Barrow-in-Furness
Cumbria Part 2

Part 2 - 1911 to present
Constructors of some of the greatest British ships and the home of the submarine for over 120 years

JUMP TO PART 1 - 1876 - 1911 Barrow Shipbuilders - Naval Construction and Armaments Company - Vickers, Sons and Maxim Limited 

1911 - Vickers Limited


Between the turn of the century and the outbreak of World War 1, Barrow produced no fewer than 98 vessels, of which 64 were submarines for the Royal Navy.  This was in the main due to a 10-year agreement with the Admiralty to be the sole provider of submersible craft for at least 10-years.
 
1913 - Barrow - HMS Emperor of India
Barrow produced a wide variety of naval and commercial vessels for customers throughout the world including the HMS Emperor of India, an Iron Duke-class battleship for the British Royal Navy.
 
She was originally to have been named Delhi but was renamed before completion to honour King George V, as Emperor of India.  She was laid down on 31st May 1912 and launched just 18 months later, such was the measure of the production levels. The finished ship was commissioned a year later, shortly after the start of the First World War.
 
She was armed with a main battery of ten 13.5-inch (340 mm) guns and was capable of a top speed of 21.25 knots (39.36 km/h; 24.45 mph).
 
At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, the Barrow shipyard was producing a number of different classes of submarine, ships, aircraft and guns. The yard itself was visited by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. During the 4 years of the war, Barrow produced over 60 vessels which included 48 submarines, 6 cruisers, 2 battleships and 2 refuelling tankers.
 
Inside the Heavy Gun Machine Shop 1900
Vickers' Armament Division at Barrow, with their huge Heavy Engineering workshop on Michaelson Road, were deeply involved in the war effort supplying armaments and ammunition for both the British Army and the Royal Navy.
 
World War 1 also brought a significant temporary migration of manual craftsmen and labourers who arrived to work in the munition’s factory and shipyard.  The town's population exploded reaching to an estimated peak of around 82,000 during the War with around 35,000 working at the yard and factories.  That said, thousands of local men also fought abroad during the conflict and 616 were recorded as killed in action.
 
On 29th January 1915, Barrow itself became the subject of attention from the German submarine U-21, the first enemy submarine to reach the north-western coast. U-21 suddenly appeared in the Irish Sea some 3 miles off Walney Island. The fact that it was 2pm and broad daylight, she caused little panic as submarines were a common sight in these waters, given the nature of the shipyard.  It wasn’t until she opened fire on the airship hangers on Walney Island that anyone actually took any notice.
 
The Fort at Walney was manned at the time by the men of No 7 Company of the Lancashire and Cheshire Royal Gallery Artillery who quickly returned fire.  Normal practice would be to notify residents of gun drills so that steps could be taken to open windows etc. and so there was little surprise when a stream of claims for broken windows followed the barrage of fire let loose by the Walney Island guns.
 
Barrow - German Submarine U-21
The vessel appeared to have been sunk and despite a desire to celebrate the successful sinking of a U-boat, military authorities remained tight lipped for fear of lowering moral in the shipyards.  
 
As it turned out this was for the better as later in the war U-21 was recorded as being sunk in the North Sea in 1919, leading to the conclusion that she had simply submerged rather than having been sunk.
 
War production throughout the country gathered pace, no more so than at Barrow where expansion was almost continuous to meet the needs of the Army and Royal Navy.
The Barrow News reported on Saturday, 29th December 1917:
‘The year 1917 must be written down as a record in productivity at the great works of Vickers, Barrow. Probably no firm in the world is better equipped or organised for delivering the goods so essential for the successful conduct of the war.’
 
It added ‘Barrow has also been, what may be termed, the nursery of the submarines, and the marked advance which has been achieved in the British submersibles is one of the marvels of naval engineering and construction. To achieve such a prominent role in war production, the Barrow site had seen rapid expansion. The area of the Vickers works at Barrow prior to the war was 220 acres, which has now been extended to 270 acres.’

