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James Ramsden

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Sir James Ramsden (1822-1896) was a British civil engineer, industrialist, and civic leader, who played a dominant role in the development of the new town of Barrow-in-Furness, serving five successive terms as mayor on its first achieving municipal borough status, from 1867 onwards.

James Ramsden was one of several children of William Ramsden, an engineer.

He served an apprenticeship with the Liverpool firm of Bury, Curtis and Kennedy before becoming locomotive superintendent for the new Furness Railway Company in January 1846. He very soon rose to become company secretary, and later served as managing director between 1866-1895.

1866 James Ramsden, Barrow Haematite Steel Works, Barrow, near Ulverstone.[1]

Ramsden's home was Abbotswood, a large new mansion on the outskirts of the town, rented from the railway company. From here, he took an active interest in virtually all local developments, including the early Barrow Shipbuilding Co; the new Port of Barrow, and the massively expanded iron and steel industries. He was also a notable benefactor, contributing towards many new social and civic facilities within the town.

Ramsden was knighted in 1872, and a statue by Matthew Noble was unveiled that same year in what was to become Ramsden Square, Barrow-in-Furness. However, he remained a largely local figure, declining calls to stand for Parliament in 1885 when the borough was seeking its first Member of Parliament.

Ramsden was married in 1853 to Hannah Mary Edwards from Wallasey, Cheshire. Their only child Frederic James Ramsden (1859-1941) also served as superintendent of the Furness Railway.

1896 October 19th. Died in 1896 and was buried at Barrow Cemetery.


1897 Obituary [2]

Sir JAMES RAMSDEN, whose name is identified with the rise and progress of Barrow-in-Furness, died at his residence, Abbots Wood, overlooking Furness Abbey, on the 19th October, 1896.

James Ramsden, born in Liverpool on the 25th February, 1822, was a son of Mr. W. Ramsden, civil engineer, of that city.

He was apprenticed early in life to Mr. E. Bury, of the firm of Bury, Curtis and Kennedy, of Liverpool, and subsequently obtained experience of locomotive engineering at the Wolverton Works of the London and North-Western Railway.

His first introduction to the district of Furness was in March, 1846, when he found the railway from Barrow to Dalton and Kirkby in course of construction. The line was opened for traffic in that year.

The quantity of ore raised and sent away prior to the opening of the railway was about 3,000 tons; the quantity shipped at Barrow during the year 1846 was 120,000 tons. The rolling stock in the first instance was of a very limited character-two four-wheeled engines and several mineral wagons.

The line was opened for passenger traffic in the year 1847, and Mr. Ramsden was appointed Secretary and General Manager in 1850. Passengers were allowed to travel in a sheep-van on Sundays only. One engine only being needed for the traffic, only one driver and fireman were employed.

Mr. Ramsden observed one Sunday that the engine was running too fast, and, making signals for the train to stop, he found that the driver was intoxicated. He afterwards wrote to the locomotive superintendent of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and begged a man; and, in the meantime, worked the traffic himself.

Prior to the railway, Furness could only be reached by coaches crossing the sands to Ulverston, or by steamer to Bardsea from Fleetwood. Ore was brought down in carts from the mines at Lindal and was tipped into the yard on the shore above high-water mark. It was then run down in small bogies worked by hand, and was tipped into vessels which lay dry at the end of the jetty.

The carts laden with ore made a procession of a mile long on the roads between Lindal and Barrow. The traffic increased so rapidly that a larger class of vessels had to be employed, and the objection of the owners to their running aground led to the first docks being commenced, which were opened in September, 1867.

At an early date Mr. Ramsden made a plan of an imaginary town, with streets marked out equal to a population of about 100,000 people. To show that this was not so wild a scheme as it then looked, it may be observed that even now the population is over 60,000. All the landowners gladly availed themselves of this plan, and fell readily into the proposal of selling land to the Railway Company.

In 1856 the Company bought the Hindpool estate, consisting of 70 acres, with a mile of water frontage. The Park Mines had been in the hands of Schneider, Hannay and Co for many years, under a license to search for ore. When the railway came into operation it was found to be far in advance of the requirements of the traffic, and the owners of the royalties determined to reduce the areas of search so as to bring in fresh people. Messrs Schneider, Hannay & Co. decided to give up the whole estate, but before doing so determined to put in a bore hole in a meadow immediately in front of the farmhouse, which, being a rich pasture, the steward of the estate had hitherto prevented them from doing. The result of this trial was that ore was found within 35 yards of the surface. Since then, as much as 300,000 tons have been raised in one year.

