Sir John Barrow Monument - looking after Ulverston’s famous landmark
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 April 2020
Volunteers work hard to make sure the Sir John Barrow Monument remains the pride of Ulverston
Les Tallon is a familiar and friendly face in Ulverston. At every corner, people stop and wave at the cheerful 73-year-old as he drives his monument-emblazoned four-by-four vehicle through the town.
Les is the senior monument keeper of the 100ft Grade II listed Sir John Barrow Monument – a lighthouse-shaped memorial built in 1850 to celebrate the Ulverston-born naval explorer.
Having lived in Ulverston all his life, Les became a founder member of the Friends of the Sir John Barrow Monument after retiring in 2003.
‘I was looking for something to keep me active and occupied during my retirement,’ he says. ‘As a boy, I had played on Hoad Hill and enjoyed family picnics beneath the monument. In many ways, it’s always been a part of my life.’
When Les signed up to volunteer, the “Pepperpot” was in desperate need of repair. Ulverston Town Council, the monument’s owner, managed to raise the £1.12 million project costs with the support of funding organisations and Friends of the Sir John Barrow Monument. Repairs began in 2009 and the restored monument re-opened in 2010.
‘The building is iconic,’ says Les. ‘It’s a symbol for Ulverston and a recognisable landmark seen from miles around. Most Ulverstonians couldn’t imagine the town without it.’
Locals and visitors regularly walk up the hill to enjoy the scenery from the base of the copper-domed monument but those who take time to climb the 112 narrow steps of the structure’s internal spiral staircase up to the viewing chamber are rewarded with breath-taking views in every direction.
‘On a good day you can see for miles,’ says Les, pointing out Blackpool Tower to the south and the Lake District fells in the north and north west. ‘I can’t think of anywhere else with such an amazing view.’
Looking down on Ulverston, you can make out the glass-like line of England’s shortest canal. Beyond is the Leven Estuary with its dramatic tides, Chapel Island and the stunning light on Morecambe Bay.
‘I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve climbed these steps. There’s always something different to see.’
With a team of 14 volunteers who take it in turns to staff the monument, Les is also supported by his wife, who helps take care of day-to-day enquiries.
The monument has been the setting for a number of marriage proposals, and on one occasion Les hoisted a “Will you marry me?” flag and prepared the champagne as a chap went down on bended knee in the viewing chamber. She said yes.
Les also takes elderly residents (together with their carers) up to the Hoad in the four-by-four vehicle for what might be their last visit. ‘It’s always a pleasure to offer that service and it gives them an opportunity to reflect upon their life here as well as share their stories,’ he said.
With strong Ulverstonian roots, Les has many stories of his own and inside the monument there’s a stone tablet engraved with the names of previous monument keepers along with the dates of their posts. The first name on the tablet is Robert Afflect, who held the position from 1850-1860. Les’s name is already engraved there with space to mark the final year of his post.
‘I’m hoping to continue as long as I can,’ he said. ‘Providing I can keep walking up, I’ll keep going. It’s a real pleasure and I couldn’t have chosen a better way to stay active and enjoy my retirement. I love it.’
Due to the guidelines on essential travel due to the coronavirus, the monument will be closed temporarily.
Weather permitting, the monument is usually open to the public when the flag is flying on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holiday weekends between Easter and end of October. Access on foot only via Chittery Lane or from Ford Park. The monument can be opened on other occasions by arrangement. Contact Les on 01229 580909 or visit ulverstoncouncil.org.uk.