Page 9 of 15
The Furness Railway 1879 - 1896
The year 1879 saw the last of the absorptions and amalgamations which affected the Furness Railway and the Company finally assumed the size and form which it was to maintain down to the 1923 grouping. The '80' were not good from a mineral traffic point of view, as there was considerable depression in the iron and steel trade, nevertheless the company continued their development policy as far as Barrow was concerned. This fact was to come in for a lot of criticism during the next ten years.
The beginning of the decade was not promising for the Furness. During 1879, gross receipts were down by nearly £ 35,000 at £ 209,567 for the period. Net receipts fell by well over £ 29,000 and this included a loss of £ 12,000 on the working arrangement with the Cleator & Workington Company. Never the less, the expansion and development of Barrow was still dear to the heats of the Duke of Devonshire and his directors, and it was decided to raise another £ 250,000 capital for various schemes. Among the latter were the building of cattle sheds and slaughter houses in connection with the cattle traffic and warehouses for the handling of the cargoes which was expected to result from an arrangement with the Anchor Line Steamship Company by which certain of their vessels should be routed from New York to Barrow. A dividend of 3 1/2% was declared for 1879.
Powers had been obtained to construct a line from Park Junction (between Askam and Dalton) to Barrow, and it was decided to proceed with this 1880. The line was to cost £ 33,000 and a new station at Barrrow a further £ 15,000. This branch, which gave Barrow a through connection to the North without reversal at Dalton Junction, was opened on June 1st, 1882. The new line was 7 1/2 miles long and was used by all passenger trains from Whitehaven to Carnforth; the original route from Park South to Dalton Junction being used only by through goods trains which were not carrying traffic for Barrow.
1880 was a better year. Gross receipts were up to £ 290,000 and net receipts by £ 37,700 over 1879. Trade had been a little better and the dividend shot up to 6 3/4 %. The next two years were still better. 7 1/4% was paid in 1881 and 7% in 1882. New capital was again raised in the latter year, this time to the tune of £350,000 and mainly on account of Barrow docks. The chief plan was the provision of a dry dock and further dredging operations in Walney Channel and the harbour approaches. During 1882, the number of vessels using Barrow harbour was 297, with a total tonnage of 67,000.
Unfortunately the Company was in for another bad spell. During the next five years the trade slump grew steadily. The dividends began sliding down the slippery slope of depression. In 1883 the payment was 4 3/4 % and by 1886 it had gone down to a mere 2%. During this period certain shareholders began to get restive and expressed their feelings at the annual meeting in no uncertain terms. In 1883 it was proposed to raise a further £200,000 capital, although the dividend had gone down by 3 1/4%. Mineral receipts had fallen by £31,000, and two shareholders, MR. T. W. CHESTER and MR. S. SMITH, had a good deal to say about it. MR. CHESTER'S complaint (which probably represented the feelings of many shareholders) was that the continued expenditure on Barrow docks was unjustified. He would rather have seen some improvement in the passenger coaching stock, particularly the third class variety.
MR. SMITH'S chief contention was that it was time the Company appointed a General Manager. (MR. HENRY COOK, late of the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway, filled the post of Secretary and there was no post of General Manager in the company,) For the time being the directors fought off this combined onslaught. The chairman said they were only carrying out those extensions at Barrow that were justified, and it was only the unprecedented trade depression, over which they had no control, which was causing the slump in profits. He also pointed out rather shrewdly that there had been no complaints about expenditure on Barrow when the dividends had been high.
The following year MESSRS. CHESTER and SMITH returned to the attack. Trade was no better and there was a proposal to carry out further dredging operations in Walney Channel. MR. CHESTER said Barrow docks had already cost the company £2,100,000 and were " a truth in the rumour that the Furness Railway was going to be taken over by the Midland. The chairman's answer was "positively, no." There was a hint of anxiety in a further reply from the chair that only the most essential expenditure would be authorised and everything done to reduce expenses.
During November, 1884, a violent storm, with high tides, destroyed three-quarters of the mile of the embankment on the Arnside-Hindcaster Junction branch, between Arnside and Sandside. The metals were torn up bodily for a distance of 40 feet.
