The small village of Backbarrow sits in a gorge on the River Leven, downstream from Newby Bridge, and was once an industrial village.

The busy A590 cuts through the village, but doesn't quite dominate as much as it feels like it should from the road. The northern part of the village is by the river while the southern part climbs up Browedge, heading towards the Victorian school. The village had a school at least as early as 1689 when the local squire, George Bigland, left money to the school. The squires lived in Bigland Hall, which can still be found at the top of the hill south of the village.

The village has an industrial pass. The monks of Cartmel Priory owned a flour mill on the river. This was later replaced by an industrial mill (at one point the original mill employed orphans from Liverpool and London). This was eventually taken over by the Lancashire Ultramarine Company, which produced blue due (mainly for the laundry industry). The concern was taken over by Reckitt and Colman, but had now closed. The old factory is now the site of the Lakeland Village timeshare development, while the main mill buildings are the Whitewater Hotel. The village also had an iron industry, from the early 18th century to the 1960s (using charcoal as late as the 1920s, well after other iron works had moved on). The gorge also contained the railway from Barrow to Lakeside at the southern tip of Windermere. The railway now ends just south of the village, so the Lakeside Haverthwaite Railway now only runs from the lake to Backbarrow.

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