Building a Town
A shortage of housing and poor quality housing in Barrow were problems in the Victorian period (and also during the First World War when there was a massive increase of temporary labour). Infrastructure had to be built for the population: transport, schools, churches, houses and amenities.
The Victorian period was when Barrow came of age. No longer was it a small farming village under the control of Dalton parish, but free to form its own municipality. The first Town Council was nominated in 1867 by the Duke of Devonshire (elections began the following year), and the first Mayor was James Ramsden, who twenty years earlier had supervised the first hesitant steps of the Furness Railway.
In 1877 it had been agreed to build a grand Town Hall on a site just to the east of the temporary council offices in Cornwallis Street and Lawson Street. Following a design competition and lengthy amendments, building began in 1882. Five years later, to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, a magnificent gothic Town Hall was formally opened, dominating the town centre with its clock tower of warm, Hawcoat sandstone. By the mid 1880s the Council controlled the town’s highways, police, fire, gas and water, library and an isolation hospital.
The final quarter of the nineteenth century was a curious time in Barrow, a period of hesitancy and anticlimax. Technical improvements in steelmaking meant that phosphoric iron ore could now be used in the Bessmer process, opening up Furness mines and the Barrow Haematite Steel Company to the chill blast of competition. At the same time, Furness ore reserves were depleting and as the mines went deeper they were more and more prone to flooding.
In the late nineteenth century it looked like Barrow's growth might be at an end. However, despite a shaky start, the shipyard became the next star player.
If you want to find out more about this fascinating period then come to the Dock Museum for a visit or even a guided tour (booking essential for tours).