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Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Hanna Ayress

I recently discovered the archive of Barrow ship movements dating from my formative years of the fifties and sixties when traffic was mainly, but not wholly, serving the once great Barrow Iron and Steel Works and the Vickers shipyard there.

Brian Climie had just sent a view of Ayr with two vessels working bulk cargoes. Huelin Dispatch was delivering road salt on a short sea shuttle over from Kilroot, but open cast coal is still being worked near Ayr and Hanna here was exporting coal being loaded for Norway. Coal is still a difficult fuel to replace for some isolated communities and indeed industries and I have noted Norway still has a demand for it.

Coincidentally, from the Barrow port archive, I was intrigued to note not a few cargoes of coal from the SW Scottish port of Ayr and this was a surprise. Cumbria, then called Cumberland, with the Furness part of North Lancashire, which then included Barrow, both had large reserves of coal and extensive mining activities, but locally Barrow and Millom did not mine coal, its mining being geared to the valuable iron ore deposits on which their iron and steel industry were first sourced.

But coal was also needed for the iron and steel smelting process, and transporting it from the nearest collieries locally by rail and road was expensive, relative to the Ayrshire supplies loaded onto ship at Ayr and brought cheaply around the Mull of Galloway and across the short distance to the dockside steel mills at Barrow and Millom. But another suprise to me were listed shipments of coke leaving Barrow for Ayr and Irish ports.

To make steel, the steel plants needed to smelt the iron ore with carbon with as few impurities as possible and therefore this and other UK steel plants built their own coke ovens and selling shipments of the valuable smokeless fuel must have been a worthwhile sideline once the needs of the steel mills were provided for. So coal from Ayr to Barrow is recorded and so is coke the opposite way.

The local iron mines by the 50s and 60s could not produce enough ore for smelting, though it was high quality. Iron ore carriers of the day were busy bringing large tonnages, then mainly from Bone and Melilla in North Africa with relatively little at the time from Sweden and Norway, but this was soon to expand with shipments via Narvik and Kirkenes. I view these arrivals as short sea trades rather than deep sea, though transatlantic to Seven IsIands in the Gulf of St Lawrence would soon appear as another source of imported ore.

Unlike Port Talbot and Workington in those days, Barrow docks could receive ore carriers of a larger size than the minimum though the small Port Talbot sized vessels with a length limit of some 421’ were still regular visitors to Barrow and all UK iron and steel wharves: Morar, Arisaig, Gleddoch, Ormsary and Clarkeden being amongst the most frequent arrivals with Alexander Shipping (Houlders) sisters as well as on charter several foreign flag ore carriers like the Norwegian MV’s Arabella and Essex and Swedish Lindo.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2019 Issue
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