Meanwhile the two viaducts over the Leven and Kent Estuaries were badly in need of re-building. Erected by MESSRS. W. & J. GALLOWAY, of Manchester, in 1860 (for the Ulverston & Lancaster Company,) they had done good service for 25 years, but the increasing weight of the trains had rendered them unsafe. Both had 30 spans and measured 520 yards. That over the Leven was re-constructed by 1885 and a year later the Kent one was finished. No more than 3% could be paid to the shareholders for 1884.
Since the opening of the new Central station at Barrow (which had four roads and ultimately covered 15 acres) the old terminal station had been converted into a goods depot.
The bottom of the slump was reached in 1885. At the Annual Meeting in February, 1886, it was revealed that passenger traffic was down by no less than 60,000 fares, and of these 46,000 were third class. Passenger receipts were £ 2,000 lower. MR. CHESTER sailed into the attack once more. He declared that if all the vast sums of money hadn't been spent on Barrow, their dividend would have been 19% instead of 2%. He also extracted the information from the Chairman that negotiations had been entered into with the Midland Company with a view to possible absorption. These negotiations had fallen through, the chairman added, because the Midland were not prepared to guarantee the Furness shareholders more than 5%. He rather defiantly added that the Furness Directors were of the opinion that on their own they were quite capable of earning at least 6 1/2%, once the local trade position improved. Fortunately, for all concerned, the iron and steel trade began to recover in 1886 and although there was no increase in the dividends, the mineral receipts rose by £ 4,000.
During this period no one could describe the Furness coaching stock as other than antiquated. It was all 4-wheeled stock and pretty poor at that. Before the opening of the line from Park South to Barrow, there were no through coaches to the latter town, other than the Midland boat train in connection with the steamer sailings to the Isle of Man and Belfast. these originally ran to Piel Pier until Ramsden dock was opened. It is believed that the first through carriages from the Midland line to Piel first appeared in the late '70's. Until the advent of RM. PETTIGREW'S semi-corridor bogie stock in the late ' 90' s, the Midland provided the carriages for the boat trains. They were all six-wheeled affairs. In the summer months a through coach was put on from Leeds to Whitehaven by a train which left the Yorkshire city about 10-35 a.m. All the main line trains were worked by the 2-4-0 tender engines of MESSRS. SHARP, STEWART'S standard design.
In 1881 the morning down mail left Carnforth at 4.40 a.m. and reached Barrow in 1 hr. and 5 min. for the 28 1/2 miles. The same time was taken by the down Isle of Man boat train, which left Leeds at 10.32 a.m. and stopped at Carnforth East Junction box at 12.30 to change engines. The best timing in the opposite direction from Barrow was also 1 hr. and 5 min., but this was a slightly better effort, as from 5 to 7 minutes was required for the stop at either Furness Abbey or Dalton to attach and detach the portion to and from Millom and Whitehaven.
From Whitehaven, the 7.30 p.m. up mail reached Dalton Junction at 8.40 p.m. After the portions to and from Barrow had been dealt with, it left again at 8.55, reaching Carnforth at 9.45 p.m. After the opening of the line via Barrow in 1882, this performance was improved upon, for we find the same train taking only 7 minutes longer to reach Carnforth in 1887, in spite of an additional 7 1/2 miles having been added to the distance.
The up Midland boat train did quite a smart run of 45 minutes from Barrow to Carnforth which gave a speed of 40 3/4 m.p.h. without stops and 38 m.p.h with stops included.
From 1887 to 1889, the fortunes of the company staged a modest come-back. The combination of better trade conditions and a rather less liberal policy with regards to expenditure on Barrow were the chief causes. Traffic was generally a little higher all round in 1887 and the only important item of extra expense was a sum of £10,000 to be spent on a petroleum store at Barrow. The dividend was 2 1/2%. Our old friend, MR. SMITH, again brought up the matter of expenses generally at the Annual Meeting, saying that they were much too high, and 1 1/2% higher than any other company in the country. He also criticised the board for not showing the Barrow dock receipts separately. The chairman (now the Marquis of Hartington) successfully silenced the critics.
Receipts showed a welcome rise of £11,000 the following year and it was announced that the capital expenditure was now completed as per programme. The shareholders got an additional 1 3/4%, making 2 3/4% for the year.
With a 5% return for the ordinary stockholders in 1889, the recovery of the company seemed to be really assured, but it was not to be. The old bogey of bad trade set in again with a vengeance and not only were receipts down by £ 10,000 the following year, but the working expenses were up by the same amount. A rise in the price of locomotive coal by 2/2 per ton was one of the chief factors. The iron trade was had again and naturally this had an adverse affect on the passenger figures. Only 3 3/4% was paid in 1890, but there was still worse to come.