Originally, the ore went to South Wales, a small quantity going to Ellesmere Port for Staffordshire, by the Shropshire Canal. The vessels returned with copper dross as ballast, which dross was deposited at the back of the quays, and eventually formed the Devonshire and Buccleuch Docks.

The question of return freights had become a serious one, inasmuch as the vessels were obliged to return from Wales in ballast, and in 1860 Mr. Ramsden made the suggestion to Messrs. Schneider, Hannay and Co. that it would be a good thing to put up a few blast-furnaces in Barrow, in order to give the vessels return freight of coal or coke.

In 1864 the steelworks, now known as the Barrow Hematite Steel Co, were formed, with the idea of purchasing pig-iron from Messrs. Schneider, Hannay & Co. That arrangement was not found to work very well, and it resulted in the purchase of the ironworks and the mines in 1866. In that year ten furnaces were in operation. The Duke of Devonshire was chairman of the united concerns, and Mr. Ramsden was managing director.

The first order for rails was a contract with the Furness and Midland Companies for the line from Carnforth to Wennington.

Steel rails were also made for the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, and large sales in pig-iron were effected. When the steelworks were first contemplated, rails were at £17 per ton, but when the first rails were made the price was £10 10s. per ton.

After this followed the great years of prosperity, in which the proprietors received back their money with 5 per cent. interest. In the first years of the steelworks rails only were manufactured ; but later arose the demand for steel for shipbuilding purposes, and this led to the erection of a number of Siemens-Martin furnaces, and eventually to the rolling of plates and angles, and all the necessary material for shipbuilding. The steel took the place of iron and tin plates, which led to a considerable trade with South Wales.

The tin plates are shipped in small steamers of about 300 tons burden, the return cargo being coal. The trade having increased so much and the ships becoming of a larger class, it was found desirable that there should be a wet dock. This necessitated the purchase of Barrow Island by the Railway Company. The price of the island was £10,000 and subsequently a site of 50 acres was sold for the shipyard and engine works.

With the development of the steelworks and the demand for labour, difficulty arose in attracting and retaining skilled workmen, and on investigation Mr. Ramsden found this was mainly due to the want of employment for women and children. Casting about for a trade which would largely employ this class, he pitched upon the jute trade as being suitable, and on further inquiry this idea was confirmed, and jute works were established.

In a very short time after the works came into operation an entire change was wrought in the character of the population. Instead of being dependent on single men who were constantly moving, very frequently on the slightest pretext, steady, married men were obtained whose families could earn wages from 5s. to 15s. per week, employment being found for three or four hundred women and children in sewing sacks at their homes. Whilst the manufacture of jute has not been very profitable, it has had a very beneficial interest on other companies and on the town generally.

In view of the possible future requirements of the town, in 1865 the Duke of Devonshire expended considerable sums in building a Market Place and Town Hall, which were handed over to the town at cost price. Up to 1865 the town was governed in the way of an ordinary village, for parish purposes under Dalton-in-Furness and for township purposes under the Ulverston Union. It received a charter of incorporation in 1867, Mr. Ramsden being elected first mayor, which office he held for six years. In 1872 he received the honour of knighthood and was appointed High Sheriff of the county.

In 1878 the necessity for further church accommodation became very pressing, and the outcome of a conference with the Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch on this subject was the building of four churches. The Duke of Devonshire undertook to provide funds for two churches, the Duke of Buccleuch for one church, and Sir James Ramsden made himself responsible for the fourth. These, with a suitable residence for the clergyman attached to each, were opened on the 26th September of that year.

Barrow-in-Furness, either for the town or railway, was almost every year in Parliament for extensions and privileges which a new and growing town demanded. With a view to encourage the importation of grain to the docks a steam corn-mill was erected. The Company had the Duke of Devonshire as its chairman, but as it was soon found that the building was much too small for the requirements, it was doubled in size. Although of immense importance to the docks and the town generally, the mill in its early stages was not a financial success. Eventually the original proprietors were bought out, and the property let on a long lease to a private firm, by which it is now carried on successfully.