Records from the period show that Barrow produced several thousand tons of armaments including guns and many millions of shells. This level of heavy engineering required the creation of new handling equipment and machinery, as well as entirely new departments and workshops.
 
The demands of war had also seen Barrow develop an advanced diesel engine design that quickly became the national standard whilst new design internal engines (for use on submarines) quickly became the accepted standard by the Admiralty.
 
1915 Vickers Munitions workers
Supplying the army with field guns and howitzers required a major expansion at the ordnance factory with a large proportion of female machine workers under the instruction of male supervisors. One feature of shell production at Barrow was the variety as well as the volume of the output compared to other facilities around the country.
 
As the size of the vessels grew, then so did the calibre of the guns with many requiring large, powered and revolving turrets. The naval gun-mounting bays in the Assembly Shops reached up to 1,000ft in length where they created the machinery for the manipulation of the largest of naval guns.
 
The Barrow workforce has an unusual, if not macabre claim to fame in naval history as during World War 1. ‘Barrovians’ were on board HMS Amphion, the first warship to be lost on 6th August 1914 whilst on 10th November 1918, there was also a number on HMS Ascot, the last naval vessel sunk by a passing U-Boat. 
 
Guns destined for HMS Shannon being made at Barrow Works 1905
The end of World War 1 saw the well-documented depression which accounted for the collapse of many great names in heavy engineering.
 
Barrow and Vickers were no exception and by 1920 the population of the town had fallen by over 10,000 people, many of them young and eager to find work elsewhere.
 
During 1919, Barrow had completed the work on no fewer than 19 vessels, 14 of which were submarines for the Royal Navy yet during 1920 the number fell to just 1 launch, the RMS Scythia.
 
Barrow 1920 RMS Scythia 1920 RMS Scythia
 
By contrast to the war work, Scythia was a transatlantic ocean liner built for Cunard and despite being completed in just over 18-months, she went on to become the longest serving ship of the 20th century.
 
For the first half of the 1920s, the Barrow Yard concentrated solely on Civilian vessels such as the passenger ship ‘Jervis Bay’ and ‘Orama’, a refrigerated cargo vessel. The Estonian Navy had placed orders for 2 Kalev-Class submarines, and these were duly completed in 1924 although the excess of war stock submersible craft meant there was little prospect of new build orders.
 
1929 HMS Arrow (H42), A-class destroyer
Military work started to re-emerge in the latter half of the decade with orders from the Australian Royal Navy for 4 Odine Class submarines. The UK Royal Navy commissioned a whole range of specialist support and supply vessels as well as the A-Class destroyer ‘HMS Arrow’.
 
Gradually, the perseverance of the workforce and the high grade of design and engineering saw a resurgence at the Barrow Works.
 

1927 - Vickers-Armstrong


By 1928, Vickers were the major shipbuilder in the UK although it was determined that rationalisation was desperately needed as by then they had diversified into a number of unprofitable business areas.
 
Elswick - Vickers Armstrong logo
With the takeover of Sir W G Armstrong, Whitworth & Company Ltd a year earlier meant that the new company, Vickers-Armstrong, now possessed a major shipyard on each coast of Britain and it was easily one of the most important warship manufacturers in the world.
 
The rationalisation saw them dispose of their automotive interests to engine maker J.D. Siddeley and they diversified away from many of their other enterprises such as Vickers-Petters Limited, British Lighting and Ignition Company, The Vickers Plywood Department at Crayford Creek, Canadian Vickers, William Beardmore and Company and Wolseley Motors.
 
The start of the re-armament programme of the 1930s meant that naval ships were once more built in Barrow and in the period between the wars, a number of passenger liners were built for well-known steamship lines such as Cunard and the Orient Steam Navigation Company.
 
