My Hometown

Thank you to Novus Lectio for tagging me. The lovely sunny town she shows in her post could not be more different to the grey depressing dump that I grew up in!

Barrow-in-Furness – England’s answer to Mordor.

You may have gathered from the above that I have no fondness for the town I lived in for the first 37 years of my life. But I shall give you a potted history of the place anyway. (Technically I lived in nearby Millom until I was four as this is where my family were living. Millom is well known for an, ahem, ‘agricultural’ approach to romance and there are likely to be various accommodating farm animals in my family tree, the rest of which resembles much of the cast of ‘Deliverance’)

Barrow did not exist prior to the 19th century, hence the term ‘good-old-days’. The area had a number of small farming villages, some of which no longer exist, and the ancient Furness Abbey, now a ruin, albeit a beautiful one. Indeed there are references to a lost village called ‘Hole’, which seems fitting for the area.

The town is situated at the tip of a peninsula (The Furness peninsula) that extends out from the Southern part of the English Lake District into the Irish Sea. Most of the towns on the peninsula are pretty and rather genteel places now (e,g. Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born).

Barrow owes its origins to the industrial revolution, which is to blame for many other things too.

The discovery of iron ore, coal and limestone nearby, coupled with a natural harbour sheltered by Walney Island, made it the ideal place to build ships and an ironworks and generally buggering up the local environment for everybody. The town expanded massively around the start of the 20th Century, with housing being built in Barrow itself and across the channel on Walney Island. This boom continued effectively until the 1970s when productivity eventually dropped when people found it hard to move due to the effect of gravity on flared trousers in a wet area.

During the 1980s the shipyard was building the Trident nuclear submarine fleet, resulting in the construction of one of the world’s biggest sheds, which still dominates the skyline today. (As an aside – the photographer at my wedding was later arrested on spying charges for innocently taking photos that had this shed in the background!)

This obviously meant that the town became a potential nuclear target during the cold war. Visiting the town last week I speculated that maybe it actually did get nuked and the rest of the country failed to notice. It would explain a lot.

Barrow from minimum safe distance. Big Shed is in the centre of the picture. To give a sense of scale – you can just make out the dark silhouette of the town hall clock tower at the right of the picture.

The boom inevitably ended. First the Ironworks closed, then the shipyard was massively cut back in the late 1980s and 1990s. My own workplace since 1984 closed in late 1991. By 1992 both my wife and I were commuting out of the town each day for work, eventually moving away in 2004. Many others were not so willing or lucky and the town went into a decline which continues to this day.

In 2014 a survey by the UK government identified Barrow as the least happy place in the country:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brits-happier-than-theyve-been-in-years-claims-ons-9753557.html

I can confirm that the town is a miserable place. The sense of isolation (40 miles from the nearest motorway), the permanent wind, boarded up shops and disused docks. In fairness, there are areas of great beauty nearby (the two nature reserves on Walney Island for example).

The town has a twisted sense of hard-man pride in the ‘Gaza Strip’ – the local nickname for the street full of pubs and clubs that was notorious throughout NW England for its violence on weekend nights. Even this is now largely closed, derelict, and boarded up – arguably this counts as gentrification.

Well, she did ask!

37 Comments

  1. As expected, I was entertained. It is odd, though, most of the bloggers I know from England are not entirely fond of their area. The parts we see on TV must be when it is sunny and warm!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I knew why you wanted to get away from Barrow but I understand even better now after reading this post. It is always a time of mixed emotions going back, I guess. You must be tired after writing this post. It takes sometimes lots of energy to revisit old homestead, especially when it’s associated to bad memories. The good thing though is that you can appreciate even more where you live now – as you said: your life has changed for better.

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  3. Ooh Darren I forgot to say: Do visit Kris’ blog. Her latest post is a fun read (as always) but there is a link that you’ve got to see. Hilarious! No spoiler from me. Wonder if you will do the challenge or not though… πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I suspect that those parts were not actually filmed in England πŸ˜„. Seriously they will mostly be filmed in the South where it is warmer and less rainy. There has just been a new murder drama shown on TV here that was filmed very locally – only 3 miles from my current home. There is not much sun in that and it shows that rough places like Barrow exist in a lot of towns, sadly.

