Furness is a peninsula in the southern part of Cumbria , in north-west England . As a socio-cultural unit, it is more loosely defined. At its widest extent, it is considered to cover the whole of North Lonsdale , that part of the Lonsdale hundred that is an exclave of the traditional county of Lancashire , lying to the north of Morecambe Bay . [1]

The area is divided into Low Furness and High Furness. Low Furness is the peninsula;[2] it juts out into the Irish Sea and delineates the western edge of Morecambe Bay. 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 penisula itself.[3] Much of it is within the Lake District National Park, and contains the Furness Fells . It borders England's largest lake, Windermere . Additionally, the parish of Cartmel is often included in definitions of Furness.[4] Strictly speaking, however, Cartmel is not part of Furness, forming a separate peninsula between the estuaries of the rivers Leven and Kent . Both areas together form "Lancashire North of the Sands".

The town of Barrow-in-Furness dominates the region with well over two thirds of its population.[5] The other towns of the region are Ulverston , Coniston , Broughton-in-Furness , Cartmel and Dalton-in-Furness .

Furness is the detached area, over the sands, north west of the main part of Lancashire
Furness is the detached area, "over the sands",
north west of the main part of Lancashire



The oldest record of its name is Fuþþernessa about 1150.[6] It probably came from Old Norse Fuðarnes = "Fuði's headland ". The meaning of Old Norse fuð makes it clear that the man's name "Fuði" is a crude shipboard nickname with sexual reference, and not a formal name given by his parents.

Evidence of Roman inhabitation has remained low until recently, but archealogical 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 site of the birthplace of St Patrick.[7] Furness was part of the Scottish Kingdom of Strathclyde , though it has also been suggested that the local Viking settlers were actually Manx , rather than coming directly from Scandinavia . 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.

As the border moved northwards, the status of Furness became more settled and the latter Middle Ages saw dominance by the monks of Furness Abbey . They owned much of the local land, and built structures such as 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 . 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 .

The fortunes of Furness changed dramatically in 1840s and 1850s , when William Schneider found the second largest iron ore deposits in the United Kingdom at Askam-in-Furness . Further resources were found at Dalton-in-Furness , Lindal-in-Furness and Roose . The Furness Railway was built to transport this ore, providing the area with its first safe transport route to the rest of England .

The iron ore and steelworks were, at their time, the biggest in the world. The population of Barrow-in-Furness rose from a few hundred to 47,000 by 1881 , bypassing 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 along a unique town plan. 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 .

Tourism in High Furness was promoted by the writings of Beatrix Potter in the early part of the 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 over to shipbuilding in Low Furness, with Barrow's docks becoming 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 were able to 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 1980s , the decline of shipbuilding due to the end of the Cold War 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 in 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 Wild Animal Park 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 is a prominent hill in the east of the region.

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


Historically the area is a detached part of the traditional county of Lancashire bordering Cumberland to the north-west and Westmorland to the north-east (see Three Shire Stone ). It is 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 Barrow Borough and part of South Lakeland .

Some people, particularly those born or brought up in the area, prefer to retain the designation "Lancashire".

Towns and villages

Towns and villages in Furness include:

Rivers and lakes


Famous people



  1. ^Furness Family History Society , 'Lancashire North of the Sands',
  2. ^Explore Low Furness
  3. ^Furness Family History Society
  4. ^Furness Family History Society 'Cartmel'
  5. ^2003 Cumrbia population figures
  6. ^The New Anlgo-Saxon Chronicle
  7. ^North West Evening Mail