The Seventh Duke of Devonshire and his role in Barrow and Furness
Dr John D Marshall was a specialist in local and regional history at the University of Lancaster, 1966-
Although the late Bill Rollinson was principally a lover of the Lake District, he was fascinated by his native Barrow and gave some arresting and brilliant lectures on the early history of the town, The writer had the privilege of enjoying some of these. This article is contributed by way of a gesture of warm if posthumous thanks to Bill, who understood the importance of primary sources, but, brilliantly used printed works as well. He was also a most valuable fellow-
One of the most important themes in local history is that of decision-
Who started great industries in one's town or district? Who decided where building should take place? And who helped to develop the area's industries where there had been no such development before? And who rescued them from the consequences of hard times?
This is a brief study of one of the most important industrial decision-
The Second Earl of Burlington and Seventh Duke of Devonshire (1808-
Furness local historians should be aware that the Seventh Duke's personal diary, stretching over more than 30 volumes, is now available in Barrow Record Office, albeit in the form of an unsatisfactory photocopy. Nevertheless, it is one of the most remarkable primary sources to enter our archives, and there is an immense amount of work to be done on it. This article merely scrapes the surface of the Duke's story, and if our local historians are looking for a worthwhile theme it is here.
The Second Earl of Burlington's predecessor was of course the first of that title, and he held the latter for only three years (1831 -
Burlington had also received some excellent training for this office by his experience as Chancellor of the University of London when still only 26. Holding comparatively advanced political opinions, he lost his seat at Cambridge as a consequence of his espousal of Reform but he was returned as the MP for Malton in 1831. It should be borne in mind that he was not committed, during the decade of the 1830s, to local activities over and beyond his work with the Ulverston Guardians, and he spent a large part of the years 1838 and 1839 touring Italy and Germany. However, this semi-
This tragedy, with its attendant agony of spirit (well and painfully reflected in his diary) caused Burlington to retire to Holker Hall in a state of deep religious introspection. Here we can distinguish one of the visible and enduring strands of his existence; he found real solace in the Anglican Church, which also appeared as a special local interest. Grief never left him, as his diary volumes show. Fortunately, he was not yet responsible for the vast Cavendish estates, which occupied tens of thousands of acres in England and Ireland, although as a successor to the Dukedom of Devonshire he was well aware that that responsibility awaited him, and he was fully willing to act as an enlightened and conscientious landlord.
Holker Hall remained his favourite residence for the rest of a long lifetime. Its charms took precedence even over the glories of Chatsworth, or over the other Cavendish seats. Living at Holker, enabled the earl to concentrate on the supervision at the Kirkby slate quarries (originally worked by farmer-
Burlington supervised them conscientiously, and his careful observations find a regular place in his diary. It becomes clear that not only did he follow the quarries' work processes, he had a specially appointed mining engineer, Stephen Eddy, who also advised the Cavendishes on the working of lead in the family property at Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales. As time went on, the Earl surrounded himself with knowledgeable advisers of this kind, both inside and outside Furness.
The Burlington range of quarries occupies the crest of Kirkby Moor, and as early as 1809 an iron railway carried slates down a long incline to a loading wharf. Ideas of a more elaborate railway, with steam traction, were longer in taking shape yet the notion of a railway outlet had been aired in Furness as early as 1825. However, it is worth noting that the earl was only partly the prime mover for what became the Furness Railway. A significant driving force was the Cavendish family's firm of solicitors, Currey and Co. of Great George Street, London.
Consequently Burlington was forced willy-
Engraving of the Barrow Iron and Steel Works in the 1870s
An early Furness Railway train. The rear coach was built for the use of the Duke of Devonshire
An optimistic engraving of the Barrow jute works and employees
But for several years, Burlington was more interested in his slate quarries of that name than he was in other Furness industries, and, as for the railway, he nearly succeeded in selling it off! In the eleven years between the desperate first crisis of the railway in 1848, and his accession to the Dukedom, Burlington had in fact formed a picture of the Devonshire estate's finances, and he wrote resignedly that "This is a worse condition of matters than I had expected, although from knowing the (sixth) Duke's ignorance of business, I did not expect to find them very flourishing." The Cavendish estates remained encumbered by debt for at least a decade subsequently, but Burlington's Furness investments were crucial, and the development, following 1852, of a vast pocket of haematite iron ore at Park, on Cavendish land in Low Furness, was to make available eight and a half million tons of rich ore in 34 years. As Burlington knew, the F.R. was at first primarily a mineral line, but it rapidly became one of the most profitable in Britain. Barrow, at the ore-
This story is well known. But what was the new Duke's attitude to it? Unsurprisingly, that attitude, as shown in his diary, was somewhat distant, and Devonshire (as we shall now call him) became interested in Barrow mainly in the eighteen-
In the late fifties and sixties, the first real transformation in the district took place, and stemmed from the establishment of an ironworks on Cavendish land at Hindpool, near Barrow (1859), largely through the drive of H. W. Schneider, a freebooting metalliferous mining entrepreneur. At the side of Schneider, the Duke cut a shy and retiring figure, but together with the F.R. Board he encouraged the Schneider promotion. Nevertheless, his slate quarries continued to thrive. Paradoxically, Devonshire regarded the Furness Railway as a burdensome responsibility, and, as we have seen, he was associated with attempts to lease or sell it to other railway companies or individuals; fortunately, these attempts were in vain. Despite the Duke's reservations concerning it, the railway company was increasingly at the very heart of Furness economic development. After I860, the fortunes of the F.R. remained buoyant until 1874; the Furness Railway's dividends (at this time) were larger than those of any other major British railway company. Meanwhile, the Schneider and Hannay ironworks provided the basis for the construction of a great Barrow steelworks, promoted in 1863 and in full operation in 1865; the Duke was the chairman of this enterprise, but held only a small fraction of the Haematite Steel Company shares in the early stages of the works. Yet its dividends paid rarely less than fifteen per cent in these years.
