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Sir John Barrow Monument (Hoad)

Sir John Barrow and Sir John Barrow’s Monument:

Monument Opening times.
The monument is open every Sunday between Easter and the end of October from 1 – 5pm. It is also open throughout bank holidays. The monument is opened and looked after the volunteer lighthouse keepers. The monument is owned and maintained by Ulverston Town Council on behalf of the community. The town council is very grateful to the volunteers for all the work they do, without which the monument could not be opened. It is free to enter but all donations are gratefully received.

Sir John Barrow. 1st Baronet, FRS, FRGS, FSA

(19 June 1764 – 23 November 1848) John Barrow was born at Dragley Beck in Ulverston on 19 June 1974. His cottage is also owned by Ulverston Town Council and is opened on Sunday afternoons during the summer. The Monument was built on Hoad Hill and celebrates his career.

Sir John Barrow , was an English geographer, linguist, writer and civil servant best known for term as the Second Secretary to the Admiralty from 1804 until 1845.

Early life

Barrow was born the only child of Roger Barrow, a tanner in the village of Dragley Beck, in the parish of Ulverston, Lancashire. He was a pupil at Town Bank Grammar School, Ulverston, but left at age 13 to found a Sunday school for poor local children. Barrow was employed as superintending clerk of an iron foundry at Liverpool. At only 16, he went on a whaling expedition to Greenland. By his twenties, he was teaching mathematics, in which he had always excelled, at a private school in Greenwich.


Barrow taught mathematics to the son of Sir George Leonard Staunton; through Staunton’s interest, he was attached on the first British embassy to China from 1792 to 1794 as comptroller of the household to Lord Macartney. He soon acquired a good knowledge of the Chinese language, on which he subsequently contributed articles to the Quarterly Review; and the account of the embassy published by Sir George Staunton records many of Barrow’s valuable contributions to literature and science connected with China.
Barrow ceased to be officially connected with Chinese affairs after the return of the embassy in 1794, but he always took much interest in them, and on critical occasions was frequently consulted by the British government.

South Africa

In 1797, Barrow accompanied Lord Macartney as private secretary in his mission to settle the government of the newly acquired colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Barrow was entrusted with the task of reconciling the Boer settlers and the native population and of reporting on the country in the interior. In the course of the trip, he visited all parts of the colony; when he returned, he was appointed auditor-general of public accounts. He then decided to settle in South Africa, married, and bought a house in 1800 in Cape Town. However, the surrender of the colony at the peace of Amiens (1802) upset this plan.
During his travels through South Africa, Barrow compiled copious notes and sketches of the countryside that he was traversing. The outcome of his journeys was a map which, despite its numerous errors, was the first published modern map of the southern parts of the Cape Colony. Barrow’s descriptions of South Africa influenced Europeans’ understanding of South Africa and its peoples.

Career in the Admiralty

Barrow returned to Britain in 1804 and was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty by Viscount Melville, a post which he held for forty years apart from a short period in 1806–1807 when there was a Whig government in power. Lord Grey took office as Prime Minister in 1830, and Barrow was especially requested to remain in his post, starting the principle that senior civil servants stay in office on change of government and serve in a non-partisan manner. Indeed, it was during his occupancy of the post that it was renamed Permanent Secretary. Barrow enjoyed the esteem and confidence of all the eleven chief lords who successively presided at the Admiralty board during that period, and more especially of King William IV while lord high admiral, who honoured him with tokens of his personal regard.

In his position at the Admiralty, Barrow was a great promoter of Arctic voyages of discovery, including those of John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross and John Franklin. The Barrow Strait in the Canadian Arctic as well as Point Barrow and the city of Barrow in Alaska are named after him. He is reputed to have been the initial proposer of Saint Helena as the new place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Barrow was a fellow of the Royal Society and received the degree of LL.D from the University of Edinburgh in 1821. A baronetcy was conferred on him by Sir Robert Peel in 1835. He was also a member of the Raleigh Club, a forerunner of the Royal geographical Society.

Retirement and legacy

Barrow retired from public life in 1845 and devoted himself to writing a history of the modern Arctic voyages of discovery (1846), as well as his autobiography, published in 1847.He died suddenly on 23 November 1848. The Sir John Barrow monument in Ulverston was built in his honour on Hoad Hill overlooking his home town of Ulverston in 1850, though locally it is more commonly called Hoad Monument. Mount Barrow and Barrow Island in Australia are believed to have been named after him.

For 30 years beginning 1816, the British Admiralty’s John Barrow and his elite team charted large areas of the Arctic, discovered the North Magnetic Pole, were the first to see volcanoes in the Antarctic, crossed the Sahara to find Timbuktu and the mouth of the Niger – John Ross, John Franklin, William Edward Parry and others.” In 1804 he was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty by Viscount Melville, a post which he held for forty years. His life and work are commemorated in Ulverston by Sir John Barrow’s Monument on Hoad Hill, overlooking the town. It was built in 1850 and was restored in 2009.

The Monument

The monument was built in 1850 by public subscription as a memorial for Sir John Barrow. It can be seen from many miles and has become a symbol for the town. It stands on the 450 ft high summit of Hoad Hill overlooking Ulverston and Morecambe Bay. It is a Grade II * listed building and is sometimes known locally as Hoad Monument.

