Discover more about your ancestors, including their job role and dates of employment, who worked at the Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire shipyard in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
These records, compiled by staff and volunteers from staff registers and records held by Barrow Archive and Cumbria Archive Service, include the names of the men and women employed or were apprenticed at the Barrow in Furness shipyard in Lancashire 1872-1965 and the women who were employed to work at Vickers during the First World War. Information found could include –
In 1871, the Barrow Shipbuilding Company was formed. Using land purchased on Barrow Island, the company brought in experienced shipbuilders and proceeded with the construction of cargo and passenger ships including Duke of Devonshire (launched in 1873). Over the next decade, Barrow’s reputation in shipbuilding grew launching its largest ship, City of Rome, in 1881. In 1886, the Yard launched its first submarine (Barrow would become famous for pioneering new technologies and its ability to work on complex and specialists engineering, especially submarines, and is still know for that today) for Swedish industrialist Thorsten Nordenfelt. Despite the Barrow Company’s successes, they were slowly becoming bankrupt. They asked Nordenfelt to invest in the yard, which he did, and in 1888 it became the Naval Construction & Armaments Company. The shipyard would now also produced armaments and guns.
In 1887, the Royal Navy placed an order for HMS Vengeance. Barrow became the first shipyard in the UK to build, engine, arm and armour a battleship. To be able to do all of this in one place was unique and appealed to the expanding Vickers Sons and Company. Vickers, in search for a naval arm of the company, became the shipyard owners in 1897 and operated as Vickers Sons & Maxim Limited.
The shipyard was becoming world famous and one of the most important and productive in the UK at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1901, the Royal Navy chose Barrow shipyard to build their first submarine – Holland 1 – and in 1908 ordered the first military aircraft in Britain – Airship No. 1. During this time, the shipyard built close to 100 ships, 64 of which were submarines.
During the First World War, over 30,000 workers were employed at the shipyard (resulting in a population growth to around 82,000), including women. Barrow would build the majority of submarines for Britain as well as armaments and other vessels to support the war effort. In 1915, German U Boat U 21 attacked the shipyard. This came as a bit of a surprise due to the yard being tucked away in the North West but the U boat was soon seen off and construction continued.
In the inter war years, shipbuilding declined in the UK and shipyards struggled. Though the shipyard received orders from companies including the Orient Line, it wasn’t enough so in 1927, Vickers and Armstrong (River Tyne) were forced amalgamated to form Vickers Armstrong Limited meaning that orders would be distributed between the two yards. As during the First World War, Vickers Armstrong built the majority of submarines for the UK in Barrow.
With the nationalisation of shipbuilding in 1977, Vickers was subsumed into British Shipbuilders, eventually becoming BAE in 1999. BAE still built some of the world’s most modern and innovative submarines at Barrow, the UK’s largest shipyard.
Ships built at Barrow in Furness include –
During the First World War, women were employed at the Vickers shipyard. Over 1240 women were employed in industrials roles, the majority of whom were teenagers. This database, compiled from the staff registers held by the Barrow Archives, includes information in their names, ages, addresses, dates of birth, department, role, and the date in which they entered service. Some abbreviations, denoting department, are included here -
A=Airships, Buc Dk=Buccleuch Dock, C Dk=Cavendish Dock, E=Engineering, O=Ordnance, Rams Dk=Ramsden Dock, S=Shipbuilding
A further 98 women were employed in non-industrial roles at Vickers (typists, clerks, telephonists).
In 1916, an arbitration session was held between Vickers and the women workers over pay (men got 28 shillings, women around 18). This failed as the arbitrator was won around by the argument that the wages were in line with everywhere else and there's a war on.