From the mid-
By the early seventies, Devonshire had greatly increased his industrial investments, until the income from them outstripped the farming rentals from his massive estates. By 1874 the annual income from these two sources, dividends and estate rentals, amounted to a third of a million pounds -
Exceptionally rich supplies of high quality non-
A steadily enlarging market within the British railway networks, a smelting site with good nearby supplies of water and limestone, and fairly good rail access to other industrial centres like Sheffield.
The only palpable disadvantage to the Barrow entrepreneurs lay in their supplies of furnace coke, which had to be brought across the north Pennines from Durham -
Meanwhile, Barrow was beginning to grow at such a pace, post-
Devonshire, closely associated with the administration of Barrow industries, seems to have left Ramsden to his own time-
When agriculture was thriving, as in the sixties and early seventies the Duke's net estate rental increased from £94,156 (1863) to £ 141,716 (1874). The development of Eastbourne and Buxton was not especially profitable. But, forgetting the sheer weight of lucre derived from Barrow, the promotion of these two centres was immensely successful. Of the two Victorian resorts, Buxton was old-
The period of the greatest building activity in Eastbourne (1870-
By 1874, Barrow's industries had begun to take shape, although they were still in a half-
Devonshire had been induced to subscribe large sums to all these new Barrow industries, notably by James Ramsden but also by Schneider, and the Duke came to regard Ramsden with a measure of distrust; after all, it was not the latter's money that was at stake, and by 1878 the Duke concluded that the reorganised direction of the main Barrow enterprises would 'leave less power in Ramsden's hands', an outcome that he clearly regarded as desirable. Over several decades Devonshire had come to see the town manager, Ramsden, as an insatiable collector of expenses and investments, which inevitably the Duke viewed with distrust -
remarked 'unless matters improve shortly a catastrophe cannot long be averted'.
Disaster was avoided by constant addition to the mortgage debt already incurred by Devonshire, which by 1888 stood at the immense figure of £2,000,000. By sheer accident, this was also the magnitude of the sum that the Duke had poured into Barrow, representing some 80 per cent of his total investments. It was fortunate for Barrovians that the Duke had a conscience about the large profits he had already drawn by 1874, a conscience that guided his conduct until the end of the eighties, when any remaining element of the Barrow boom finally burst.
Although the then Barrow shipyard was up to date and capable of building five vessels at once, it never managed satisfactorily to ensure a steady flow of work, and suffered severely from labour troubles, The Duke looked for a better future for Barrow in the 'sheltered and cartellised production of men of war' (1887), and the eventual appearance of the Naval Construction and Arms Company in Barrow in 1888, with the Duke's eldest son (The Marquess of Hartington) as chairman, in fact opened a new chapter in the history of Barrow. The Duke himself had concluded that 'it is almost certain that Barrow generally... will derive great advantages', this from the new naval (and submarine-
The Cavendish identification with the Furness Railway continued, and the Marquess took over as chairman (1887), even though he was never to see ten per cent dividends paid by the company again. Meanwhile, the Duke had received another hammer-
The writer, when visiting the Chatsworth archive some fifty years ago, was introduced to a member of the Cavendish family, an old lady who could just remember having seen the Seventh Duke at Chatsworth before his death in 1891. 'He looked a tired, grim old man', she said. He had helped to keep the family fortunes more or less intact, but he had paid most bitterly for his efforts. These were not negligible, after all; the Duke had steered the Furness Railway for nearly forty years, and Barrow remained as a great industrial centre
Much in this article is based on one vast primary source, The Diary of William, second Earl of Burlington and Seventh Duke of Devonshire' in 30 MS. volumes running from 1840 to 1891, i.e. the period of the Duke's death. The Diary was originally made available to the present writer at the Chatsworth House archives in 1952-
Second Series, vol. VIII, 1955, pp. 213-
Notwithstanding the importance of the subject, little more appeared for nearly two decades, perhaps because the story of the Duke seemed to have been thoroughly covered, But it was known that the Seventh Duke of Devonshire had other town-
Thanks to Professor Cannadine, we know how rich, or apparently rich, the Seventh Duke was after the pursuit of his vast Barrow investments. The Cavendishes survived.
There is still room for a rounded study of the Seventh Duke, and these historians have provided an excellent launching platform.