Iron ore had been mined in Furness for centuries but on a commercial scale only from about the 1770s. The opening of the Furness Railway and the discovery of a massive deposit of iron ore at Park were vital in transforming Barrow.
Furness iron ore was of a type called haematite, given that name because of its blood red colour (see left). It contained a high iron content and was free of phosphoric impurities. This type of high-grade ore would give Barrow a helpful advantage when the iron and steel works were established in the 1850s and 1860s.
But it was the shelter of Walney island, offering a safe harbour at Barrow, that was the most obvious advantage in the 18th century. From about the 1740s a small port developed to carry away Furness iron ore to smelting works in Wales and the Midlands. Four jetties were built out into the Channel to ease the loading of ore boats, the first in 1790, the last in 1842.
By 1854 some 360,000 tons of iron ore were being raised in Furness, almost all of which was shipped out through the port of Barrow. Three years earlier Henry Schneider, after years of relative failure, had opened a massive iron deposit at Park near Askam. It was not much of a step in imagination to consider using Furness ore in a local ironworks – one small step for man, a giant leap for Barrow.
Henry Schneider and Robert Hannay put their new ironworks into blast in 1859. Two years later the railway line from Barnard Castle to Tebay filled in a missing gap in the railway network. This had been sponsored by the Furness Railway and Schneider and Hannay. At first it was thought of as a means of securing markets for Furness ore, but when it was opened it was used to bring in Durham coking coal to the Hindpool furnaces.
A Bessemer steel plant was started in Barrow in 1865 and the following year it merged with Schneider and Hannay’s ironworks to form the Barrow Haematite Steel Company. This company was the engine which was to drive Barrow’s growth for the next thirty years.