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01229 585 778 | admin@ulverstoncouncil.org.uk

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A brief history of Ulverston

Lancastrian beginnings

The history of Ulverston begins around AD430 when the Saxons took over from the departing Romans, at the beginning of the ‘Dark Ages’, a period where no records exist and very little is known.

Ulverston was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ulvrestun, deriving from an Old Norse family name Úlfarr meaning ‘wolf warrior’ and tun meaning ‘farm’ or ‘homestead’. This gives rise to the presence of a wolf on the town’s coat of arms. Other variations of the name recorded throughout history include Oluestonam (1127), and Uluereston (1189). Much of Cumbria, being in the hands of the Scots at this time, is not mentioned in the Doomsday Book. At that time Ulverston was in the county of Lancashire, only becoming part of Cumbria as late as 1974.

A thriving market town

On 11th September 1280 the town was granted a Market Charter by King Edward I during his visit to Carlisle. This gave authority for a market to be held in Ulverston every Thursday with an annual fair each September. This important event in Ulverston’s history is still celebrated every year during September’s Charter Festival.

The granting of a Market Charter was of great significance to the town and Ulverston enjoyed significant growth in its economy and status. As with much of this area, the town was a popular target for raids by the rampaging Scots under Robert the Bruce, but despite being burned down twice during the early 14th century, Ulverston continued to prosper.

Establishing local prominence

The Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) ordered by King Henry VIII saw nearby Dalton lose its status as the centre of power in the local area. Ulverston became the capital town of the locality, a title earned through its prime position on the trade routes across the sands from the Cartmel Peninsula, south to Barrow and to the towns on the west coast. Interestingly, in the 17th century, Ulverston became the birthplace of the Quaker movement as George Fox, founder of the Quakers, established a base at nearby Swarthmoor Hall.

A great British waterway

In 1795 architect John Rennie (designer of London’s Waterloo Bridge) constructed the Ulverston Canal and secured a further period of prosperity for the town. The canal connected the town with the Irish Sea and provided it with a port. This investment paid off and a thriving maritime community developed. Ulverston became the starting point for steamers to Liverpool, passenger ships to Scotland and London and for cargoes exporting copper slates and linen around the world.

With the increase in trade came an increase in the size of the town and between 1801 and 1841 the population of Ulverston doubled. In 1846, the railway came and this, coupled with the introduction of modern ships, which were too big to negotiate the inland waterway, rendered the canal defunct. It was used commercially up until World War I but was officially abandoned at the end of World War II.

Continuing a proud heritage

Today Ulverston remains a bustling market town serving the Peninsula and providing employment through the many industries based here. The Market Place is still the centre of life in the town and modern Ulverston retains its old world appearance with many colourful houses and quaint cobbled streets leading from the square. Alongside the weekly Thursday and Saturday markets you’ll find unique shops and cafes, cosy country pubs, farmers’ markets and food fairs. Ulverston also hosts a wide range of events and festivals and is pleased to welcome visitors from all over the world.

This unusual bond between history and modernity is also apparent in the oldest building in the town. The busy Parish Church of St Mary, which dates back to 1111, still shows traces of the early Norman church.

Ulverston’s famous sons

As well as Sir John Barrow and George Fox, there are other famous former residents of Ulverston. Lord Norman Birkett was a British judge during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Prestigious Victoria Crosses were awarded to Private Harry Christian (World War I), Frank Jefferson (World War II) and Basil Weston (World War II), all former residents of Ulverston. The town’s most famous son Stan Laurel who, in partnership with Oliver Hardy, became one of the most famous comedy duos in the 20th century. A bronze life-size statue of Laurel and Hardy and a museum dedicated to Laurel and Hardy can be found in the town.

Education Questions

Key Stage 1

Geography and History

  1. Sir John Barrow was born in Ulverston. He became the most senior person in the Navy, second only to the Prime Minister and sent ships all over the world to find new places and people. Ships were very important in Ulverston’s history. Ulverston Canal was built in 1796 to link the town to the sea at Morecambe Bay. What goods did Ulverston export to the rest of the world?
  2. What would life have been like in Ulverston in 1850 when the monument was built? Look at the picture of the centre of Ulverston on the front page. How has it changed since then? What new shops are there? What sort of clothes would the children be wearing then and compare this with what you wear now. Make a drawing of them.
  3. When the monument was built it included an underground room or chamber where the Lighthousekeeper was to live. Talk about what it would have been like for the Lighthousekeeper in 1850 and the sort of things that he or she would have had to take with them for the room. Think about the nice things as well as the more difficult things.

Key Stage 2

  1. Write an article for a newspaper in 1850 in Victorian times, when the foundation stone of the monument was laid. Write the article from the viewpoint of somebody taking part in the grand procession up to Hoad Hill. In the article describe what you and your family might see and feel.
  2. Using the Internet, look at the monument from above and draw a map that shows other geographical features in the surrounding landscape. For example, Birkrigg, the Langdales and Chapel Island and features in Ulverston like the Bank Clock and the Coronation Hall for example. On the map shown how high these features are compared to Hoad Hill and the monument. Plot the heights on a graph on your computer and see how the height of the monument on Hoad Hill compares to other features. Is it the tallest feature?
  3. Talk amongst yourselves. Do you think that the monument has improved the environment? Do you think it would be given permission to be built today? Would you give it planning permission? Imagine you are the council. Elect a planning committee from within the class. Divide the rest of the class into two. One half is opposed to the idea; the other half thinks it a good idea. Decide what your argument would be. Let the planning committee decide what to do and then discuss the decision.

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Contact us

Call: 01229 585 778

Email: admin@ulverstoncouncil.org.uk

Ulverston Town Council Office
County Square
LA12 7LZ