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Until 1974 High and Low Furness had been part of the county of Lancashire for more than 800 years. The main stages in the history and development of Furness are shown below.

BRONZE AGE - Although evidence exists for the presence of New Stone Age (or Neolithic) Man in Langdale the first major archaeological evidence for Furness is from the Bronze Age. The double Stone Circle at Birkrigg Common dates from this period at around 2100 B.C. The burial place of a chieftain certainly, but possibly also a solar calendar or site of worship. A short distance away, the hill fort on Skelmore Heads above Urswick village is a site where both stone and socketed bronze axe heads were found in the 20th century. Other Bronze Age sites exist on the slopes of the Coniston Fells and on Black Coombe.
IRON AGE. Given its huge deposits of iron ore, it is hardly surprising that there is evidence of Iron Age settlements in Furness, especially Low Furness. Probably arriving by sea, the Celts brought the necessary metallurical skills to produce and fashion iron. Celtic names are evident in the names of the rivers Crake, Leven and Duddon. One of the best sites dating from this period is at Little Urswick Stone Walls (photo above) where a vein of ore exposed at the surface runs alongside a settlement whose walls can still be traced on the ground. The pre-historic sites all occupy hill tops which provided superb visibilty all round.

MAIN ROAD TO SCOTLAND! Until the Dissolution, The Street, was the main "road" through Furness. Arriving across the sands at Conishead travellers would seek shelter at the Priory or use it to travel on to Furness Abbey. Continuing to Roanhead and across the Duddon sands it became the main route between England and Scotland, used especially by the Monks of Furness and Conishead between 1100 and 1537 and, in the opposite direction, by Robert the Bruce during his raids of the 1300's. Paved sections have been discovered near Mountbarrow and Roanhead but the track is likely to have been created in the first place to link the ancient Bronze and Iron Age forts and settlements of Furness and Black Coombe. More recently it became known as Red Lane because it was tainted by the haematite dust falling from carts as iron ore was transported in the 1700 and 1800's from Lindale to ships at Conishead. For many years I was unsure about that interpretation until, in early 2009, a mole threw up red-brown mounds from the verge containing small pieces of haematite and I had to accept the evidence.... as seen in the photo! But why does it change into Green Lane before reaching Lindal?

DARK AGE INVADERS After the Romans left in the mid 400's A.D. the Anglo-Saxons, or "English", found their way into Furness, especially Low Furness and by the 600's it would have been a part, however loosely, of the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Around 680 AD a written record shows that the Northumbrian king Ecgfrith granted Cartmel to St. Cuthbert, along with "all the Britons" i.e. the remanants of the Celtic population, showing that they had not all been driven north into Scotland. In the 10th century the area came under the influence of the Scandinavian Vikings from Ireland. Viking influence is seen in the many villages of High Furness whose names end in -thwaite (or clearing). There was probably an uneasy mix of Celtic, Saxon and Viking races in the area at the time because Furness was probably isolated from much of the conflict taking place in the rest of "England". For parts of the early 11th century there was "ownership" by the Celtish kingdom of Strathclyde. After 1066 the Normans arrived and "Lancashire North of the Sands" was added to Roger de Pitou's lands between the Mersey and the Lune - probably sometime after 1092. The intention was to create a barrier to block the Scottish raiding parties using the Duddon and Leven crossings into England. The area remained part of Lancashire for almost another 900 years!

Urswick Church was probably a Christian site in both Saxon and Viking times, although the church has Norman features in parts of the present building.

FURNESS ABBEY RULES O K ! After 1066 and the Norman invasion, much of the land was given to low level Norman and Flemish nobility, but often forfeited again. In 1127 Earl Stephen (later King) granted the monks of Furness large tracts of land in both Low and High Furness, but excluding that owned by Michael le Fleming (essentially Coniston and land to the west of it). The area between Coniston Water and Windermere in High Furness became known as Monk Coniston. For the next 400 years they assiduously created vast wealth (the second richest Abbey in the land at the Dissolution). The Lord Abbot ruled and controlled everything down to who lived where, what they did with the land and what they paid in tithes, rents and fines.


In 1537, on the Dissolution of the Monastries, the land passed back to the Crown (i.e. Henry VIII). His Receiver, William Sandys, now became the controller of the area and in a few short years the family became very wealthy, acquiring many of the estates of Furness Abbey and Conishead Priory! On his death these were divided amongst his children (but not the third son, Edwin, who later became Archbishop of York and founded Hawkshead Grammar School, where Wordsworth was educated). His direct decendants still own Esthwaite Water and large areas of land to the south, with a home at Graythwaite Hall. The Sandys family were involved in the early iron industry, which was to become crucial to the economy of Furness in later years.

If ever there was a case of someone being in the right place at the right time with the right connections, this is it. The story of William Sandys and his family is a fascinating mix of patronage, greed (leading to murder), religion and social influence in Tudor England.

Their full story can be read at.......SANDYS PAGE

THE COPPICING ECONOMY. From the early 1700's to the mid 1800's Furness depended on agriculture in the lowlands and charcoal production and associated cottage industries on higher wooded ground. The presence of fast-flowing water was also beneficial for iron bloomsmithies like those at Force Mills (see photo). The introduction of blast furnaces at Backbarrow and Cunsey in 1712 created a much bigger demand for charcoal. Coppiced woodland was now very valuable; charcoal production was seasonal and tied in with bark-stripping for tanin production (for treating leather - Rusland had its tannery, recently restored by the LDNP) potash kilns and swill making, as and when agricultural labour was freed from the fields. Later the woods were used for bobbin making when the Lancashire cotton industry was at its peak. Coppicing was very beneficial to wildlife and its cessation has done great harm to species variety.
BARROW IS BORN (only just) & BECOMES KING. In 1850 Henry Schneider was convinced that huge deposits of iron ore existed at Park but his geologists failed to find them. Running short of money for the project he was about to give up, but his miners offered to work an extra week for free - and soon struck what was to become the biggest mine in Furness. The profits largely paid for the construction of much of Barrow-in-Furness (then a small village) as a port for shipping the ore. A railway quickly followed, then blast furnaces and a steel plant that produced most of the high quality rails needed for Britain's rapidly expanding railways. Finally, he founded the ship building firm that is currently owned by BAE. The steel industry is now gone, save for the huge mounds of slag which are being turned into beautiful recreational areas alongside Walney channel.
INDUSTRY AFTER THE IRON Although iron production ceased the building of ships from small patrol boats through submarines to giant aircraft carriers continues in Barrow. The Ulverston steel works closed before the Second World war, the site being bought by Glaxo to manufacture initially pencillin but later many other key drugs.

TOURISM AFTER WORDSWORTH The other main plank of the economy of Furness today is tourism. Although Wordsworth vehemently opposed the construction of a railway into Windermere and other commercial interests, his "Guide to the Lakes" and his poetry introduced millions to what is regarded by many local people as the best feature of Lancashire North of the Sands - its landscape.

Wordsworth wrote about the Lakes:


[.....and John Ruskin obviously agreed as he bought Brantwood for its view (above) without even seeing the house]