The development of iron ore mining in Furness brought ironmasters Isaac Wilkinson and his son John (nicknamed ‘Iron Mad John') to Backbarrow Furnace in the Leven Valley in 1741. During the mid-18th century, the entrepreneurial Wilkinsons championed the use of iron for many household artefacts. John was instrumental in the creation of the world's first iron bridge at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire and successfully floated the world's first iron boat on the River Winster. He also built Castle Head at Lindale in 1795 and made the large cast-iron obelisk that stands in memory of his achievements.
Up to the mid-19th century, the only viable link between the peninsula and the rest of the country was over the sands of Morecambe Bay at low tide. Individuals on foot or travelling by horse and cart would regularly make the perilous journey, fraught with danger from swift incoming tides, unsuspected quicksands or changing river currents. A guide appointed by the abbot of Cartmel Priory would conduct travellers from Kents Bank to Hest Bank near Bolton-le-Sands (9 miles/14.5 km). The route is still a public right of way but highly dangerous and travellers should never attempt to cross on their own. However, Cedric Robinson, the current Official Guide to the Sands, still leads organised groups across the bay on selected dates - contact Grange Tourist Information Centre for details.
The Furness Railway, built in 1857 to transport iron ore and slates from the Furness Peninsula, heralded the end of the over-sands route and the start of a new role for Grange as a seaside resort. The mild climate and proximity to the sea enticed visitors, who arrived by train and boat in ever greater numbers. Grange's growing reputation as fashionable ‘riviera' soon attracted wealthy businessmen from Lancashire and Yorkshire who built many of the elegant houses and hotels which grace the town today. It was during this time that the Ornamental Gardens and attractive shopping arcades were established. The Promenade came later in 1902, providing easy access to the sandy beach and sea-washed foreshore for paddling and bathing, along with an ornate bandstand (now in Park Road Gardens), pier and tearooms. The building of the railway and viaducts has since led to silting up of the estuary and changes in current flows, so that nowadays the Promenade fronts expanses of saltmarsh rather than the sea.
The clean, salty air was believed to be of benefit to tuberculosis sufferers, and in 1891 one of the first sanatoriums in the country was established at Meathop. Not only was the local air believed to have a therapeutic effect but also the local spring water. For centuries people believed that water from the holy well at Humphrey Head (St Agnes) could cure various illnesses. Miners from Alston Moor would flock here to ‘take the waters' in the hope of ameliorating the effects of lead poisoning, gout and rheumatism. Although once dismissed as nonsense, it was recently discovered that the underlying springs contain salicyn - a natural analgesic and antiseptic - derived from remains of white willow trees that once grew in abundance in this area. Today, water from the same underground source is extracted and bottled as Willow Water .