1939 - Barrow - HMS Illustrious 1 1939 HMS Illustrious
 
During World War II the shipyard produced 2 aircraft carriers, 2 battle cruisers, 1 aircraft repair ship, 12 destroyers, 112 submarines, 10 cargo vessels, 6 barges, 18 landing craft and one transport ferry.
 
Barrow was a target for the German air force looking to disable the town's shipbuilding capabilities and it suffered the most in a short period between April and May 1941.
 
1941 - Barrow - Bomb damage in town during the Barrow Blitz
The difficulty in individually targeting bombs meant that the shipyards and steelworks were often missed at the expense of the residential areas. Between 1941 and 1942, Barrow was targeted in a few air raids including the bombing of Buccleuch Dock (where the present-day BAE Systems Submarines Academy for Skills & Knowledge is located) resulting in two fatalities. Ultimately, only 83 people were killed in Barrow which is quite amazing given that over 11,000 houses were either damaged or destroyed. 
 
The shipyard continued to supply the war effort with Winston Churchill visiting the town once again, this time to launch the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable. Besides the dozens of civilians killed during World War II, some 268 Barrow men were also killed in combat.
 
Barrow's population reached a second peak in of 77,900 in 1951 although by this point the long decline of mining and steelmaking (as a result of overseas competition and dwindling resources) had already begun.  Local industry weakened even further when the Barrow Ironworks closed in 1963 and the last Furness mine shut just 3 years later. This created the demise of all the small steelworks and engineering support firms leaving the shipyard as the town's principal industry and employer.
 
Barrow - Oriana launch
The shipyard was modernised after the war and again the business branched out into industrial machinery and railway rolling stock.
 
Ship production concentrated on numerous passenger liners including the largest liner built in Barrow, the Orient Lines ‘Oriana’.
 
Alongside this mammoth and prestigious project, the yard continued to produce a range of cargo ships including the construction of 10 oil tankers for companies such as Esso and Eagle Oil.
 
The Centaur-Class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes was built and launched in Barrow on 16th February 1953 and she remained in active service until 2017 (latterly she was known as INS Viraat with the Indian Navy).
 
She underwent extensive alterations including the change to an angled flight deck.
 

1955 - Vickers-Armstrong Shipbuilders


In 1955 the name of the shipbuilding division changed to Vickers Armstrong Shipbuilders Ltd and changed again in 1968 to Vickers Limited Shipbuilding Group.
HMS Dreadnought Vickers Armstrong 1960
Traditional submarine manufacture continued albeit at the lower rate of only 10 vessels during the 1950s and this was an indication of things to come.
 
In the 1960s, the British government committed to building nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines and Barrow shipyard led the way in developing Britain’s nuclear submarine capability.
 
The prototype ‘HMS Dreadnought’ was launched in 21st October 1960 by Queen Elizabeth II and was fitted with an American designed nuclear reactor.
 

1968 - Vickers Limited Shipbuilding Group.


Nuclear submarine construction continued throughout the 1970s with the 6 Swiftsure-Class submarines with the final vessel ‘HMS Splendid’ being launched on 5th October 1979.
 
Meanwhile, what is probably Barrow’s most famous ship, the aircraft carrier ‘HMS Invincible’ was being constructed and was launched by the Queen on 3rd May 1977.
 
1977 - Barrow - HMS Invincible returning to the Solent after the Falklands Conflict in 1982 1977 HMS Invincible returning to the Solent after the Falklands Conflict in 1982
 
One of 3 Invincible Class light carriers (sister ship to HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal), HMS Invincible was to become world famous after playing a significant and key role in the 1982 Falklands Conflict.
 

1977 - British Shipbuilders


Before then however, the shipbuilding group was nationalised under the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act in 1977 and all the UK shipyards were subsumed into British Shipbuilders. The act had a rough ride through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords where it faced fierce opposition, led by Vickers Chairman and Labour Politician, Lord Robens.
 