Sited approximately one mile from Morecambe Bay, the Sir John Barrow Monument is 100ft tall. The monument has an internal spiral staircase of 112 narrow steps leading to the lantern chamber, which has never had a functional light. Sir John Barrow’s two sons, Sir George Barrow and John Barrow, laid the foundation stone of the monument on 15 May 1850. This was undoubtedly a memorable day in Ulverston’s history, when 8,000 citizens climbed Hoad Hill for the ceremony. The monument was completed on 9 January 1851.

The original plans show a room that was constructed in the basement of the Monument to house the lighthouse keeper. The official position of lighthouse keeper has been continuously maintained although the keeper is no longer in residence. The keeper looks after the monument and opens it to the public on behalf of the Sir John Barrow Trustees.

In 2003 the Monument was in need of major repair, mainly due to ingress of water and had to be closed to the public. On March 2008, Ulverston Town Council (the owner of the Monument) was successful in a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair the Monument. The total project cost was £1,120,000. The grant secured from HLF was £891,000. The remainder of the funding was raised from Ulverston Market Town Initiative, the Town Lands Trust, Cumbria County Council, South Lakeland District Council and the community at large, through the fund-raising efforts of the Friends of Sir John Barrow Monument.

A further £150,000 was granted by English Heritage to enhance the base of the Monument. Work on the restoration began in January 2009.

The works included repair and conservation to the whole of the Monument, from the basement to the lantern chamber, improvement to lower level footpaths, new signage, marketing, webcams and footfall counters. Sir John Barrow’s life and adventures, along with the history of the Monument are detailed inside on specially designed panels. The Monument was officially re-opened on 22nd August 2010 by Sir Anthony Barrow, the 7th Baronet of Ulverston.

A Local Inspiration

Sir John Barrow has long been an inspiration to the townspeople of Ulverston and in 1850 this Monument was built in memory of his achievements. Built from limestone the Monument stands 100ft high. Sir John Barrow’s sons, Sir George Barrow and John Barrow, laid the foundation stone on 15th May 1850 and the Monument was completed on 9th January 1851. It cost £1,250 to build, a sum primarily covered by public donations.

The lighthouse without a light

Although the Monument was designed to be a seamark, a stipulation laid down by Trinity House with their £100 donation, the Monument has never had a functional light. This gave rise to one of its many alternative names, the ‘Lighthouse without a Light’. It has been known by various names over the years but is most commonly known in the locality as the Hoad Monument. Inside the Grade II* listed building the 112 narrow steps of the spiral staircase lead up to the lantern chamber, which until recently was open on all sides but is now fully glazed. The original plans show a room in the basement of the Monument, intended for accommodation for the lighthouse keeper. The official position of lighthouse keeper has been continuously maintained.

Selecting the perfect site

The Monument stands on the 450ft summit of Hoad Hill offering enviable views of Morecambe Bay and the mountains of the Lake District and Pennines. It can be seen from many miles away and has become a symbol for the town of Ulverston over which it resides. Originally, several suggestions were made for where the Monument should be sited. Hoad Hill was finally chosen because it could be seen both from the bay and the canal. It was a popular choice with the townsfolk because of its pretty view of the school and church. Most importantly it had been a favourite spot of Sir John Barrow in his youth.

Laying the foundations

On the day of the foundation stone laying, the streets of Ulverston were colourfully decorated, the Parish Church bells rang out and the Ulverston Brass Band played in the Market Square. At 1.00pm Sergeant Major Bates of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry marshalled the parade and set it on the route to Hoad Hill. Before laying the foundation stone Sir George Barrow was handed a silver trowel, a bottle containing the current coins of the Realm – Half Farthing, Farthing, Half Penny, Penny, Four Penny, Six Penny, Shilling, Florin, Half Crown, Crown, Half Sovereign and Sovereign – and a copy of the Ulverston Advertiser.

An eventful history

1851 – Susceptible to damage by lightning, the Monument was struck on 30th January 1851 only 21 days after completion. The Monument is now fitted with a lightning conductor.
1851 and 1853 – Despite regulations specifying that the cutting or inscribing of names in the stonework were strictly prohibited, vandalism to the stonework and door occurred as early as 1851. Two years later substantial re-pointing was required.
1855 – A tablet inscribed with the names of the Monument’s subscribers was added inside the building.
1897 – Local people celebrated Queen Victoria’s Jubilee by lighting a fire on Hoad Hill. Unfortunately the heat generated from the fire beacon sited next to the Monument caused considerable damage to its surface, which required a limestone encasement for the entire edifice to protect it against damp.
1950 – Centenary celebration of the laying of the Foundation Stone.
1969 – The Monument was closed for repairs due to external structural defects. The outer skin was encased in reinforced cement at a cost of £7,000
1990-2000 – Electric spotlights were added. The Monument can now be seen for miles at night.
2000 – The 150 year celebrations of the laying of the foundation stone included ‘Nelson’ abseiling from the top of the Monument, bands, re-constructions of the life of Sir John Barrow, street theatre and fireworks.
2003 – The Monument was again closed to the public as it was judged to be in need of major repair. Ulverston Town Council began discussions with Heritage Lottery Fund and was successful in a £890,000 bid to the lottery. The total cost of the restoration is 1.28 million.

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Ulverston Town Council Office
County Square
LA12 7LZ