This was the "Swift," gross tonnage 203, built by T. B. Seath & Co.
During 1898 the Company had to provide a number of extra mineral wagons for the Cleator and Workington Railway and also built 15 new tabular frame bogie wagons for handing steel rail traffic between the Barrow steelworks and the docks. This in turn released a number of "flats" to cope with the increasing amount of timber which the company were handling.
As the town of Barrow grew steadily (the population had now reached 60,000, compared with a mere 5,000 in 1860,) an increasing number of people resided on Walney Island, opposite the town. A somewhat primitive kind of ferry had been operating between Walney and the mainland, but in 1901 Mr. Pettigrew designed a new one for the job. Built by the company, it had a hull 72 feet long. With a width of 36 feet and a depth of 8 feet, the new ferry was fitted with two deck-houses 52 feet long and 10 feet wide. During its first year in service, 520,000 passengers were carried.
For the year 1900 a dividend of 7% was paid. During the first half of 1901, 682,765 passengers were carried and 780,222 tons of goods and minerals. In 1901, on the recommendation of Mr. Aslett, work was commenced on the lowering of the sill of the Ramsden dock at Barrow by six feet, in order to allow the largest warship to enter the port. This scheme was completed towards the end of the year, and was of great benefit to Messrs. Vickers, Sons & Maxim.
On the night of February 27th, 1903, a particularly violent storm broke over the North West Coast. This was responsible for a remarkable accident on the Furness Railway which might have resulted in a serious loss of life. In the early hours of the morning of February 28th, the down Barrow and Whitehaven mail was crossing Levens Viaduct. Unknown to the driver and train crew the severe gale had blown down the telegraph wires. The latter became entangled with the vacuum brake pipe on one of the coaches with the result that the connection was severed and the train brought to a standstill near the centre of the viaduct. Just after it stopped a particularly fierce gust of wind stuck the train, which consisted of half-a-dozen coaches and a mail sorting van. Except the latter and the engine (to which the van was attached at the front of the train) the remaining coaches were blown over on their sides. Fortunately, they did not fall over the low parapet into the water below. Thirty-three people were injured, but luckily none severely, and the line was cleared for normal traffic within nine hours.
Since the commencement of his reign at Barrow, MR. ASLETT had done much to develop the steamer route between Barrow and Fleetwood; as a means of attracting holiday-makers at Blackpool to visit the Lake District. Up to 1903 the paddle steamer "Lady Evelyn" had been engaged on this run in the summer months. She was 200 feet long, and a 24 foot beam, and had a speed of 16 knots. In 1903 the company put another paddle boat in commission. This was the "Lady Margaret." She was built by MESSRS. McMILLAN of Dumbarton, and was 210 feet long with a 25 foot beam. With a top speed of 17 knots, "Lady Margaret" had accommodation for 700 passengers. The growing popularity of this service is shown by the fact that "Lady Evelyn" alone carried over 41,000 passengers in 1903, as compared with 28,000 in 1901. Taken all round, 1903 wasn't such a prosperous year for the Company, and the dividend fell to 5 1/2%.
The Midland Railway were causing the Furness some anxiety by 1904 as the big company had been pressing on with their Heysham Harbour scheme and the later port was opened on September 1st, 1904. Naturally, the Furness saw their traffic to Belfast and the Isle of Man being seriously affected by the alternative (and quicker) route which the Midland were now operating. Some protracted negotiations were now entered into between the two companies. However, in 1905, Mr. Aslett was able to report a fairly favourable outcome. The Midland agreed to maintain a service via Barrow for three years and to the Isle of Man for a shorter period. The latter purchased the interest of the Furness and Messrs. LITTLE & Co. in the steamer service for £ 45,000. They also guaranteed to route a proportion of their competitive traffic to and from Belfast via Barrrow, so on the whole the Furness got a fairly reasonable deal.
Probably with a view to popularising the Barrow route to the Isle of Man, MR. ASLETT was able to arrange a through service with the North-Eastern Railway from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Barrow, during the summer months. This was put into operation on July 1st, 1905. Running via Darlington, Kirkby Stephen and Tebay (from whence the F. R. had running powers over the L.N.W.R. to Hindcaster Junction,) the morning train left Newcastle (Central) at 9.30 a.m. and arrived at Barrow at 2.10 to connect with the afternoon boat to Douglas. The return train left Barrow at 12.15 p.m. (after the arrival of the morning steamer from Douglas) and reached Newcastle at 5.7 p.m.
