Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Barrow in Furness in 50 Buildings by Gill Jepson. Amberley. £14.99
The magnificent Barrow Town Hall was opened in 1887. It is fifty metres high and was built on a scale and in a style to challenge the other town and city halls being built in the industrial centres of the north.
Until 1845, Barrow was a small, remote hamlet on a sheltered inlet on the Furness peninsula. Rich seams of haematite were found in the area. The Furness railway was constructed. The iron ore was exported, but it also prompted the development of iron foundries and steel mills. The Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch and the railway manager James Ramsden invested heavily in the place and Barrow grew rapidly to become the predominant town of he area. “The town which had started to grow around the small triangle of the old village and within the farm of William Fisher, was soon replaced by a fully planned modern town, designed on a rectilinear system with wide streets and public buildings.”
By 1881, the population was 48,000. During the First World War, it had risen to 74,000.
The high ambitions of the town’s Victorian fathers seemed to be fulfilled.
The Technical School is “a dramatic and beautiful building”, in red brick and terracotta. It is “a temple to the arts and education”. It was a training ground for the workforce in the shipyard. It fell into disuse in the 1950’s but fortunately, unlike many other fine buildings, it has survived and is now an arts centre.
The workers who acquired their skills at the Technical School were accommodated in a model village of mock-Tudor houses on Walney Island. Vickerstown was planned as “a marine garden city” and a bridge was built in 1908 to connect the island to the mainland.
Today, the graving dock, which was one of the places where the men worked, has been transformed into the Dock Museum. The treacherous and slippery tiered sandstone steps which gave the workers access to the hulls of the ships being fitted out are now the floor for a display of the town’s history as a major shipbuilding centre.
Other modern buildings include the controversial Emlyn Hughes House in Abbey Road. It replaced the popular but sorely dilapidatd art deco cinema. The new building “is a clever design mimicking the main industry of the town, with its maritime curves and its ship’s prow appearance.”
In 2013, Furness Academy replaced the secondary schools at Thornthwaite and Parkview. The school is sponsored by BAE Systems and cost £22 million pounds.
One of the most recent buildings is the South Lakes Birth Centre, which was opened earlier this year. It was built in response to the baby deaths at Furness General Hospital, which were the subject of the Kirkup Report in 2015.
In St Andrew’s Way, the new Police Station houses over 300 staff. The original police station was in a terraced house in Rawlinson Street. The tiling spelling out the words “Police Station” and the date, “1880” is still to be seen on the wall above the two sash windows.
Another survival is the custodian’s office at Furness Abbey. This small ticket booth built of oak and brick beneath a tiled roof had its own fireplace.
It commands a fine view of the greatest survival of all, the ruined walls of the once wealthy Furness Abbey. Originally built in 1127 by the Savigniacs, it was taken over and remodelled in 1147 by the Cistercians. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, “the abbey was systematically destroyed, the roof lead melted, walls pulled down, glass removed and contents sold”.
Like many other buildings in Barrow, it remains a fine testimony to a proud history.