HM Queen with Lord Robens (L) and Sir Leonard Redshaw, Chairman of shipbuilding Group at Barrow after launch of the 1st Type 42 HMS Sheffield HM Queen with Lord Robens Chairman (L), & Sir Leonard Redshaw
 
It gathered the 16 major shipbuilders into one consortium, but it was beleaguered with claims for compensation and was even referred as infringing the European Convention on Human Rights.
 
2010 - Barrow - High view of DDH
Through the 1980s however, submarine construction continued at Barrow with the Trafalgar class well underway whilst the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH) was erected by Alfred McAlpine Plc. It was completed in 1986 to support the construction of the new Vanguard-class of nuclear deterrent submarines.
 
The DDH was created after infilling the existing dock with 2.4 million tons of sand which was pumped from nearby Roosecote Sands.
 
On a clear day, the DDH is visible from Blackpool and has been the main construction hall for the works ever since.  It is known colloquially as Maggie’s Farm after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who performed the opening ceremony on 3rd September 1986.
 
Ironically, just 6 months earlier the Barrow sectors of British Shipbuilders was sold off to an employee-led company, VSEL Consortium. This new company also included the Cammell Laird Yard in Birkenhead with the new company being floated on the London Stock Exchange in December 1986.
 

1986 - Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited


VSEL Logo
Things started bizarrely for VSEL as in 1988, a mistake by senior management and changing shipbuilding methods meant that the Vickers shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness accidentally welded part of HMS Triumph (a nuclear submarine) in an upside-down position. Quite understandably, new procedures and controls were instigated thereafter.
 
1988 HMS Vanguard
With the completion of only 7 submarines (including 2 of the new Vanguard Class) during its 8-year tenure, a significant number of job losses occurred in the 1990s. At the end of the Cold War era, employment levels at the yard dropped dramatically from 14,000 to just under 5,000 employees.
 
The company developed a strategy to return to building surface warships and to complete orders for the Vanguard Class submarines, of which HMS Vanguard itself was launched in 1992 by HRH Diana, Princess of Wales.
 
 

1994 - Marconi Marine (VSEL)


During 1994, VSEL became the target of takeover bids from two companies, GEC and British Aerospace.
 
Marconi logo Blue
Although the British Aerospace bid was ruled acceptable by the Monopoly & Mergers Commission, the VSEL shareholders accepted GEC’s bid and the company became Marconi Marine (VSEL) under the GEC-Marconi division.
 
Production levels fell further as the yard only produced 2 submarines under the new name. Submarine technologies were becoming increasingly complex and this extended production cycles exponentially.
 
 

1999 - BAE Systems Marine / 2003 BAE Systems Submarine Solutions


However, five years later in 1999, GEC-Marconi would subsequently merge with British Aerospace and the
BAE Systems logo
yard became part of BAE Systems, firstly as BAE Systems Marine and then BAE Systems Submarine Solutions in 2003.
 
2013 - Barrow - HMS Artful construction
 
At the turn of the millennium, construction of the Astute Class submarines began at Barrow to replace earlier Swiftsure and Trafalgar class submarines. HMS Astute, the first of class was completed at Barrow and launched on 8th June 2007.
 
In 2018, the £25 million Academy for Skills and Knowledge was opened at Barrow. The 89,340 sq ft facility has been built to develop the world-class engineering skills required to design, build and deliver complex submarine programmes to the Royal Navy.  
 
As we publish this webpage, the 4th of the Class (HMS Audacious) has just set sail for her new home on the River Clyde, having left Barrow in April 2020. She will soon be followed by Anson, Agamemnon & Agincourt.
 
Today, engineering work begins in preparation for the construction of the new Dreadnought-class of ballistic missile submarines, the replacement for the Vanguard-class, expected to enter full service in the early 2030's
 

The Barrow shipyard has changed owners and names many times since James Ramsden announced his great plans for shipbuilding and his beloved town of Barrow in Furness and under its current title of BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines it continues to be at the forefront of submersible technologies and is creating some of the most advanced and complex machines ever built.

