Local History & Heritage

Historic Buildings and Sites in Barrow and Furness. Dock Museum Information and links for the Dock Museum, which is run by Barrow Borough Council. History of Barrow A short history of…

Historic Buildings and Sites in Barrow and Furness.

  • Dock Museum

    Information and links for the Dock Museum, which is run by Barrow Borough Council.

  • History of Barrow

    A short history of Barrow Village, with information for further reading.

  • Stories Behind the Stones
    A walk around Barrow Cemetery looking at interesting graves and stories

Furness Abbey

Information about visiting Furness Abbey on our Attractions Page.

The Abbey of St. Mary of Furness is a magnificent ruin of a vast and imposing building constructed in the distinctive local red sandstone and set in the deep, wooded valley of Bekansgill.

The Abbey was founded in 1127 on land granted by King Stephen to the Abbot of Savigny in Normandy. The governing monastic order was originally Savigniac, but by order of the Abbot of Savigny the Abbey became Cistercian in 1148. Benefiting from the architectural and agricultural abilities of the Cistercian monks, the power and wealth of the Abbey grew and by the 12th Century was unchallenged throughout Furness.

With the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537, the lead roof from the Abbey was removed and melted down and the walls partly demolished. The building shows a mixture of styles from several periods, as the Abbey would have been built, extended and rebuilt throughout its life. The Abbey owned by English Heritageis open to the public (Tel. (01229) 823420).

For opening hours and admission fees please visit English Heritage website https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/furness-abbey/


Furness Abbey Fellowship is a local support group established to advance education and promote the culture and heritage of Furness abbey and the surrounding area. It aims to assist in the preservation and interpretation of the built environment and of the historical artefacts associated with the area. It is open to all who are interested in the future of the abbey and who wish to help it gain the recognition it deserves locally and nationally.

Other sources of information about Furness Abbey:

If you pay Council tax to Barrow Borough Council you can visit Furness Abbey free of charge. Just show your current Council tax bill at the Visitors' Centre and everyone permanently living at your address can benefit from this offer. (This is not valid for Special events where a charge is payable)

The Abbey Mill Coffee Shop adjacent is open from 10 am - 4 pm 7 days a week in summer and Wednesday to Sunday in Winter. For Group bookings please ring Jackie Baxter on 01229 877739.

Barrow-in-Furness Town Hall

Barrow's impressive Town Hall is at the heart of the town and its clock tower can be viewed from almost anywhere in the vicinity. Built from local red sandstone, it was formally opened in 1887 and represents the height of Barrow's Victorian development. The building was designed by W.H. Lynn in the style known as modern Gothic. The richest detail of the interior can be found in the oak panelled Council Chamber and the Queen's Hall, with its dazzling stained glass.

The building is still at the centre of the everyday running of the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness (Tel (01229) 876543 Customer Services). Group tours can be arranged in advance by phoning Committee Administration (01229) 876322. Tours are only available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings but must be pre-booked.

Piel Castle

Once the last bastion of defence from the marauding Scots, Piel Castle is now in ruins, with only the King of the island and inquisitive visitors for company. Built around 1327 it was mainly used as a fortified warehouse for the storage of grain and wool. In 1487 it was invaded by Lambert Simnel and over 2,000 of his followers on the start of their abortive attempt to seize the crown from Henry VII.

The only means of access is via the Roa Island ferry service or by taking a guided walk across the sands at low tide. The castle has recently undergone extensive restoration and is well worth a visit.

The Ship Inn is open during the tourist season refreshments are available on the island during the summer months and also basic camping facilities. For details of opening times, how to book camping facilities (there is a fee of £5 per tent per night), catering, events and details of the scheduled ferry service please go to www.pielisland.co.uk. Please contact Mr. Chattaway for more information at shipinn@pielisland.co.ukor by telephoning 07516 453 784. Piel Island was featured on the ITV Programme Islands of Britain presented by Martin Clunes. The programme filmed the coronation of Steve Chattaway as King of Piel Island last year.

Link to more information about Piel Island and Castle.

More information about Piel Castle from the English Heritage web site.

How to reach Piel Island

By Ferry from Roa Island. Two ferry operators serve Piel Island in the summertime weather permitting. Contact Steve Chattaway on 07516453784 or e mail shipinn@pielisland.co.ukthis ferry service has 2 vessels and operates every day from Easter, or John Cleasby on 07798794550.

A local guiding company, Murphy's Miles is happy to take groups across the sands at low tide to the island. Contact John Murphy on 01229 473746 or e mail murphysmiles@hotmail.co.uk.

