Barrow-in-Furness developed as a major industrial centre in the 19th Century as a result of mining and manufacturing industries and the establishment of the Furness Railway Company in 1846. This lead to an increase in movement of materials by sea and the development of the Devonshire and Buccleuch Docks (opened 1867 and 1873 respectively). The Barrow Iron Shipbuilding Company was founded in 1870 and shipbuilding became the predominant industry in Barrow-in-Furness.

Devonshire Buildings were built in the 1870s to house workers at the Devonshire Docks (opened 1867) and at the yards of the Barrow Iron Ship Building Company. They were designed by Paley & Austin and are now Grade II* listed. Their design resembles the tenements built at a similar time in Glasgow which were inspired by those in France. An unusual feature is the octagonal tower at the ends of each block where there was originally a bridge spanning Island Road.