Barrow Image Gallery - Pt 2

of

Vickers Armstrong Wheel-cum-Track Vehicle
Vickers Armstrong experimental

Vickers Armstrong Experimental Wheel-cum-Track Vehicle 1928

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1939 - Barrow - HMS Illustrious launch
1939 - Barrow - HMS Illustrious launch

1939 HMS Illustrious at launch

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HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar 1940
HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar 1940

HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar 1940

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1929 HMS Arrow (H42), A-class destroyer
1929 HMS Arrow (H42), A-class destroyer

1929 HMS Arrow (H42), A-class destroyer

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1933 - Barrow - Almirante Saldanha Training Ship
1933 - Barrow - Almirante Saldanha Training Ship

1933 Almirante Saldanha Training Ship

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1933 - Barrow - Almirante Saldanha Training Ship
1933 - Barrow - Almirante Saldanha Training Ship

1933 Almirante Saldanha Training Ship

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1934 - Barrow - HMS Ajax Leander-class light cruiser
1934 - Barrow - HMS Ajax Leander-class light cruiser

1934 HMS Ajax Leander-class light cruiser

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1939 - Barrow - HMS Illustrious 1
1939 - Barrow - HMS Illustrious 1

1939 HMS Illustrious

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1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer
1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer

1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer

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1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer
1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer

1939 HMS Eglinton (L87) Hunt-class destroyer

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1940 HMS King George V-class battleship
1940 HMS King George V-class battleship

1940 HMS King George V-class battleship

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1940 HMS King George V-class battleship
1940 HMS King George V-class battleship

1940 HMS King George V-class battleship

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1941 HMS Hurworth Hunt Class Destroyer
1941 HMS Hurworth Hunt Class Destroyer

1941 HMS Hurworth Hunt Class Destroyer

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1942 LCT-17 Tank Landing Craft
1942 LCT-17 Tank Landing Craft

1942 LCT-17 Tank Landing Craft built at Barrow

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1942 HMCS Iroquois Tribal Class Destroyer
1942 HMCS Iroquois Tribal Class Destroyer

1942 HMCS Iroquois Tribal Class Destroyer

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1942 HMS Bleasdale
1942 HMS Bleasdale

1942 HMS Bleasdale

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1942 HMS Bleasdale
1942 HMS Bleasdale

1942 HMS Bleasdale

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1942 HMS Bleasdale
1942 HMS Bleasdale

1942 HMS Bleasdale

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1948 - Barrow - SS Himalaya 02
1948 - Barrow - SS Himalaya 02

1948 SS Himalaya

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1948 - Barrow - SS Himalaya with Armstrong Crane
1948 - Barrow - SS Himalaya with Armstrong Crane

1948 SS Himalaya with Armstrong Crane

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1959 Barrow SS
1959 Barrow SS Oriana

SS Oriana seen here in 1985

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1994 SS Oriana being prepared for trials
1994 SS Oriana being prepared for trials

1994 SS Oriana being prepared for trials

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2001 HMS Bulwark amphibious transport dock
2001 HMS Bulwark amphibious transport dock

2001 HMS Bulwark amphibious transport dock

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2010 - Barrow - High view of DDH
2010 Devonshire Dock Hall and surrounding area

2010 Devonshire Dock Hall and surrounding area

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Site Timeline

 
1876  Barrow Shipbuilding Company
1888  Naval Construction and Armaments Company
1897  Vickers, Sons and Maxim
1911  Vickers Limited
1927  Vickers-Armstrong
1955  Vickers-Armstrong Shipbuilders Limited
1968  Vickers Limited Shipbuilding Group
1977  British Shipbuilders
1986  Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited 
1994  Marconi Marine (VSEL)
1999  BAE Systems Marine
2003  BAE Systems Submarine Solutions