The Dock Museum


This exciting and innovative Museum opened in 1994. Built over an original Victorian Graving Dock, it traces the history of Barrow from a tiny 19th Century hamlet to the world's largest producer of iron and steel and then to a major ship-building force, within 40 years. The story of the people who brought about such change is both unique and extraordinary.

A spectacular new permanent exhibition 'Shipbuilders to the World' includes the museum's collection of fine ship models and exciting computerised interactive displays using images from the Vickers Photographic Archive. Films about Barrow are shown in the museum’s custom-built auditorium.

A Gallery for temporary exhibitions hosts a full and varied exhibitions programme.

The landscaped dockside site has an adventure playground and walkways linking to the Cumbria Coastal Way, a long distance coastal footpath from Milnthorpe to Carlisle. Admission is free.

Facilities include a coffee shop; a souvenir shop; passenger lift; ample free car and coach parking.

All areas of the Museum are wheelchair accessible.

Group bookings are welcomed and guided tours are available on request.

The Dock Museum is open all year round from Wednesday to Sunday from 11am - 4 pm and last admission is 3.30 pm.

Dalton Castle

Dalton-in-Furness is an old settlement mentioned in the Doomsday Book as Daltune. The original town was almost hidden in a narrow valley out of the convenient reach of the sea and ship borne raiders. For a considerable time in the Furness history, Dalton was the chief town and administrative centre.

Dalton Castle stands above the town, built to defend the people of Dalton and the approaches to Furness Abbey. Dalton Castle is a National Trust property.

The castle was built in stages between the 1330's and 1350's, perhaps in response to a series of Scottish raids earlier that Century. There was a great raid in 1322 under the leadership of Robert the Bruce when much of Furness was devastated.

The castle was changed several times before undergoing its most radical alteration in 1856. It served as a courthouse and dungeon for Furness Abbey. After the dissolution of the monastery in 1537 the Castle passed through several hands, eventually resting with the Dukes of Buccleuch.

It was the 8th Duke who presented the Castle to the National Trust in 1965. A National Trust guidebook is available and there is an exhibition celebrating the life and work of George Romney, the renowned portrait artist, who is buried in nearby Dalton Church.

From Easter to the end of September between 2pm and 5pm, Dalton Castle is open to the public on Saturdays, free of charge (Donations welcome). For enquiries telephone Mrs A V McCreith (01229) 463293

Walney Nature Reserves

South Walney Nature Reserve is situated on the south end of Walney Island, on land granted by King Stephen to the Abbot. It contains the largest, mixed ground nesting of herring and lesser black-back gulls in Europe (almost 30,000 pairs altogether) and the most southerly eider duck breeding colony in Britain.

Other breeding species of birds include the greater black-back gull, common tern, little tern, oyster-catcher, ringed plover, shell duck, mallard and moor hen.

The area has considerable ecological interest arising from the many habitats present, including mud flats, pebble ridges, salt marshes, sand dune, rough pasture, freshwater and brackish pools. It contains an excellent range of both the common and rare flowers of the coast.

Facilities include car parking, toilets (disabled access), information kiosk, six bird-watching hides and three nature trails. Tel (01229) 471066.

Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council run a Pass Scheme for Borough residents so that they and their family can visit South Walney Nature Reserve without paying the admission charge.

To join the scheme residents should take their Council Tax Statement to Customer Services in the Town Hall, Cornwallis Street entrance, Barrow, where, a single or family pass will be issued. Take the pass along to the Nature Reserve at South Walney, and enter for free. For more information on the residents pass telephone 01229 876543.

North Walney National Nature Reserve is a haven for natterjack toads, Britain's rarest amphibian. There are only about 40 remaining sites, and one of their main strongholds is the Cumbrian coastline. The calling of males in the breeding season is very impressive. Visitors are reminded that it is illegal to capture or keep natterjack toads without a licence.

Additionally, over 130 species of birds have been recorded on and around the reserve including a large number of kestrels, sparrow hawks, merlins, peregrines and hen harriers. Short-eared owls are also frequent visitors, to be seen hunting before dusk. The area is very rich in flora, with a staggering 300 different species having been recorded.

Public access is permitted at all times on foot only. Please observe any notices and keep all dogs under strict control, especially during the breeding season (April-July). Please note that land south of the NNR boundary is part of an operational airfield. Visitors are not allowed to walk through the airfield without the air authority's permission.

Other Sources

Information on Barrow District Towns and Villages:

Barrow Library & Archive services.