Early Shipbuilding in Furness and Barrow

Plan of proposed Ulverston Canal 1792 (BSUD)
Copyright: Cumbria Archive and Local Studies Centre, Barrow-in-Furness

Sailing vessels have been built on the Furness coast for centuries. An attempt was made to build a warship at Piel in 1688 but it was never completed. In the 18th century ships were built at Cark and on the River Crake, at Pennybridge and Sparkbridge. In the 19th century Ulverston was the home of shipbuilding with yards at Salt Cote and then from 1796 on Ulverston Canal. In 1811 Ashburner and Hart built Ulverstone the largest ship built in Ulverston. From 1820 George Shaw Petty and William Postlethwaite built sloops and small schooners at the canal basin.

The Ashburner Schooners

The Ashburner Schooners William (1809-1881) and Richard (1811-1873) Ashburner are the most well known builders of schooners in Furness. Both were apprenticed at the Petty and Postlethwaite Yard. William moved to the Isle of man before returning to Barrow to set up a yard there. In 1852 the Jane Roper was launched, a schooner built for Harrison, Ainslie and Company, an iron mining company which shipped iron ore mined in Furness. Richard started a shipyard at Greenodd building small fishing boats and coasters as well as Lady of the Lake (1845) and Lord of the Isles (1846), the first steamers to sail on Windermere.

Richard sold the yard to Samuel Schollick in 1850 and joined his brother in Barrow. In 1865 the brothers launched Alice Latham before selling the yard to the Furness Railway Company and moving to Hindpool calling their yard there the Hindpool Shipbuilding Yard and Steam Saw Mill. The yard continued to build schooners until 1884 when the last ship the J & M Garrett was launched in April.

Rawlinson and Reay

Joseph Rawlinson was one of Barrow’s principal iron ore merchants, building a wooden jetty in 1833. Robert Reay from Sunderland became his shipping clerk in 1839 and married Joseph’s sister, Ann, in 1840. They had their own fleet of schooners and in 1856 Robert’s son, Robert, helped set up Barrow’s second shipyard, launching their first schooner, Gummershow in 1857. Robert senior died in 1863, Robert junior retired in 1864, transferring the shipyard lease to Rawlinson. In 1867 the Duke of Buccleuch was the last ship was built at the yard.

James Fisher and the Furness Ship Building Company

Joseph Rawlinson sold his shipyard to James Fisher, Barrow’s leading ship owner, who needed a repair yard. In 1870 he set up a separate shipbuilding company, Furness Ship Building Company. The firm mainly repaired Fisher’s vessels but two schooners were built there. The first, the Lily Baynes in 1872 and the second, Ellie Park in 1879. The firm closed in 1900.

This article is based on an exhibition created by Cumbria Archive and Local Studies Centre, Barrow-in-Furness.

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