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This is Devonshire Dock Hall in Barrow-in-Furness, UK. The largest room in Europe, when it was built in 1986 for BAE Systems. 'Maggie's Farm', it was nicknamed, for the then Prime Minister. Now it is the second largest room in Europe, after Dockhalle 2 in Germany, where cruise ships are made. In Devonshire Dock Hall they build nuclear-powered submarines that can stay underwater for a year.

There are probably bigger rooms in Europe that we don't know about, data farms and suchlike. Facebook has certainly built something huge in Northern Sweden, and then there is the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest machine on Earth (that we know about), built underneath Switzerland and France.

The top current search result for 'largest room in Europe' is the Grand Council Chamber of the Doge's Palace in Venice. This is a triumph of SEO over fact

What's weird about Barrow

Barrow-in-Furness is on Britain's north west coast, a mainly 19th and 20th town at the end of a peninsula above Blackpool and below Scotland. It faces the Irish Sea, the Islands of Furness and the Isle of Man.

You don't just go to Barrow. It isn't a stop-off on the way to elsewhere, a place to drive through. The road ends in Barrow. You go because you live there or for business. Successive businesses have dominated the town.

the weather

venice is of the place: blends in its time

barrow streteched into new century

The Hall stands out because the scale is wrong. There are houses right next to it, small old red-brick homes built for BAE Systems workers of earlier generations, who built ships and other craft and technologies, not submarines. Barrow has been a home for skilled workers for years.

The colour also stands out: '80s beige formica, almost fashionable.

And because it's so tall, the tallest building in Cumbria, you can glimpse the Hall and its ever-changing shape down roads from far away as you walk round Barrow and neighbouring Walney Island. You can even see it from the end of the pier in Blackpool, some way down the coast.

There is plenty of strange scale in Barrow, because of the flat coastal land and the heavy industry and its gigantic products.

Also, an efficient and inexpensive look has been favoured, that plonks new builds down without much care for the surroundings. Barrow has been dominated by industry. The housing is secondary, for the workers. And that is part of what gives Barrow its brutal power. Things are out in the open here.


The first, or the first recorded, was mining, for high-quality iron ore. If there is precious metal or other resources in the ground, the people who dig it up eventually build machines to do or help with the digging. Building those machines shows you how to build others. That's been an important part of the history of west Britain, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The iron ore

The area has been a centre of shipping and industry for centuries and is well-chosen, strategically, for military and secretive activity, due to its resources and perfect natural defences. To the north and north east of Barrow: the high hills and small mountains of the Lake District. To the south and south east: the treacherous mud of Morecambe Bay. This mess of quicksand and strong tides is a notorious death trap. At low tide you can walk from one side to the other–if you know the routes and when the tide is due to return, or are being led by the Queen's Guide to the Sands, its royal-appointed navigator. Otherwise it's easy to get stuck and drown. The tide turns fast and quick here.

The Queen's Guide was first appointed in 1548, just after Henry VIII dissolved England's monasteries. Before then, the people who knew the safe ways through the mudflats were monks, who have been plentiful in these parts and whose traces remain up and down the coast. Furness Abbey, built 57 years after the Norman Conquest in a hidden hill fold just outside Barrow, was once the second richest and most powerful monastery in Britain.

Cartmel Priory, in the next peninsula to the south, was built a few years later on the site of a much older monastery established by monks from Lindisfarne, off Britain's north east coast. Cartmel's Norman building exists intact to this day, but Conishead Priory, south of Ulverston on the Barrow costal path is a 19th century rebuild of an earlier monastery also established after the Norman Conquest. It is now (since 1976) the Manjushri Institute, a large Tibetan Buddhist college. A temple has been built in its grounds.

There are other striking buildings of interesting scale, as you walk the muddy coastal path from Ulverston round to Barrow.

big house


roa island

piel castle


there is also the place itself. This stretch of coast has sombre beauty, wide views, shifting light. And it's empty – why walk here, in the mud

unless you like birds

but no one really goes there. There is a much bigger main attraction for nature-loving tourists just inland: the beautiful Lake District, a picturesque fairyland

You don't just go to to Barrow in passing, these days. You don't just pop out while on the way to somewhere else to take a peek at the crumbling shipyards and the terraced houses of their workers, or the large modern halls jutting up all over town. You go there because you live there or have business, and there is only one real business

this was a wild land, last wolf

you go there for business or local


Barrow is also placed to defend others:

Before the Queen's Guide office was dreamed up, the people who guided travellers were monks

there are lots of monks in area, doing lots of unreligious things. like mining, guiding travellers, building Piel castle, trading with isle of man

barrow doing its job: guarding lancaster and now heysham, nuc pow

but if that person is not available it is easy to drown, tides turn fast and quick

there are no rooms now

deep isle of man

subs digging for more raw material undersea?

