Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Victorian Emergency Services Series - Barrow-in-Furness

Today we take Emergency Services like hospitals, the police and the fire brigade for granted. They are engrained in our modern world, if we need them they are there and we can always rely on them. Back in the Victorian Era though things were very different. In Barrow at the start of the 1800s there were no hospitals, no established police station and the fire brigade was not as well organised as it is today.

In this post we will take a look at the formation of the Emergency Services in Barrow in many buildings that still stand today but may be easily missed.


On the corner of Cross Street and Albert Street there is a typical terraced house similar to many seen on Barrow streets, but this building has a hidden past that little may know.

In 1866 the then Vicar of St. Georges, Rev. Barret, set up a hospital in this house having seen a need for one in the town. This hospital became known as St. Georges Hospital and was run by the Vicar and a ‘committee of ladies’. There is nothing to indicate that this small house (see portrait image below) once was a hospital, let alone the first real hospital in the town!

As demand for the hospital grew it had to expand. To do this it moved to a whole row of three story buildings in School Street. These buildings still stand today and have been converted to housing, but reminders of their Victorian past can still be seen high up built into the brickwork. The words ‘Barrow Hospital Supported by Voluntary Contributions’ are clearly visible just below the windows of the third floor. A much larger site than the original at Cross Street but even with this impressive expansion the hospital was found to be too small for growing need. Another expansion was needed and, as the first expansion, the hospital was set to move completely. The Furness Railway gave some land for a new site to be built just across the road from the current building. The architectural firm Paley and Austin, of Lancaster, were hired to design the new build and after many local donations the North Lonsdale Hospital was erected. The brand new hospital opened its doors for the first time in 1874 and continued to serve the town for over 110 years until Furness General Hospital was built in 1984.

The original Hospital on Cross Street (left) and the site of the North Lonsdale Hospital (right) 

Police Station 

On Rawlinson Street, between Ramsden Street and Storey Square, stands a row of, on the face of it, typical terraced houses. But look a little closer and you can see a sign that reads 'Police Station AD 1880'. This building once, in Victorian times, was one of Barrow's first Police Stations. Although the sign reads 1880 it would appear that a lease on the building was taken out in 1874 by Colonel Robert Bruce. He also took out a lease for a building in Crellin Street all "to be used, occupied and enjoyed as Police Stations".

"This Indenture made the fifteenth day of February 1874 between William Grandwell of Barrow-in-Furness in the county of Lancaster, builder of one part and Colonel Robert Bruce of Preston in the said county of Lancaster, Chief Constable of the County Constabulary. To hold the premises hereinbefore expressed to be hereby demised unto the said Robert Bruce and his successors in office as aforesaid for the term of 7 years from the first day of November 1873(4) yielding and paying unto the said William Grandwell his heirs and assigners during the said term the yearly rent of £80 by two equal half yearly payments on the 1st day of May and the first day of November." - Taken from the original Draft Lease.

The whole red brick section, as pictured above, was leased by Robert Bruce for the police but only one section was actually used as the Station itself. The section of the building which has the sign upon it is the Station. The sections on either side are housing for Police Officers. As you enter the Station there would have been a hall with a Men's Room to the left, presumably for the Police Men. Then in front of you would be the main office followed by a W.C and two Cells for holding suspects on arrest. Within each cell there would have been a single bed but it is more than likely that many would be locked in the small cells.

Unfortunately the building leased on Crellin Street, number 72, has been demolished at sometime and replaced with a newer building. It is also unclear as to what this building would have been used for, Police Station or Police Housing? Either way both dwellings on Rawlinson and Crellin Street are some of the earliest Police buildings in Barrow. 

It is hard to say how long the Rawlinson Police Station remained as such but a Station did open on Cornwallis Street at some point and by 1958 the Police had moved to their present Headquarters on Market Street.

Fire Station

There is but one building left in Barrow that was once the Fire Station. This building stands on Abbey Road, next to the Custom House, and dates from 1911. Before this Station was built the Fire Brigade was operating out of a corner in the covered market, formally situated in front of the Town Hall, and two converted shops in Hindpool Road. The whereabouts of the converted shops on Hindpool Road we are unsure about, they may well not exist anymore. The Fire Service was started in Barrow from 1865 and started serving the town straight away. In 1892 they had to tackle a huge blaze at the Jute Works, where the Range and Next are today, as one of their first major incidents.

At some point a temporary Fire Station was built on Duke Street to house the ever growing need for the brigade but by 1910 the premises was in dire need of replacement. It was at this time a brand new station was built on Abbey Road. The Station was built in 1911 and opened in 1912.  The brigade had acquired a new motor fire engine in time for the Stations opening. The engine had been shown to the public in November of 1911 and, to show off, it expelled a jet of water to the top of the Town Hall tower.

The new Fire Station served the town for around 85 years until a modern Station was built in 1996 on Phoenix Road.

Unfortunately non of the buildings featured in todays blog post are open to the public as they are privately owned but you can see them easily from the road in your car or by foot. The old Fire Station on Abbey road does house a furniture store so it is possible to go inside, provided you want to look at furniture, but there may not be a lot of original features left.

These sites are a fantastic reminder of Barrow's Victorian roots as well as the beginnings of the Emergency Services in the town!

The next blog post will be online from January 21st and will be looking at Swarthmoor Hall.

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