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Chapter Three: Road and rail
A very ancient road across Furness was used from time immemorial; it links up with the oversands route from Cartmel at Conishead at the only place along the coast where peat-mosses or steep cliffs could be avoided; until the mosses were drained this was the only practical route up from the sands. From Conishead the track winds round the shoulders of the hills across Furness to Ireleth, always crossing the valleys at the narrowest point; it goes by way of Urswick to Dalton, across the Goldmire Valley to Ireleth, where it links with the oversands route across the Duddon estuary to Millom. Across the marshy valleys the track was carried on logs, e.g., in the Goldmire Valley, and here appears as the typical Bronze Age ‘corduroy road.’ It was not until monastic times that proper metalled road was constructed along the line of the prehistoric road, the monks of Furness and Conishead making great use of it in their commercial ventures.
Few carts or carriages would have had sufficient power to tackle the modern Ireleth Road. The old route — coming from Dalton — would probably have been: down past the Bay Horse pub, then either onwards to Kirkby or left down Sun Street, right down Hollowgate Road and onwards down the much safer gradient of Saves Lane to Ireleth Marsh/Askam (and then across the sands if you were journeying to Cumberland).
Right: Cumbrian turnpikes, from "Roads and Trackways of the Lake District", Brian Paul Hindle, p. 142
Apart from the roads built during the Roman occupation, most roads in Britain were terrible up until the middle of the eighteenth century. Prior to the 1730s road maintenance was the responsibility of the parishes through which the roads passed, and so in less wealthy parishes the roads were often poorly maintained. Early eighteenth century roads in Furness were ‘sketchy’ at best, and there was only a pack horse track between Ulverston and Kendal. With the introduction of turnpike trusts, privately raised money was used to repair and maintain roads, with a series of graduated tolls to recover costs (and make a profit for the investors). Cumbria saw something of a ‘turnpike mania’ between 1753 and 1767, when several turnpike Acts were passed and trusts established.
One of these trusts was the ‘Kirkby Kendall to Kirkby Ireleth Trust’, established in 1763, which created a turnpike road from Kendal over Cartmel Fell to Newby Bridge, then through Greenodd, Arrad, Ulverston and Lindal to Ireleth, for the crossing to Salthouse (now Millom). However, there must have been the beginnings of a turnpike prior to the Kendal to Ireleth trust, as the estate map of Tytup Hall (held in the Cumbria Records Office) dated 1752 shows a turnpike gate next to where the Black Dog Inn is now.
As with the Furness Railway, passengers would not have been the most important things to be moved on Furness’s roads. Agricultural produce, such as wool and beef, would be taken from Cumberland to Kendal. Also, because Furness had been virtually deforested by the middle of the eighteenth century due to local iron ore production, iron ore was taken by pack horse and cart to the coast, where it was dumped on the shore to be collected for delivery to the High Furness bloomeries (see chapter four for more on this). The Crossgates mines shipped their ore from Ireleth Marsh up the Duddon to furnaces at Duddon Bridge. A Reverend Stebbing Shaw, on a visit to Furness Abbey in 1787, remarked on this road traffic:
. . . nothing curious or entertaining attracts the notice of the traveller, except an abundance of small, unwieldy carriages passing and repassing with the produce of the neighbouring iron mines to the shipping at Barrow, about three miles beyond the Abbey. I enquired into the reason of this heavy construction of their carts and found it necessary that they should be strong to bear the uncommon burden of this ore, but it is inexcusable in the common business of the country and only ignorance or prejudice that can be the cause of uncumbering one horse with wheels that are scarce moveable, so low and massy in their uncouth form . . . I was struck with the simplicity of northern manners, where every native that passes by salutes you with a good morrow.
An existing example of a pack horse bridge remains at Devil’s Bridge, near Horrace (see picture gallery, picture I013). The following quote is drawn from Furness Iron (edited by Mark Bowden, published by English Heritage, Swindon, 2000):
Before construction of the turnpike roads, overland routes in Furness were poor and in coastal parts involved hazardous crossings of the estuaries over the sands (Barnes 1969, 76-7). One surviving relic of these early overland routes is the Devil’s Bridge (SD 2566 7959), a 17th- or 18th-century packhorse bridge at Horrace, on the road from Lindal Moor to Lowick Bridge.
Left: A view on Saves Lane, looking east, from "The News", Friday, December 29, 1972. The caption reads, ‘Even Mr Melville had no idea where this photograph was taken over sixty years ago, until he spotted the house on the skyline to the left. This gave him the clue.’
One of these ore and charcoal roads is the road which goes from Oregrave Bank (a mine which was located on what is now Mouzell farm), past Tytup Hall, through Marton and on up to Horrace and beyond.
Hollowgate Road and Sun Street were paved with concrete in 1922, and these days most of the roads and streets in Askam and Ireleth are sealed. However, until very recently there was still a stretch of Saves Lane which was worse than a cobbled street. Interestingly, a photo of around 1910 (above) shows Saves Lane as being in much better condition, probably because in pre-car days it was still in use as a thoroughfare having equal importance as Ireleth Road.