The general depression had an effect on the train timings too, for several de-accelerations were made in 1891. The 7.30 p.m. up mail from Whitehaven was slowed by 10 minutes compared with the timing in 1881 and 3 minutes worse than 1888. The up Midland boat train (12.25 p.m. from Barrow Docks) needed 50 minutes to reach Carnforth, non-stop. The best timing of the day was for the 3.43 p.m. from Carnforth which took 2 hours and 12 minutes to make Whitehaven.
The 7th Duke of Devonshire died in 1891. He had relinquished the chairmanship of the Company some time previously to his son, the Marquis of Hartington, who now succeeded him and was to guide the fortunes of Furness Railway until his death in 1908.
On October 22, 1892, about 8.16 a.m. a remarkable accident occurred on the Furness Railway at Lindal. The 0-6-0 tender engine NO. 115 ( a 16" Sharpie") was shunting some iron ore wagons into a siding in the yard when the ground suddenly caved in under the locomotive. The engine crew (Driver POSTLETHWAIT and Fireman Robinson) jumped off the foot-plate and got away. Slowly but surely the engine sank into the cavity and by 2.15 p.m. she had disappeared from view. Only the tender was saved. The area round Lindal was honeycombed with iron ore workings, and this was evidently responsible for the subsidence. It is estimated that the locomotive lies some 200 feet below the ground to-day. The cavity was filled up in due course and the lien became quite safe for traffic. While this was going on, goods for the area were worked round the Penrith, Keswick and Workington. For passengers, trains were worked to and from each side of the subsidence. A new engine was eventually built to replace 115, whose salvaged tender she received.
1892 was a trying year, and there was much unrest at the Annual Meeting. An amendment to keep the expenditure on the Docks at Barrow and on the railway itself separate was proposed. It was also moved that a sum of £2,151,000 shown in the accounts should be split between the two. More serious was the motion that the General Manager (Sir JAMES RAMSDEN) should retire. Our old friends, MESSRS. CHESTER and SMITH, were after his blood, as they felt (and probably rightly) that he was the main spirit behind the perpetual pouring of money into Barrow docks. However the Chairman decided to treat the whole matter as a vote of confidence, and was obtained. The dividend, which had fallen to 3% in 1891, now touched a "new low" at 1 1/2%.
At this meeting it was revealed that the old problem of the Duddon Crossing had reared its ugly head again, and there was a fair body of opinion in favour of the scheme being gone on with. In spite of this the directors announced that they had gone into the matter very carefully, and although engine and train mileage would be cut down, they anticipated a loss of £12,000 annually on completion of the job. It was also alleged that the chances of increased traffic resulting from the carrying out of the crossing "would be problematical."
The requirements of the Board of Trade ran the Company into some heavy expenditure in 1893, when they were compelled to purchase 55 new third class coaches (6 wheelers) fitted with the vacuum brake. This cost £24,319. Unfortunately there was a coal strike in the Lancashire and Yorkshire coal fields and only 31 out of the 75 iron furnaces in the area were in blast. This meant more unemployment and fewer passengers to enjoy the improved facilities which the new coaches offered to the third class passengers who comprised a very big proportion of the traveling public on the line. The competition of Spanish ore with the native variety was also becoming very keen. For example, in 1870 the Furness carried 270,000 tons of iron ore, mined locally, which went to works beyond Carnforth. In 1894 this tonnage had fallen to 27,000. In the same period shipments from Barrow of native ore fell from 130,000 tons to 30,000. Consumption at all the local smelting works was also very much reduced.
To a large extent 1895 was a turning point in the history of the Furness Railway. From now on, although it was never to get back anything near to a large dividend, the company was to turn more and more to the development of passenger traffic, particularly of the tourist variety. The obsession over the mineral side of things, and the Barrow docks (which were pretty well completed anyway) was now to be of less importance. It was the appointment of MR. ALFRED ASLETT as Secretary in 1895 which gave impetus to the change of outlook. He came from the Cambrian Railway and two years later became the first General Manager of the company: an appointment for which our old friends, MR. S. SMITH, had pressed so long.
The dividend paid in 1893 was 1 1/4% and in 1894 it was 2%.
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