Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

Technological change and the decline of Britain’s largest steel company: Barrow Haematite 1864–1918

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2016), 165, (1), 99–116.

Abstract

Barrow Haematite Iron and Steel [BHS] was formed in April 1864 by the small group of wealthy investors, including the Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch, who were to transform Barrow-in-Furness from a small village with a population of 70 in 1845 to an industrial town of 47,000 people in 1881, with ambitions to be the ‘new Liverpool’. The growth of Barrow depended on the simultaneous development of a number of interlocking businesses, including rail, iron and steel, shipbuilding and dock construction companies. By 1872 BHS was the largest steel company in Britain and was generating dividends which suggested that the highly ambitious investment scheme for Barrow as a whole might succeed, yet by the late 1880s the company was in serious financial difficulty and facing a decline that would prove irreversible. Relatively little has been written about BHS, despite its important and unusual history, partly because of the limited availability of source materials. In this paper, newly-discovered financial papers have been used to examine the technological and strategic factors behind the company’s formation, growth and subsequent decline through to the end of the First World War.

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Author details

Arnold, A.J.