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For other uses, see Furness (disambiguation).
Furness is the red shaded area in the top left of this map of the historic county of Lancashire.

Furness /ˈfɜːrnəs/ FUR-nəs is a peninsula and region in south Cumbria, England. While the name originally referred to the peninsula only, it is also used to refer more broadly to the whole of North Lonsdale, that part of the Lonsdale hundred that is an exclave of the historic county of Lancashire and also known as Detached Lancashire, lying to the north of Morecambe Bay.[1]

The area may be divided into Low Furness and High Furness. Low Furness is the peninsula itself. [2] This juts out into the Irish Sea, delineating the north-western edge of Morecambe Bay and the southern part of the Duddon Estuary. The southern end of the peninsula is dominated by the bay's tidal mudflats. The long thin island of Walney lies off the peninsula's south-west coast. High Furness is the northern part of the area, that was part of North Lonsdale but is not on the peninsula itself.[3] Much of it is within the Lake District National Park, and it includes the Furness Fells. It borders England's largest body of water, Windermere. Additionally, the Cartmel Peninsula, a separate peninsula between the estuaries of the rivers Leven and Kent, is often included in definitions of Furness.[4]

The town of Barrow-in-Furness dominates the region with about 55% of the total population of 102,000. Other principal settlements are Ulverston, Dalton-in-Furness, Coniston, Broughton-in-Furness, and Askam and Ireleth.


The oldest record of its name is as Fuþþernessa about 1150, meaning 'headland by the rump-shamped island'.[5]

Evidence of Roman inhabitation has remained scarce until recently, but archaeological surveys in Urswick have suggested that the local church dates to this time, and may even have been a monastery. It has also been claimed that this was the birthplace of St Patrick.[6] Furness was, prior to Anglo-Saxon settlement, part of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Middle Ages[edit]

By the time of the Domesday Book, Furness was at the very north-western corner of William the Conqueror's kingdom, disputed by England and the Scots. The Domesday Book recorded 26 vills or townships forming the Manor of Hougun as being held by Earl Tostig. In the Domesday Book, "Houganai" or "island of Hougun" was the name given to the adjacent Walney Island. Hougun (believed to derive from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or mound) was the name given to Furness.[7][8]

As the border moved northwards, the status of Furness became more settled, and the later Middle Ages saw it dominated by the monks of Furness Abbey. They owned much of the local land and administered the area from Dalton Castle; they also constructed Piel Castle. Buildings from this age are in the traditional sandstone of the region, which was later used for the Gothic style town hall of Barrow-in-Furness in the Victorian era. At one stage, the power and wealth of Furness Abbey was exceeded in the United Kingdom only by Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. However, the monastery fell to ruins during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The Abbey's lands in Furness were passed to the Duchy of Lancaster in 1540.

Furness remained a remote farming and fishing district, accessible only across the dangerous sands of Morecambe Bay[citation needed]. William Wordsworth was among those who enjoyed the remote splendour of the area, writing a number of sonnets about local features such as Piel Castle and the River Duddon. The highland areas of High Furness began to experience tourism in the late 18th century, before the tourist boom of the Victorian era.

19th century[edit]

The fortunes of Furness changed dramatically in 1840s and 1850s, when William Schneider found iron ore deposits at Dalton-in-Furness. These deposits were spread throughout the Dalton area in Askam, Lindal and Roose as well as Dalton. The Furness Railway was built to transport this ore, with the first line running from Kirkby to Dalton and then extended down to Rampside. Rampside was not suitable for the shipment of the ore so a later line was built from Dalton to the hamlet of Barrow. With the later extension of the line to Ulverston and that town's rail link to Lancaster it provided the area with its first safe transport route to the rest of England.[citation needed]

The iron ore and steelworks were, at one time, the biggest in the world. The population of Barrow-in-Furness rose from a few families to 47,000 by 1881, surpassing Dalton-in-Furness and Ulverston as the area's biggest town, and engulfing a number of smaller villages along the way. The Furness Railway expanded to the mining sites at Coniston and Greenodd, and helped develop Barrow. Mining in Furness reached its peak in 1882, when 1,408,693 tons of ore were won. At the same time, the popularity of tourism in the Coniston and Hawkshead areas increased, popularised in part by the work of John Ruskin.

20th century[edit]

Tourism in High Furness was promoted by the writings of Beatrix Potter in the early 20th century. Potter was one of the largest landowners in the area, eventually donating her many properties to the National Trust. In particular, sites such as Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Windermere became popular.

