Lowwood Gunpowder Manufacturing around 1849 on

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The Gunpowder Works rebuilt in 1849

photo of Busca magazineRaw materials such as Saltpetre and Sulphur in large quantities was brought into the works by the Flatties, the other ingredient, charcoal was produced locally in the woods and forests. In the early days the charcoal was supplied from the local woods in Backbarrow and Colton Heights at Bouth; as production grew charcoal was brought in from other suppliers.
Once it went through its dangerous mixing processes the gunpowder was either stored in the works magazine which was originally located at the northern end of the works , or in the magazine at Roundsea wood at the forth.
The works magazine was moved 400 yards south of the works in 1868 when the Furness railway opened its branch line from Ulverston to Lakeside. The move was a precautionary measure as it was thought that sparks from the railway locomotives might cause explosions due to the close proximity of these potentially dangerous buildings some of which were less than two hundred yards away. Powder was despatched from the frith to Greenodd, Ulverston or Lancaster where it was often loaded onto larger vessels for onward shipment to the works main magazine in the Mersey estuary at Liscard or to customers elsewhere. An Act of Parliament in 1772 made it law that all gunpowder magazines had to be built in estuaries to enable rapid distribution of powder in the event of emergencies.
An early wages book shows us that dangerous work was not necessarily well rewarded. In 1808 nine people were employed at the Lowwood works; Natty Bathrop, David Shaw, Sam Daw, William Taylor, John Brockbank, John Harper, James Pearce, John Murphy and Henry Tyson.
Curiously those doing the most dangerous jobs were on average paid less than workers doing safer work for example, in 1808 the highest paid gunpowder worker was three shillings, the equivalent of fifteen pence a day; a Quarryman earned three shillings to five shillings per day (15 pence to 25 pence) while the lowest gunpowder worker was paid two shillings or then pence per day. And by comparison a farm labourer would earn around two shillings and sixpence or twelve and a half pence per day during the summer.

Far Sighted Employers

The now picturesque hamlet of Low Wood (formerly Lowwood) was built to house the factory operations and workers

photo of Lowwood workers houses seen from the raod

Mr Daye Barker was a farsighted employer who had the welfare of his workers in mind and on one occasion he decided to treat them and their families to a day out on the good ship Lowwood. All went well until the sea became very rough near Piel Island (off Barrow in Furness) and everyone on board became sea sick and the ship returned to Lowwood with all the food and drink in tact, the workers and their families vowing never to get on a boat again. Lowwood later became a housing settlement for local workers and one of the magazines was turned into a bungalow in more recent times as was the magazine situated near Greenodd. Mr Daye Barker died in 1835 and his son Daye Barker junior took over the business.

In 1846 the Furness Railway company planned to build a branch line from Ulverston the Lakeside which would be called the Furness Windermere Railway, this was eventually opened in 1869.
The original plan was to follow the river Leven closely passing through what is now Levens Garth and 35 yards north east of the Lowwood Inn (now the Anglers Arms) and 25 yards south west of the school which stood on the site of the present vicarage and church hall.

The close proximity of the line to the works and more importantly the magazines posed a very real danger of sparks from the engines igniting the powder or causing fires in the undergrowth along the track which could also increase the risk of explosions.

In the early days of steam engines like Number 20 could have been used to transport gunpowder though we have no evidence of this at the moment and perhaps a less picturesque engine may have been used similar to a tank engine.

photo of a restored Gunpowder Wagon

photo of the engine Number 20

Much dispute caused a second route to be mapped out followed by a third which eventually satisfied both the railway and the Lowwood works. This route meant that the line was moved north leaving the river Leven bank at Haverthwaite playing fields and taking a route some 50 yards north east of Haverthwaite Church. Visitors who take a stroll down the old road past St Anne's Church will come upon an old disused cutting and bridge which spanned the line. It is much overgrown now.

By Ronald Mein with photo's by Artemis Media

The factory continued until the early part of the 20th century. It now provides small units for retail and manufacturing buisnesses in the rural area.

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