The Opening of Barrow Docks in 1867

Barrow docks in Furness

The formal opening of the docks at Barrow took place on Thursday, with all the attractive ceremonial which had been announced, and amidst the rejoicings of thousands of spectators. Had Barrow a special calendar of its own, the 19th of September would be set down as the red letter day of the year, though the two following days were arranged to be kept as periods of holiday, and will doubtless be long remembered in connection with the festivities taking place thereon. But these being only subordinate to the grand ceremony of opening the docks, very energetic and successful efforts had been made to give eclat to that event. To this end a very large number of invitations were issued to gentlemen resident in various parts of the country, and occupying eminent positions in the world of commerce, by His Grace the Duke of Devonshire and the directors of the Furness Railway Company. Of course, the banquet served in the commodious banquet hall near the railway station was the most prominent feature in the day's proceedings. The invitations numbered some twelve hundred, and we may say that nearly the whole of them were accepted. The list included the Lord Mayor of London, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the mayors of the principal towns of the kingdom ; together with a goodly number of members of parliament, chairmen of chambers of commerce scattered throughout the country, &c. At an early date an invitation to be present was accepted by the Right Hon. W.E.Gladstone, late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the announcement of this fact at once gave considerably more importance to the fact than would otherwise have been attached, and increased the amount of anxiety felt by nearly everybody in the district to have an opportunity of being present at the banquet.

Never has Barrow before witnessed the amount of popular excitement as that which has been visible this week, never were such exertions made indeed throughout the whole district to get up such a show as has taken place, for never has there occurred such an event which would as well justify that excitement and those exertions to show the importance of such an event as the opening of the magnificent docks which are not only an ornament to the port, but absolutely necessary for the accommodation of vessels which will arrive at and depart from there if the anticipations expressed of the increased sea traffic are destined to be realised. And there is no reason why they should not be realised. It was deemed advisable, in consequence of the crowded state of the harbour, the insufficiency of the room for loading and unloading, and the inconvenience arising therefrom, to use the Devonshire Dock a week or two ago, and there have been, we believe, as many as fifty or sixty vessels in the dock at one time, some of these of large size; for instance, there has been a timber barque lying in the dock this week of some nine hundred tons, and the large Belfast steamers have also been moored in the same dock. From the depth of water always available, and the deep water of the Walney channel - in which there are some fifteen feet of water at half tide - every facility is afforded for vessels of the most varied size, tonnage, and draught of water. From the map and plan which has been circulated by the directors, which gives a better description of the general arrangement than we can by a verbal description, we learn the space occupied by the water area of the docks and ponds, wharfs and sidings, Hindpool shipyards, Barrow Island sites for ship yards and works, amounts to no less than 450 acres. The following is the official description, which has been issued:

"These docks are constructed to accommodate an extensive trade and the largest vessels. The entrance is 60 feet wide. The depth of water maintained in the dock is 22 feet. The stone quays are 1 1/2 miles in length. The water area of the docks and timber ponds is 105 acres. The wharfs adjoining the docks are 100 acres in extent. Warehouses, four stories, with a floor area of 1,700 square yards, abutt on the docks. Hydraulic capstans are provided at the entrances, and hydraulic cranes on the quays and in the warehouses. The company's land, adjoining the railway sidings, which is available for private ship building yards, timber yards, and works amounts to 230 acres. Sidings are laid on the quays, by which railway wagons can be brought alongside the ships. The docks are advantageously situated for the timber and other shipping trade for North Lancashire and Cumberland district. For Leeds (93 miles) and the Midland district, for Hull (147 miles), for Middlesboro' (121 miles) and the Cleveland district. For Durham (123 miles) and the Durham coal field. The docks are entered from Piel Harbour within the South end of Walney Island, where there is a low water railway pier, and where the largest vessels may ride in five fathoms of water. On Hawes Point, the S.E. point of Walney Island, is a stone lighthouse, exhibiting a brilliant revolving light at 70 feet above the level of high water. The light revolves and appears full at intervals of one minute. It may be seen at all points seaward between N.N.W. and East, and in clear weather between four and five leagues off. A red tide light, fixed, is established at a distance of 340 yards S.E. by E.S.E. from the high light. There is always a depth of 20 feet of water over Piel Bar at half-tide."

The entire works are apparently a lomg way off completion yet; the Buccleuch Dock, for instance, being little more yet than begun. The Devonshire Dock, however, which was formally opened on Thursday, is nearly in a finished state, so much so that it will now be in constant use. From the position of the docks, which are admirably sheltered by Walney Island, the water will be continually placid, the roughest weather not being likely to affect the smoothness of its surface. In close proximity to and parallel with the entrance dock a graving dock is laid out; and the sites for ship building yards, which occupy an immense space running by the side of Walney channel, could scarcely be better situated for the purpose. Unoccupied as they as yet are by the works which it is confidently anticipated will be established there, there is a picturesqueness in the view from the docks which is quite pleasing to the eye, such as one often sees in the low coastline of the country - Walney channel and island being invisible from the nature of the ground. This picturesqueness must of course give way to a something of a more utilitarian character, and the sooner this is accomplished the better for the material advantage not of Barrow alone, but of the whole district. If, as we understand, there are some ten miles of sidings, the probability is that a long time must elapse before they are all occupied, notwithstanding the many advantages that ship builders will experience, in fixing upon these sites as the scenes of their operations. For the building of wooden ships these advantages are numerous, but for the construction of iron vessels or those of a composite character they are greater and more important than are to be met with in most localities where this branch of industry is carried on. All the materials are obtained and manufactured, as it were, on the spot. In the immediate district there are now raised upwards of 600,000 tons of iron ore annually, no inconsiderable portion of which is made into iron and steel at the Hindpool works ; the blast furnaces turn out somewhere about 5,000 tons of pig-iron weekly, and the quantity of steel manufactured at the steel works - the finest and most complete of their kind in England - is immense, and of the best possible kind. here, then, are the principal materials used in the iron shipbuilding trade made on the spot, and the saving in carriage must represent a very appreciable percentage on the cost of a vessel.

Along the docks, and fast approaching a state ready to be used, are a series of hydraulic cranes and capstans, which are being erected by the eminent firm of Sir William Armstrong and Co., and parallel with the docks, a few hundred yards from the cranes, will be a range of large and commodious warehouses. Those already erected are as handsome externally as they are evidently conveniently and well arranged internally. They are five storeys high, present a commanding appearance, are to be supplied with all the best appliances, in the shape of improved hoist &c., which modern engineering ability can devise, and seem admirably adapted for the purposes of storage. They will be connected with the upper part of Devonshire Dock, and with the Buccleuch Dock, by lines of rails, though from their position goods may be hoisted directly into the warehouses themselves.

The estimated cost of the docks and works is £200,000, but there is a prevalent impression amongst persons reasonably supposed to be conversant with works of this nature, that the sum will be far exceeded before all is completed. Indeed we see it stated that no docks in the kingdom offering similar accommodation, of a like extent, and having the modern and superior engines, hydraulic power, &c., was ever, or could be, constructed at so small a cost. For a long time past we believe the number of men employed at the docks and works has ranged from one to two thousand. The engineers ar Messrs. M'Lean and Stileman, of London, and the contractors the well known firm of Messrs. Brassey and Field.