No one goes to Barrow in passing, en route to elsewhere, though that maybe happened in the past when ships

is a well-chosen site for shipping and ship building with perfect natural defences.

to the west of the high hills and small mountains of the Lake District, just south of Scotland, north of the treacherous mud of Morecambe Bay.

you don't go to Barrow in passing


You don't just go to Barrow in passing

on your way to something else

. It's at the end of a peninsula on Britain's north west coast,

I heard about Barrow from my sister's friend, who came from there and had been keen to get out of it. "No one goes to Barrow," she said: it was at the tip of a peninsula, no one just drove through in passing and stopped for a glimpse of huge rooms and the small terraced houses of their workers. If you went to Barrow it was for a reason, and there was now less and less reason. But I'd come to enjoy places no one went to, and it was on the way to Glasgow, kind of

no one also goes there because it is lake district

I had come to enjoy places no one went to and experience their resonance

The big modern objects awe in a way they don't in northern Sweden, where Facebook have a large building, or in the Antarctic, or at HAARP in Alaska or where the Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine in the world, is buried under Switzerland and France.

These big structures are built away from civilians, in locations that are determined not by the nationality of those in charge or historic legacy, but by having data about the whole world to draw on, so that variables can be entered and the very best choices made, by computers, ergonomic choices. Then the implementation, also computer-planned, in suitable international sites.

In Barrow, Devonshire Dock Hall and the other large industrial buildings jar because they are in the wrong place, a town of 19th and 20th century industry.

The Hall was built in the late twentieth century as part of government strategy to keep engineering going in what would otherwise have been economic meltdown with the loss of shipbuilding in the area, a one-trade town. Diversify: focus on subs and their weapons for self-protection and international trade. Build a hall to sheath their secrets. A clever strategic choice, probably made without machine guidance, and also a natural one: Britain is always at the forefront with weapons. There are many reasons why. One is that Britain has ready-access to the raw materials needed to build weapons and ships, needed to build lots of things. The west coast of Britain has been a plentiful source of rare and important raw materials from prehistory. It has iron, copper, tin, gold, silver, lead, coal, gas and more.


Venice and Barrow-in-Furness look different but are both cities of the sea, homes of skilled craftspeople. Both know how to build big rooms, workshops for their big ships and weapons. The Arsenale in Venice, home to the Biennale, is where ships and long cannons were built. It's at least one thousand years old and was probably Europe's largest factory before the Industrial Revolution. They had production lines there and could assemble a ship in a day.

The word 'arsenal' comes from an Arabic word meaning 'craft house'. The Venetians built the first arsenal in Europe, and brought the word into our European languages. It was probably Arabs who taught Venetians how to make ships, or how to make mass-produced ships in factories, at any rate. And who taught the Arabs

Venetian wealth and power comes from their association with their Arab trading partners who brought spices, silk and other luxury items from the Near and Far East to Venice, for Venetian fleets to redistribute around Europe. These Arab traders

It can be inferred that they based it on Arab boat assembly sites and systems known to Venetians from

oceanic trade partners. For centuries Arab ships met Venetian ships at

well before Islam

venice lagoons practise what you preach indonesian divers, true skills: living on the water

The main raw material in Venice was wood, from a private forest in the nearby Montello hills whose expelled original inhabitants, hunters and woodsmen, became vagrants known as the bisnenti (the 'twice have-nots'). The raw material in Barrow is iron ore, which has been mined in the area since prehistory. Furness Abbey, built in a hidden hill fold just outside the town, was once the second richest and most powerful monastery in Britain.

The monks came up to this remote area in the 12th century and immediately began mining for iron ore in Barrow and its coastal islands. Busy monks, stumbling over ore during their devotions to Jesus. One can imagine a fair amount of population dispersal happened back in the day courtesy of these 'monks' wherever iron ore and other raw materials were discovered.

Or was it just a take-over of an existing business?