A new paddle steamer was put in service in 1905. this was the "Gwalia," afterwards re-named "Lady Moyra" after a member of the Cavendish family. "Lady Moyra" was 247 feet long and 29 feet wide, and had a speed of 19 knots. During the same year MR. PETTIGREW designed a rail motor for the Lakeside branch. Seating 12 first and 36 third class passengers, the car was 60 ft. 11 ins. long over buffer, with a 48 ft. wheelbase. Cylinders 11x14 ins., with Walchaert Valve Gear, drove coupled wheels 2 ft. 10 ins. in diameter. Working pressure was 100 lbs. and water capacity 300 gallons. A second one was built later. Both were scrapped in 1918.
A "bigger wagon" policy was inaugurated in 1906 when the Company ordered 100 wagons of 15 tons capacity. A new combined rail, sea, lake and coach tour was freely advertised by coloured posters and in the special guide book which was now issued annually. This started from Blackpool and took the tourist by steamer from Fleetwood to Barrow; thence by rail to Lakeside and then by steamer again up to Ambleside. From the latter a coach ran to Coniston from which rail travel was again resumed back to Barrow and the steamer back to Fleetwood. The whole trip was laid on for 7/6. In spite of the energetic policy carried out by MR. ASLETT (he was now a J.P. and a member of the Barrow Chamber of Commerce,) contraction in local trade and a steady increase in working and other expenditure were still reducing the annual dividend. It was 5% in 1903; 3 3/4 % in 1905; and 3% in 1906.
Bad weather during the tourist season and still no improvement in the iron and steel industries made 1907 another poor year. Passenger revenue just held its own, showing an increase of a mere £ 187. Goods and mineral returns were nearly £800 lower than in 1906. However, 1908 opened with a number of new schemes. Most of them concerned Barrow docks and the steamer services.
The bridge over the Buccleuch dock was widened during the year at a cost of £10,000. This was to enable ships with a beam of 95 feet to be built at Barrow. A new bascule bridge was also constructed between the Ramsden and Buccleuch docks and another bridge, connecting Walney Island with the mainland was opened. This enabled the steam ferry to be abandoned.
On Coniston Lake the old "gondola" had done faithful service since 1859. MR. PETTIGREW now designed an improved model, 90 feet long and 15 feet wide. Power was supplied by two pairs of high pressure cylinders 10x10 ins., working at 120 pressure. The new vessel was equipped with two cabins and had a speed of 11 knots. she was built near Southampton and then sent in parts by rail to Coniston were she was re-assembled.
For the Fleetwood-Barrow pleasure services, a further paddle steamer commenced operations in 1908. This was the "Philomel." She was 236 feet long and had a beam of 27 feet. Accommodation for 1,000 passengers was provided, and she had a top speed of 14 knots. During this year the Franco-British Exhibition was held and the enterprising MR. ASLETT took a stand there on which the attractions of the Lake District were attractively displayed and a special series of folders, written in French, were issued. In spite of all these efforts, however, the dividend for 1908 reached a "new low" 3/4%. The following year it rose fractionally to 7/8%.
The Duke of Devonshire died in 1908. and his place as chairman was filled by his nephew, The Marquis of Hartington, who later succeeded to the title. He had joined the board in 1890. In 1909 the Company's Engineer, MR. W. W. WHITWORTH, retired on account of ill-health. He was succeeded by MR. D. L. RUTHERFORD, who came from the North British Railway. In the same year MR. E. J. RAMSDEN, son of the late Sir JAMES RAMSDEN, joined the board of directors. He had been Superintendent of the line since 1896.
During the period of depression through which the area served by the Furness was passing at this time, the Company put on a through coach of an unusual kind. This was from Whitehaven to Southampton on Friday nights, for the benefit of the large number of people who were emigrating to South Africa, Australia and Canada. The coach was "prepared" at Barrow in the afternoon and sent north to Whitehaven to be attached to the evening up mail.
