The Rail Room

This gallery takes the visitor through the history of Millom from 1066 to the present day.

A timeline that goes around the room explains the context of various historical themes:

  • History of the town
  • Industrial development of mining and iron production
  • Growth of the railways
  • International events

Two striking displays are of particular interest to many visitors.

The large print of an aerial photograph of Millom Ironworks which was operational until 1968 and a model railway layout showing typical aspects of the Cumbrian countryside and towns.

The room includes resources for younger visitors to dress up, do colouring and ride on trains!

The Heritage associated with the Cumbrian Coast Railway

The rapid growth of the town of Millom was fuelled by the industrial revolution and railways. The Whitehaven and Furness railway operated all passenger and freight movements along the Cumbrian Coast, with the station at Millom opening in 1850.

The line slowly expanded, extending north from Kirkby to the market town of Broughton in Furness. The line was completed with the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway down the coast from Whitehaven, past Sellafield and Millom to Broughton. The extension to Ulverston was finally completed in 1854.

Now the Furness Railway was connected to the national network at Carnforth, and had a link north to the coalfields of West Cumbria.

Furness had easy access to the rest of the country.

The Furness Railway Board were not just interested in running a successful railway – backers like the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Buccleugh and industrialist Henry Schneider, as well as the FR’s own General Manager Sir James Ramsden, were the driving force behind a complete industrial revolution. They owned the slate and iron ore mines; they owned the railway that transported the raw material; they built the massive docks at Barrow (previously a minor hamlet) that ended Roa Island’s days as the local port; they built the steelworks in Barrow to process the local ore, and they built the shipyard that used the steel from the steelworks.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, the Furness Railway consolidated its position and expanded. It took over the Whitehaven and Furness Junction route in 1865, giving it direct access to Whitehaven. In the meantime the London and North

Western Railway was operating rail services between London, Lancaster and Carlisle and so was able to exert a great deal of control over the Furness Railway – controlling both its northern and south eastern frontiers.

The Furness Railway Empire in Barrow continued to expand – a new through Central station (removing the need to reverse through trains at the old terminus at the Strand) was opened in 1882. It survives to this day, albeit in modified form, the original station having been bombed during the Second World War. A passenger station had been opened at Ramsden Dock a year before to connect with the new

Isle of Man and later Belfast steamer services.

In the early years of the 20th century, a new era began at the Furness Railway, under the new general manager Alfred Aslett. He inherited a system with run down facilities and falling traffic. His strategy was bold, and has had a lasting effect on the Lake District. Aslett transformed the Furness Railway into a tourist line. It was really a matter of refocusing the business: steamers brought in tour parties from the popular holiday destinations of Blackpool and Fleetwood across Morecambe Bay to Ramsden Dock station. Trains could take the holiday makers to either Coniston or Lakeside (at the bottom end of Windermere), and the FR operated steamers on both lakes. Charabancs were used to provide a number of circular tours from the northern end of the two lakes. The era of mass tourism in the English Lake District had begun.

Today the Cumbrian Coast railway, eighty-six miles in length and carrying over 1m passengers each year, is a major transport artery, serving both the needs of the community and the nuclear plants at Sellafield.