The History of Barrow-in-Furness shipyard

13 Dec 2022

The History of Barrow-in-Furness shipyard

Barrow-in-Furness is a well-known port town in Cumbria in the north of England. Strategically located on the northwest coast, Barrow-in-Furness provides access to the busy ports of Liverpool, the Isle of Man, Belfast, and Glasgow in Scotland. SLR has been supplying resources to busy shipyards of BAE Systems for many years. In this blog, we’re going to look at how this sleepy northern hamlet became a thriving industrial town and the centre of UK shipbuilding.

The discovery of iron in Barrow

In 1850 HW Schneider a young speculator and dealer of iron discovered a large deposit of iron ore leading to the construction of blast furnaces at Barrow. In just over a decade, Barrow’s population swelled from 300 to over 8000 and the furnaces of Barrow formed the largest steelworks in the world. Another key player in Barrow’s history was James Ramsden. He was the superintendent of the railway and later became Barrow’s first mayor and is remembered for both planning the space in the town and starting the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. With strong rail links to complement the shipbuilding, this was the beginning of huge industrial growth in the Barrow area. Shipbuilding began in earnest and by 1877, the yard received its first military order for vessels.

Building military vessels in Barrow

By 1888 the Barrow Shipbuilding Company had been taken over by the Naval Construction and Armaments Company which added naval armaments to the construction of vessels.
Less than 10 years later, Vickers, Sons and Company absorbed the Naval Construction Company enabling them to build the largest battleships in the world. The influx of workers required housing and in 1901 tenant workers moved into purpose-built housing known as Vickerstown. These houses still exist today and in 1988, Vickerstown was declared a conservation area to protect the buildings.

Barrow and the Vickers’s name

From 1897 through to the 1970s, the Vicker’s name remained intact until it was subsumed in 1977 by British Shipbuilders and after a brief interlude where it was known as the VSEL – Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd – it was finally bought by BAE Systems in the late 90s.

BAE and Barrow shipbuilding today

The shipyard today continues its commitment to provide military vessels and fulfil the government’s ambitious shipbuilding strategy. Barrow is the only site in the UK licenced for the design and building of nuclear-powered submarines and these subs have been built and tested here since 1958.

It is not just Barrow, BAE operates sites across the world with thousands of job opportunities:

United States              31,237

United Kingdom          36,849

Saudi Arabia               6,737

Australia                      4,707

Others                         2,559

It is incredible to think that the early discovery of iron at Barrow would have an impact that is felt around the globe today including in the heart of Portsmouth. Barrow-in-Furness shipbuilding continues to go from strength and SLR is proud to support BAE systems with skilled tradespeople and providing candidates that have the qualifications and experience to deliver on every shipbuilding project.