Ulverston's Claims to Fame

by Beth Pipe

Right at the start of the Cumbria Way sits Ulverston, a small south Cumbrian town which isn’t at the top of many folks’ “must visit” list but which has a whole host of claims to fame to explore before you head off on your long hike north.

Ulverston: Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel

I’m starting with the most obvious and best known. The town was the birthplace of Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame and a blue plaque marks the house where he was born. He didn’t live in the town for many years but he did come back and visit regularly and always spoke very fondly of the place.

At the height of their fame the comedy duo paid a visit to the town in 1947 and there’s a wonderful statue of them outside Coronation Hall. Other tributes include the Laurel and Hardy Museum, a “must see” for any fan, and the florist in the centre of town, aptly named “Floral and Hardy”.

Bill Haley

I am unashamedly going from the most famous to the most tenuous, because I absolutely love a tenuous link. Bill Haley of Rock Around the Clock fame may have been born in Michigan, USA, but his mum was a Cumbrian lass from Ulverston. When she was only 15, she emigrated with her family to the US, where she taught piano before giving birth to one of Rock’n’Roll’s greatest legends.

Sir John Barrow

The monument on the top of Hoad Hill as you enter the town along the A590 is a replica of the Eddystone Lighthouse.

Ulverston: Hoad

It was built to commemorate Sir John Barrow, who was born in the town. Sir John was a writer and explorer who, amongst many other things, was part of the team who discovered the magnetic North Pole, crossed the Sahara, and supported numerous Arctic expeditions.

The monument has never operated as a lighthouse but it is possible to climb to the top and enjoy spectacular views of the Lake District fells to the north and Morecambe Bay to the south. (Note: It’s not open every day — there’s a flag which flies from just in front of the monument whenever it’s open.)

Ulverston Canal

This wonderful, but very short, canal holds the honour of being the straightest canal in Britain.

It was completed in 1796 at a cost of £9000 (the equivalent of around £1m today) and was the brainchild of William Burnthwaite, who thought it would make the town more accessible. Although it was used for a while, its decline began with the arrival of the railways in 1846 and at the end of World War II all commercial use ceased.

Ulverston: Ulverston Canal

There’s a rolling bridge about halfway along which doesn’t look like much but is the only surviving bridge of its kind in Europe and is Grade II listed. The canal is now maintained and promoted by Ulverston Canal Regeneration Group.

Cumbria Crystal

Ulverston: Cumbria Crystal Ulverston: Cumbria Crystal

Housed in a very ordinary looking industrial unit, opposite Booth’s and next door to an outdoor goods shop, is Cumbria Crystal.

It really doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this unassuming factory has made crystal to grace the tables of some of the most famous people on the planet. They made the crystal Daniel Craig used as James Bond in Casino Royal. They also supplied the crystal for Downton Abbey and their unique designs are the crystal of choice for British Embassies around the globe.

Everything is made at this site and it takes around 15 years to fully train their craftspeople. The shop is open seven days a week and on weekdays there is a viewing area where you can watch the glass-blowers and engravers hard at work. They also offer special events throughout the year where you can try your hand at blowing your own decorations.

Chapel Island

Just 1.5km off the shore near Ulverston is Chapel Island, an unremarkable looking limestone island in the middle of the estuary. Historically it would have been a stopping off point for people crossing the sands (once the most popular way to enter the town) and, at one time, the monks from nearby Conishead Priory built a small chapel there for the fishermen and travellers. The original chapel is long gone but mock ruins, which still remain, were built there during the early 19th century.

Ulverston: Chapel Island

This tiny island has two claims to fame. Firstly it was described by Wordsworth in The Prelude and secondly it was proposed as a railway station by George Stephenson, who had great plans to build a railway right across Morecambe Bay from Morecambe to Ulverston. The plans never came to fruition and the island remains isolated with regular guided walks visiting during the year.

Originally published 19/06/19

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