Iron and steel soon gave way to shipbuilding in Low Furness, and Barrow's docks became one of the largest in the United Kingdom. In particular, submarine development became a speciality of the town, with the Royal Navy's first submarines built there. During the World Wars, this allowed Furness to escape many of the economic problems that other areas suffered, due to the constant work provided by the military. Although tourism declined, the rural areas of Furness could rely on agriculture for survival.

After World War II demand for ships and submarines remained high, while the development of the Lake District National Park fostered tourism further. Attractions such as the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, steamers on Windermere and Coniston Water, and fell walking, caused parts of Furness to become dependent on the tourist trade.

In the early 1990s, the decline of shipbuilding led to mass redundancies in the area. The shipyard's employment figures fell from 20,000 to 3,000 in a twenty-year period. However, the shipyard at Barrow remains England's busiest and the only nuclear submarine facility in the country. Tourism has increased even more, with the Aquarium of the Lakes and South Lakes Safari Zoo among the newer attractions.

Transport has become an increasingly controversial issue, with conservation groups and local business clashing over the need for improvements to the A590 trunk road, the main link to the M6 Motorway. Proposals for a road bridge over Morecambe Bay have appeared, but are yet to progress beyond the planning stages.


The Furness region consists mostly of low-lying hills, forests and flats, with some higher ground towards the north.

The highest point of the region is Coniston Old Man at 803 m (2634 ft). Other notable summits include Dow Crag, Wetherlam and Swirl How which, together with "The Old Man", are known as the Furness Fells. Gummer's How at 321 m (1053 ft) is the highest of the foothills in the east of the region, while Kirkby Moor reaches an elevation of 333 m (1093 ft) in the south-west of Furness.

Lakes include Windermere, Coniston Water and Esthwaite Water. The wide expanse of Grizedale Forest stands in-between these lakes.

Rivers and lakes[edit]


The population of the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness stood at 69,087 in 2011 while the 16 South Lakeland wards which constitute the remainder of North Lonsdale had a population of 32,596.


The largest settlement by far in Furness is Barrow-in-Furness which had a population of just under 60,000 in 2011, only two other Furness towns have a population exceeding 10,000 (Ulverston and Dalton).

Towns and villages in Furness include:

Administration and governance[edit]

Furness was an exclave of the historic county of Lancashire, bordering Cumberland to the north-west and Westmorland to the north-east (see Three Shire Stone). It has been known as "Lancashire beyond the sands [of Morecambe Bay]" or "north of the sands" or "over the sands" as in Grange-over-Sands. The area formed the northern part of the hundred of Lonsdale.

In 1974 Furness became part of the shire county of Cumbria. At the district level it now consists of the entire borough of Barrow Borough and part of South Lakeland including the wards of Broughton, Cartmel and Grange West, Coniston and Crake Valley, Grange North, Grange South, Hawkshead, Holker, Low Furness, Mid Furness, Stavely-in-Cartmel and Ulverston (Central, East, North, South, Town and West).

The Barrow and Furness UK Parliament constituency covers the north, east and west of the Furness region.


Industry is the largest employer in the Furness region, and has been for over 100 years. Currently the biggest employers in the area are:

Employer Company Info No of people employed Location
BAE Systems UK Based defence contractor (Fourth Largest in world) works on land, sea and air defence 5,000 Along the Walney Channel, takes up a vast area of the south western tip of the town
GlaxoSmithKline British based pharmaceutical, biologicals, and healthcare company 570 On the outskirts of Ulverston.
Kimberly Clark American corporation that produces mostly paper-based consumer products 470 Park Road - Industrial Outskirts of Barrow-in-Furness


Famous people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Furness Family History Society, 'Lancashire North of the Sands', Accessed August 20, 2006.
  2. ^ Explore Low Furness Accessed August 20, 2006
  3. ^ Furness Family History Society Accessed August 20, 2006
  4. ^ Furness Family History Society 'Cartmel' Accessed August 20, 2006
  5. ^ A.D.Mills, Dictionary of English place-names, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280074-4
  6. ^ North West Evening Mail
  7. ^ Cumbria: Hougun (The Domesday Book On-Line)
  8. ^ The Place-Names of Cumberland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1952)

Coordinates: 54°16′12″N 3°05′19″W / 54.27004°N 3.08853°W / 54.27004; -3.08853