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  5. The bits I saw were good if a bit miserable. Fun spotting the locations. They filmed some scenes in a disused open air swimming facility in Grange over Sands. I used to work nearby and can see it across the bay from my bedroom. Would I recommend the series? Probably not – I found it depressing.

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  6. I can’t genuinely see at least the Toddler King being enough of a grand master to be the ultimate evil. He’s a born Manchurian idiot for any evil that would like a hand on the marionette strings :-p There’s always the argument that those current residents are more like the Saruman of the story – claiming they are in control the groundwell of bigotry and hate that elected them. But, even after their fall, there will still be the evil eye of their voters to contend with for any lasting peace! If Barrows on Furnass went heavily for current policies, you probably have a good case πŸ˜‰

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  7. Indeed! Given the heavy support for Brexit in the town ( almost certainly due to immigration fears even though I could probably count the immigrants on my fingers) I was expecting a conservative victory in yesterdays local elections. Oddly it was overwhelmingly a Labour victory. I suspect this is because the Conservatives have never been forgiven for decimation of industry there back in the Thatcher era.

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  8. So…once Brexit is a done deal, and a poorly done one at that, Labour will be left to attempt to manage the fallout there. As they will almost surely struggle to do so – because poorly done – local Labour will be left locally holding the bag for a disaster not of their making? That sounds like a very Sauron (and honestly Gandalf at times, too, since the Left’s own internal lack of cohesion in both countries seems oft to enable the worst policies of the right) treatment of Saruman. I think you might have just strengthened your case with that tidbit. πŸ˜‰

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  9. Exactly. The one thing the conservatives are good at is persuading gullible people to vote against their own interests. I do note however that the votes for definite Remain parties were effectively zero.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laughing. There was a VERY long movie called Mr. Holland’s Opus. It was about 3/4 done before I realised it had been filmed in the city of Portland. Where I’d spent 5 years getting my 4 year degree that I didn’t use at all. It hadn’t rained the entire movie!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is one of my favourite posts. It is so funny and also so moving, when you realise the impact of environment on a person, and the way this town was developed around an industrial boom (rather than an organic growing of community). It seems from what you’ve said here (and elsewhere) that this place is devoid of beauty and all things to make the spirit thrive. I am just so glad you left, although I wish it had been before 37 years had passed for your sake. Urgh. Thanks for sharing x

    Liked by 3 people

  12. It really looks a bit nuked. 😯 Hard to imagine living a joyful life in this place. My aunt lives in the south near Windsor. Even when it rains, there’s also always a lot of sunshine – usually interchanging every 5 minutes or so. πŸ˜‚ Glad you moved away!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You should see it up close! I once had a train journey there where I shared a train table with a woman and daughter travelling to visit dad who was based on a submarine being worked on in the shipyard. The journey from Lancaster, through the Southern Lake District and crossing two estuaries is one of the most gorgeous rail journeys in the country and they exclaimed the whole way. Then the last two miles into Barrow when they saw the derelict buildings, graffiti and rubbish along the rail line they went very quiet…. I am pretty sure they were too scared to get off the train😊

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  14. In this particular part of the PNW, it is DRY and windy and dry. Did I say dry???? I miss the coast where it rains and is lovely and cool and wet.

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  15. I would understand if they chose not to get off the train! What a contrast it must be, all those green hills and lovely views being abruptly replaced by derelict buildings and the like. It kind of reminds me of a school trip I had to take part in when I was little. We visited a partner school in East Berlin and driving through the Zone was terrifying! I felt so unhappy about the whole place and that school, I was so glad when we finally went back home to the West!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve never been to the Lake District, but I’ve heard about it, and of course I’m familiar with it via Beatrix Potter, one of my illustration heroes. πŸ˜‰ It seems a magnificent place!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Funny you should say that because I don’t like it that much. For a botanist it is a green desert and very much a degraded and artificial landscape maintained by over-grazing. But it does look pretty from a distance!
    I love BPs illustrations too. And I can see her influence in your work. X

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