The Furness monks also owned land in the Isle of Man, just across the sea from Barrow and another place of rich resources. They built Piel Castle on Piel Island, just out to sea from Roa Island, itself just out to sea from Barrow, a separate off-sea island itself until the mid 19th century when the channel between Barrow Island and the Furness mainland was turned into docks. Barrow is an archipelago like Venice, of mainly small and sometimes fortified islands called the Islands of Furness. One of them, Walney Island, is big and

neolithic remains

archipelago like venice

tunnels under the sea. clever monks

natural defences. Lancaster. Heysham

barrow, island of the dead, where submarines are now made.

greek explorers

move the inhabitants in the name of Jesus?

The words Arsenale comes from Arabic and means craft house

The raw material here was wood. The raw material in Barrow was iron

lagoon and islands

the sea

deep dug docks, also eerie

An exclusive forest owned by the Arsenal navy, in the Montello hills area of Veneto, provided the Arsenal's wood supply.

boats themselves are also buildings

mess of the landscape, built over channel, two islands,

lots of islands there: what is their name?

sans vitesse: take you into new dimension. zebra. name. incongruity. take me out of here

name arsenale is arab

what are weapons? today mind control via data

there is plenty of wrong scale in barrow




and there is sea everywhere

venice: vested interest, slums don't survive

iron ore. whole west coast dormant volcanos

scotland granite slab

gold under mountains just south of glasgow

, nicknamed Maggie's Farm for the then-Prime Minister

not so facebook, clean out in the forest or large hadron, buried underground. also: british ugly. camel-coloured. beige formaica of the eighties. who made that choice?

barrow old industry. old port / shipbuilding

once an island

piel castle. many islands there. then the biggest: isle of man

incredibly well defended four sides

walker of the sands morcambe bay

prime spot

neolithic remains

There are probably bigger 'rooms' in Europe that are less known: data farms.


Devonshire Dock Hall:

Some of the most advanced nuclear-powered submarines in the world are built inside: the Astute class. The building comes with an outdoor dock, a monster's playpen, where newly-built submarines come for their first deep water experiences.

There are probably bigger 'rooms' in Europe that are less known: data farms. Some are buried underground, like the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest machine on Earth, built under France and Switzerland.

Here is the monsters' playpen outside Devonshire Dock Hall

The symbol of Venice is a lion with wings.

A lion with wings is, baldly-speaking, a symbol of power, dominance and violence, but yoked to knowledge of winds. To run a maritime empire you have to know all about winds. You can learn about winds from birds.

Note the lion symbol on the cloaked submarine coming out of Devonshire Dock Hall. no wings. not maritime adventurers. their business is building things

Barrow has a great coat of arms

Barrrow's name suggests that it is the barrow in Furness: that is: a burial site, probably an island just out to sea where the dead were ferried to. Possibly. Barrow is in fact an island, whose channel was built over in the early nineteenth century to create two docks. Devonshire Dock is one of them. Then the Hall was built on top of it, for efficiency and to protect the machines being hatched inside from prying eyes.

It isn't really a room. It's a hall.

Photo credits:

The building isn't really

greek sailors sailing past barrow

Now it's a one-main-industry town: home to the ship, submarine and other machine-building activities of British Aerospace

as the landscape of VEnice has been altered, build canals

as landscapes anywhere: when people came here all woods, no pigs or cows or oak trees

barrow out to sea

curiously both based on water

ship builders

lion symbol

And when do rooms become something else?

we think

who knows what the largest room is now? Probably a data farm

Monster's playpen / swimming pool

Built in x by x, it is a massive ship building yard, once biggest in europe, builds submarines

Somewhere I've read it was once the largest room in Europe. It is now the second biggest covered dock in Europe, after x

Google says the 'largest room in Europe':

The Doge's Palace in Venice.

Venice, like Barrow, has been built by shadowy maritime empires

It sits, like massive container ships on the shore, in wrong scale to the rest of Barrow, a place of unusually big and imposing warehouses, some modern and some rotting, boarded-up Victorian ones. Barrow has been a one-company town. that compay, BAE Systems, builds warships, submarines, misilles and other military equipment. Barrow on peninsula: only go there if go there. Faces isle of man,

a deep history because of the industry and resources land-knowledge here, which was secret and didn't get passed down to us, but which you can sense from the land

the charged land, feel the reverberations