The number of people patronising the Fleetwood-Barrow steamer service showed a welcome increase in 1910. the number going up by over 25,000 compared with the previous year. The total was 127,000. This was a better year financially, the number of passengers carried being 3,068,982 and the goods and minerals totalled 4,288,963 tons. A dividend of 2 1/8% was declared.
The Cavendish dock was now leased to MESSRS. VICKERS, and an electric crane of 150 tons lifting capacity had been erected at the Buccleuch dock.
The directors had now laid it down that all apprentices should attend technical classes organised by the Barrow Education Committee, and all successful students were given increased pay. Classes for first aid had also been organised, and a special shield was competed for annually by teams from various parts of the system. The Bury locomotive "Copper Nob, " which was withdrawn from service in 1907, was now installed in her "glass case" at Barrow Central station.
Some accelerations and improvements were made to the train services in the summer of 1911. The 4-43 p.m. from Carnforth was speeded up to reach Whitehaven at 7-10 p.m., and with the Euston through coaches leaving there at 11-25, the time from London to Whitehaven was cut to 7 hrs. 45 min. On Mondays only the morning through carriage to London left Whitehaven at 7-45 instead of 6-40 and still arrived at Euston at the same time.
Now that the Midland only had a secondary interest in the steamer services from barrow the Belfast and the Isle of Man, the through coaches from St. Pancras to the Furness line were cancelled, but through carriages were still run on quite a generous scale from Bradford and Leeds. the area did not suffer by this absence of the St. Pancras direct run, as the L.N.W. provided a quicker route to and from Euston, with better facilities.
About this time MR. ASLETT was the prime mover in another small, but novel, idea to still further foster the tourist attractions for the Furness territory. The Company purchased the house, "High Cocken," which had been the residence of the painter, GEORGE ROMNEY, and his father from 1742 to 1755. The house was renovated and a museum established there, a small charge being made for admission.
Nothing of special moment occurred during the following year. Neither 1911 or 1912 were so successful from a financial point of view, the dividends being below 2%, but in 1913 things were on the up-grade again. Quite an impressive list of improvements were recorded at the Annual Meeting. The number of passengers had gone up by 515,705 compared with 1912. The passenger revenue was up by £ 45,000 compared with fifteen years previously (another tribute to MR. ASLETT'S astute policy of developing the tourist appeal of the area,) while the steamer services were carrying 30% more passengers than in the previous year. Goods and mineral traffic was also up by 528,000 tons. The year also saw the finishing of another expensive improvement to the shipping facilities at Barrow. This was the widening and deepening of the Walney Channel and the final dredging of Piel Bar. The ordinary shareholders received 2 1/2 %.
Since 1913 saw the final development of the through connections between the Furness Railway and other lines, prior to the 1914-1918 War.
In the summer of 1914 the only alteration to the train service was the provision of a new semi-fast-train leaving Whitehaven for Carnforth at 8-53 a.m., and giving an arrival at Euston at 5-7 p.m.
The viaducts over the Leven and Kent estuaries which had been built 57 years previously, were now further strengthened so that the speed limits which had been imposed thereon were abolished. This work cost £ 48,000.
During the 18 years in which Mr. Aslett had been at Barrow, passenger traffic had increased by 102% and the gross receipts by 65%. This was equivalent to a 1 1/2 % dividend on the Ordinary Stock.
When the Great War broke out the Furness Railway owned 136 locomotives; 362 coaching vehicles; 3,939 open and 2,335 mineral wagons; 304 covered wagons; 126 cattle trucks; 711 rail and timer trucks; 87 goods brake vans; and 357 service vehicles. The total length of track owned ( reduced to single line and including sidings) was 428 miles 55 chains. The total engine miles run during the year was 2,798,191, of which passenger traffic made up 837, 564 miles and goods traffic 805, 023 miles. the balance was made up by banking and shunting duties. The severe gradients on both sides of Lindal and on the "Joint Lines" accounted for the banking mileage reaching a total of 318,281 miles. The Company also owned 153 houses which were occupied by its own staff, and over 800 other buildings.
Owing to contraction in all branches of traffic and the heavy expenditure on the viaduct strengthening scheme, plus a fairly large locomotive renewal programme, no more than a half-per-cent dividend could be declared for 1914. The next four years were to tax the resources of the Furness Railway to the utmost, as will be seen in the next chapter.
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