Kirkby Lonsdale to feature in the new Dolittle film

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 January 2020

Mitchelgate in Kirkby Lonsdale

Mitchelgate in Kirkby Lonsdale

Milton Haworth

The town stars in the Dolittle film coming out next month – but it’s a place that does an awful lot

Kirkby LonsdaleKirkby Lonsdale

Dr Dolittle could do much for Kirkby Lonsdale when a new film about him is released in the UK next month. Some scenes in the Dolittle film, starring Robert Downey Jnr, were shot in the town almost two years ago.

'It was a fantastic experience,' said John Strange who until recently ran the Crossing Point Cafe. 'It was very exciting and I can't wait to see the film.'

The cafe catered for the crew and, like all premises in Market Square, it was transformed for the movie, becoming Cropp & Watson Royal Hatters.

The film is a re-working of the classic Hugh Lofting book about an eccentric doctor who finds he can talk to animals. One scene, featuring a police chase involving a boy and a giraffe, is understood to be pivotal to the plot which is music to the ears of Kirkby Lonsdale's town and tourism manager, Janet Nuttall.

Janet Nuttall the Town and Tourism Manager in Kirkby LonsdaleJanet Nuttall the Town and Tourism Manager in Kirkby Lonsdale

'It was great publicity at the time of the filming and will continue to be for years,' said Janet. But it's not the first time drama has come to Kirkby. In 2014, it featured in a television adaptation of Jamaica Inn.

The historic nature of the town, which is in Cumbria Council area yet has a Lancashire postcode and also lies in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is one of its attractions. And heritage is the focus of many projects and events lined up for 2020.

Five of the information centre's 30 volunteers have recently been trained as town guides to lead free Vault Walks. The walks start at The Vault, an innovative attraction which opened in 2018 at the information centre which is housed in a former bank. Visitors choose an item from The Vault, place it on a table and magically, audio-visual dramatisations of historic events in the town appear.

The films, all written, acted and shot within the Lune Valley, include depictions of visits by Ruskin and Turner, evacuees, and unsung heroes like Margaret Llewellyn Davies, secretary of the Women's Co-operative Guild which transformed lives during the early 20th century.

Janet Nuttall the Kirkby Lonsdale Town and Tourism Manager with her team of guides (left to right) Margaret Anderson, Sheila Truelove, Deb Hawkins, Janet Nuttall, and Suzanne Sutton in Kirkby Lonsdale Market SquareJanet Nuttall the Kirkby Lonsdale Town and Tourism Manager with her team of guides (left to right) Margaret Anderson, Sheila Truelove, Deb Hawkins, Janet Nuttall, and Suzanne Sutton in Kirkby Lonsdale Market Square

One poignant story involves maids who died in a pub fire in 1820 and are commemorated with a memorial in St Mary's churchyard. An event marking the 200th anniversary of their deaths is planned for this year.

'I think it's lovely that the town paid for a memorial to them and that they are still remembered all this time later,' said Janet. 'They would never have imagined that.'

During the walks, many people and places featured in The Vault will be mentioned.

Alan MuirheadAlan Muirhead

'The walks are about the people of Kirkby Lonsdale bringing their town's history to life,' said Janet.

And what to do with some of those historic sites to protect them for future generations is a question being posed by the Big Vision. Last May, the town's three churches - St Mary's CoE, the Methodist Church, and St Joseph's RC - signed an ecumenical covenant committing the churches to sharing and developing ministries, resources and buildings for the benefit of all, and out of this event came the idea of the Big Vision.

It aims to use the churches, buildings including the rectory, the vicarage and St Mary's Cottage and the cemeteries, the Glebe Field, Cockpit Hill and a scheduled monument known as the Motte, for greater community use.

'We want to open church buildings and make them more sustainable in financial and environmental terms so we began a conversation within our congregations and the wider community,' explained Peter Gregson, Big Vision project team chair.

Interdenominational churchgoers gather in St Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale. Left to right; David Dalgoutte, Mike Cunningham, Rev. Wendy Thornton and Peter GregsonInterdenominational churchgoers gather in St Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale. Left to right; David Dalgoutte, Mike Cunningham, Rev. Wendy Thornton and Peter Gregson

Public consultation has been extensive and will help to form several options which will be open to more consultation this year.

'It's exciting to feel that we are working together to create something to lead Kirkby Lonsdale into the future and which involves different parts of the community,' said Peter. 'It's what churches should be about.'

This year will see the town's population swell by 25% as people move into Oakfield Park, the first new major housing development in Kirkby Lonsdale since the 60s.

Twice named by the Sunday Times as the best town in the North West and also a Great British High Street finalist, it's little wonder why people flock to Kirkby.

David Brown with new owners Adrian and Helen Shield who bought the cafe from old owners John and Renata Strange at The Crossing Point Cafe in Kirkby Lonsdale, the cafe was used extensively for the film DolittleDavid Brown with new owners Adrian and Helen Shield who bought the cafe from old owners John and Renata Strange at The Crossing Point Cafe in Kirkby Lonsdale, the cafe was used extensively for the film Dolittle

'It's a nice town that grows on you,' said Allan Muirhead, a resident since 1986. 'It's a very tight community and has a village feel to it. People look out for each other. It's almost untouched by modernity and we hope people come to live here because they like the town as it is. They come for the schools, environment and quality of life and we invite them to get involved in the community.'

Allan is certainly heavily involved with many Kirkby organisations. He's the town council's deputy chairman and founder-director and past chairman of the Kirkby Lonsdale & Lune Valley Community Interest Company. He also spent three decades as editor of the community newsletter.

Among projects Allan is involved with this year are improvements to the town's play park and the VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations in May.

Other events for 2020 include a music festival in June, a new poetry festival in September and the popular Christmas festival.

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