Stan Laurel, Ulverston's most famous son
PUBLISHED: 19:11 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:36 08 November 2014
Ulvertson's most famous son is making a valuable contribution to the town, 45 years after his death<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson
There’s no escaping Stan Laurel in Ulverston. The town’s most famous son is a ubiquitous presence around the town. There’s a pub named after him, a museum dedicated to his life and work and a new town centre statue which was unveiled by Ken Dodd last year.
But for all his international fame and lasting legacy, he was born in modest circumstances at his grandparents’ terrace house a short walk from Ulverston town centre in June 1890.
A plaque on the wall marks the house where Stan was born and where Mabel Radcliffe now lives. ‘It’s not the original, that,’ Mabel said. ‘The original was stolen and was missing for six months until my neighbour’s dog found it in a paper bag in the back street.’
Mabel will turn 92 this year and although she was well aware of the house’s claim to fame, she admits to not being a great fan of the Laurel and Hardy films. She plays her part though, allowing fans of the comedy duo who make the pilgrimage to Argyle Street, to step inside and have their photograph taken with the original plaque which has been restored to its former glory by her son-in-law and which she now keeps safely indoors.
She also asks visitors to sign a visitors’ book which she keeps on the table in the hallway and she said:
‘People come from all over the world to see the house, I’ve met people from America, Japan, Holland, all over. It’s nice to meet different people.'
‘I bought the house at auction in the Coronation Hall 34 years ago. It was between me and another woman and the price was going up by £5 each time. I got fed up and put £100 on it and I won. I paid £5100 and the solicitor told me “they haven’t sold you the house, they’ve given it to you”.
‘We knocked through the front room and the back room and put new windows in but we did very little else to the house. It’s a good, solid stone built house. I gave Bill Cubin at the Laurel and Hardy Museum a lot of things, gas taps, old doors - that sort of thing - when we did bits of work.’
Mabel has noticed an increase in the number of people photographing the house since the new statue of Stan and Ollie was unveiled last year outside the Coronation Hall. In 1947 Stan brought Ollie to Ulverston, and Mabel was there in the crowd when they arrived.
‘I was out with my friend, we’d both had babies within a month of each other and we were out with the prams when we saw this great big crowd. We asked someone what was happening and they said Laurel and Hardy were coming so we stood and watched.
‘They went past in an open-top car and they had their wives with them, I was more interested in their wives - they looked so glamorous in their furs.
‘They went up on the balcony and Stan was given a blown-up copy of his birth certificate, he looked at it then Ollie took it off him, hit him over the head with it and said “That’s another fine mess you’ve got us into”.
‘After, they came in the house, this was before I was here, of course, and had a look around. Stan’s daughter has been here too, just after we moved in. She said she felt as though she had come home when she walked through the door. We keep in touch now and again and she has a half cousin who lives in Dewsbury.’
That statue, by renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson who also created the Eric Morecambe statue which has been credited with almost single-handedly turning around that failing seaside town’s fortunes.
And this work, which shows Stan and Ollie in typical pose, leaning on a lamppost is starting to have a similar effect here. Mabel has seen more people outside her house and Ulverston’s regeneration manager Jane Kendall has the statistics to confirm that the statue is working.
‘The Tourist Information Centre has seen an increase in footfall of about 70 per cent. There’s also anecdotal evidence that there are more people about and the shops are busier.’
The statue is just one reason to visit Ulverston and Anita Garnett is hoping she will be able to add another by moving her brewery into the town centre. She launched the Ulverston Brewing Company in 2006 with partner Paul Swann and they are based on a farm on the outskirts of the town.
But the couple who were both born and bred in Ulverston, are now hoping to move to the old auction mart building in the town centre. ‘We have always wanted to be based in Ulverston,’ she said.
‘We wanted that connection with our home town. We have the Ulverston town crest on the bottles and we want the people who drink our beers to know something about where they were made.
‘It’s been really good here but we just don’t have the space to do what we want to do and we’re not in the town centre where we want to be. And we want it to be somewhere people can visit, we want it to be an attraction in Ulverston.
‘Moving would give us so many more opportunities, brewery tours, a shop, internet sales… there are so many possibilities which haven’t been properly explored.’
The proposed move would also involve building four new homes and is subject to planning approval but Anita is hopeful they could be in their new base by the spring.
Anita launched the brewery after turning her back on a 25-year career as a hairdresser. ‘I had started as a Saturday girl when I was 13 and after all that time it loses something,’ she said. ‘Having the same conversations, putting the same rollers in the same places on the same heads - it was time for a change.
‘My partner Paul had always wanted to do this, ever since Hartley’s closed. We met at the school reunion in 2000 and he introduced me to real ale, I had always drunk lager before. We experimented with brewing in the garage for ourselves and our friends and we thought “well, we’ve drunk worse in pubs, let’s give it a go”.’
They received almost instant results when they were named runner up in two sections at the Ulverston Beer Festival and now produce five beers, each with a name which celebrates… you guessed it, Stan Laurel.
Ice work, Heather
Heather Gillespie is keeping a dying art alive. The 25-year-old who lives above an Ulverston deli is one of only a handful of copper wheel engravers working in Britain today.
She trained in the art in the Czech Republic but always wanted to return to the Furness peninsula where she was born and has since exhibited her decorative cut glass work in London, New York and Vienna.
‘My parents moved to North Wales when I was 14 to run a fish and chip shop in Dolgellau but I always wanted to come back to this area,’ Heather said.
She took a convoluted route, though, studying in Edinburgh and working in the west Midlands before creating a studio in the spare room of her Ulverston flat.
‘That’s the way engravers would have worked in the 16th Century when this form of engraving was more common and it’s the way I worked in the Czech Republic.
‘As soon as I learned about this kind of engraving. I knew instantly this was what I wanted to do. It’s a rare way of working these days so there were no specialists at the university and I had to teach myself.’
With the help of Cumbria Crystal, based on the fringe of the town, she has an impressive portfolio of wall hangings, light shades and other decorative pieces which can sell for hundreds, or thousands of pounds.
Ulverston fact file
Where is it?
Ulverston is a market town on the Furness peninsula north of Morecambe Bay. Follow the A590 from junction 36 of the M6 or type LA12 7DY into your satnav to find the town centre
Where to park?
There are pay and display car parks around the town centre and some free on-street parking
Where to eat?
There are pubs, cafés and restaurants around the town but for something a little different try the World Peace Café and Buddhist meditation centre on Cavendish Street
Famous Ulverstonians include Norman Birkett, who represented Britain at the Nuremberg Trials, Maude Green, the mother of Rock and Roll music legend Bill Haley and England test cricketer Norman Gifford
The Hoad Monument was built in 1850 to commemorate statesman and local resident Sir John Barrow.
Ulverston has the world’s shortest, widest and deepest canal and is just a mile-and-a-half from the sea
Pole-vaulting was invented as a competitive sport in Ulverston. It may have developed as a means of crossing that canal
The oldest building in Ulverston is St Mary’s Church, parts of which date from 1111AD. It was restored and rebuilt in the 1860s and is particularly noted for its Norman door and magnificent stained glass