The origins of most of the street and road names in Ireleth and Askam are either self-explanatory, or easy enough to work out, though a few need some explanation. Here’s a short list of street names and their origins, starting at the top of the hill and working down.
Moor Road: Leads from Ireleth to the moors of Kirkby, Lindal, Pennington etc.
‘Snow scenes in 1940. The [left-hand picture] shows the Kirkby road at Askam. The group clearing the road includes William Robertson, Bobby Vickers, Bobby Robinson, W. Brown, M. Todd with, on the far left, Betty Moore from the post office. The [right-hand] picture shows the huge drift on Ireleth hill. During this hard winter, funerals were conducted on horse-drawn sledges and food was in short supply in Askam due to the rail line being blocked. Cinema-goers travelling from Askam to Dalton walked over a snow-covered double-decker bus on a hill near to Greenscoe quarries.’ Garbutt & Marsh, p. 158.] Rail
No history of Furness would be complete without reference to the impact of railways on the economy and the environment. As with the scars and marks left by iron ore mining, Furness is riddled with the remains of old rail tracks created for the delivery of ore, coke and limestone to the furnaces.
‘A southbound departure from Askam leaves behind a Class 5. A short siding to the north of the station held banking engines for the climb to Lindal.’ Kirkman & van Zeller, p. 54.
Ireleth and Askam would have looked even more different, however, if an 1836/7 plan by young steam engineer and entrepreneur named George Stephenson had gone ahead. Stephenson was, at that time, engineer for the Maryport & Carlisle Railway. He envisaged a level rail route to Scotland — the Grand Caledonian Junction Railway — running from Glasgow to Preston along the Cumberland coast. The route would go ‘sweeping from Lancaster to Humphrey Head, Chapel Island, through Lindal Moor by tunnel to Ireleth, across the Duddon from Dunnerholme and then north along the coast to Carlisle’. Stephenson’s concept becomes even more ambitious when he describes an embankment over the Morecambe Bay crossing, which would reclaim ‘a new small county of England’ in order to offset costs.
In the event, Stephenson’s plan didn’t go ahead. The railway along the Cumbrian coast was completed over many years by small local groups such as the Furness Railway. Most of these companies maintained their independence rather than cooperating with other companies, until the act known as the Grouping forced them together. In the end money ran out before the proposed Duddon viaduct from Askam to Millom could be made, and so the project was abandoned. Instead, a shorter route skirting closer inland from Foxfield was pursued, saving £37,000.
Following the drawing up of plans in 1843 sections of the Furness Railway were built. The section through Askam from Millwood Junction to Kirkby Slate Wharf forms part of the original Furness Railway line, which was officially opened on 3 June 1846. A passenger service began operating on 24 August. The line was extended from Kirkby to Broughton in April 1848 and crossed the Duddon by a wooden viaduct at Foxfield in 1850.
Left: ‘Askam station on the Furness Railway, c. 1910. The road continues over the crossing in a straight line from Ireleth to the iron-red sand dunes of the Duddon Estuary, from which you could once see the flames of the Millom iron works.’ Garbutt & Marsh, p. 155.
There was a stop at the junction of the railway and the oversands road shortly after the railway went through, but this ended in 1859. However, the rapid growth of the new town of Askam justified a full station, and a high quality one at that. An attractive chalet-style station had been commissioned by Paley and Austin for Millom station, but it actually ended up being built at Askam, where it was opened on 1 April 1868. Siding sheds were also built next to the new Askam station to stable a banking locomotive, which was used to assist trains over sixteen wagons with the steepening climb of Lindal Summit.
Apart from the main line the Furness Railway had dozens of smaller lines leading to and from virtually every mine, quarry, furnace and factory in the area. Apart from carrying ore, rails came from the Porphyry (Greenscoe) Quarry, bringing limestone for use as flux in the steel works. The remains of this track can be seen in the ruins of a bridge over the A595 near White Bridge, and on the Lots Road just after the White Bridge turn off. The Furness Brickworks also used its own 2ft gauge line to bring clay for the bricks, this worked until 1968.Endnotes
1 Barnes, p.11
2 ibid, p.79
3 Morgan, pp.3745
4 Hindle, Brian Paul, Roads and Trackways of the Lake District, 1984, p140
5 Barnes, p.80
6 Barnes, p.81
7 Walton pp.1213
8 George Jones, pers comm
8b Thanks to Dixon Newton for bringing this meaning of 'gate' to my attention (pers email 1 June 2005)
9 Kirkman and van Zeller, p.3
10 Barnes, p.88
11 Kirkman and van Zeller, p.3
12 Kirkman and van Zeller p.3
13 Susan Benson letter
14 Barnes, pp.8890
15 Kirkman and van Zeller, p.49
16 Kirkman and van Zeller, p.49, and Susan Benson letter.
17 ibid, p.4
18 Kirkman & van Zeller. p.53