Prior to the opening of the docks in 1867, and the improvement in the channel, the Irish steamers, the property of the Midland and Furness Railway Companies, jointly with Messrs. James Little and Co., sailed from Morecambe. The improvement of Barrow Harbour led to their transfer to Piel, and on the further improvement of the navigation and the opening of the Ramsden Dock, the steamers were removed to Barrow, whence they now sail daily for Belfast. There is also a daily summer service between Barrow and the Isle of Man. The steamers were originally built for the projected Waterford Line, but the line being abandoned by the Great Western Railway Company, they were bought by the Midland Railway Company for this traffic.

The increase in the shipping at Barrow demanded a certain accommodation for repairs, and this led to the formation of a Company, with the Duke of Devonshire as Chairman, for shipbuilding and engineering. This Company purchased 50 acres of land on Barrow Island. Steamers have been constructed for the Ducal, Red Star and Pacific Lines. The 'Pembroke Castle' and the 'City of Rome' were built at this yard ; also the 'Normandie,' which at that time was the largest ship in the French Mercantile Marine.

In 1888 the Company was reconstructed, and is now known as the Naval Construction and Armaments Co, Limited. It has built many vessels for the Royal Navy, including the 1st class cruiser 'Powerful.'

In the construction of the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway, which was commenced by John Brogden and Sons, great difficulties were met in forming the embankments at the Leven and Kent estuaries, but with characteristic perseverance these difficulties were overcome. Eventually the line, which extended from Carnforth to Ulverston, was bought by the Furness Railway Company and now forms part of that system. In order to make the connection with the Furness line, it became necessary to purchase the Ulverston Canal. Of this canal, it has been said that it is the shortest, widest, and deepest canal in the kingdom. It is now very little used except in connection with the works of the North Lonsdale Iron and Steel Co, a large paper manufactory, and an iron foundry.

Sir James Ramsden was a man of large ideas and indefatigable energy. Gifted with excellent judgment, ability and resource, he devoted himself to the development of Barrow-in-Furness, the present position of which town affords abundant testimony to the success of his efforts. In 1846 a small fishing village of about 100 inhabitants, it has now a population exceeding 60,000, supported mainly by the various industries which he was instrumental in establishing. He was elected a Member on the 2nd December, 1856.


1896 Obituary [3]



1896 Obituary [4]

Sir JAMES RAMSDEN died October 19, 1896, at the age of seventy-four, after a lingering illness, at Abbots Wood, his residence at Furness Abbey. To him more than to any other man the prosperous north Lancashire town of Barrow-in-Furness owes its remarkable growth. Although deposits of haematite iron ore had for more than a century previously been known to abound in the Furness peninsula, lying between Morecambe Bay and the estuary of the Duddon, it was not until the year 1840 that any serious and systematic effort was made to utilise those extensive deposits. Mr. Schneider's discovery of the hidden wealth of the iron-field led to the construction of the Furness Railway, and there is no name more prominently associated with that enterprise than the name of Sir James Ramsden. He was the company's first engineer. He became general manager and secretary of the line, and twenty years ago was appointed its managing director, as he had long before been its chief controlling spirit.

The Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Buccleuch, as the two principal landowners, helped on the rapid development of the town by constructing capacious docks, affording accommodation for the vessels of considerable draught which have since been engaged in continually expanding the trade of the port, until from an insignificant fishing village it has assumed the importance of a thriving and well-ordered industrial centre numbering 60,000 inhabitants.

It was not, however, merely in the Furness Railway that the indomitable energy of Sir James Ramsden was witnessed. He played an active part in bringing about the union which led to the creation of the well-known Barrow Haematite Steel Company (Limited), of which he was a director; and similarly he interested himself in bringing into being the company which introduced shipbuilding on a large scale to Barrow. The town showed its warm appreciation of his work by electing him as its first mayor after incorporation, by inviting him to retain that office in four successive years, and by erecting in the very centre of the town during his life a massive bronze statue recording the high appreciation in which his services were held by the entire community.

His devotion to the public interest, manifested as it was by acts of private beneficence as well as by bold municipal ambition, further earned for him the honour of knighthood, which was conferred by her Majesty in 1872. He was a deputy-lieutenant and a justice of the peace for Lancashire, of which county he was also high sheriff in 1873; a magistrate in the adjoining county of Cumberland, honorary colonel of the 1st King's Own Lancaster Volunteers, having received the volunteer officers' decoration; and up to the time of his illness he continued, notwithstanding his advanced age, to take an active part in all that concerned the welfare of the borough.

Sir James Ramsden was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Vice-President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was one of the original members of the Iron and Steel Institute, and was elected a Member of Council in 1871, and a Vice-President in 1881.


1896 Obituary [5]



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