Ulverston - frocks, food and festivals

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 March 2014 | UPDATED: 18:11 10 May 2016


This traditional Lancashire town now has an air of confidence, as Mike Glover discovers

Ulverston Coronation HallUlverston Coronation Hall

Frocks, food and festivals are bringing fun and financial success to the traditional Lancashire market town of Ulverston.

The town centre, with its cobbled street and old world charm, continues to attract a host of independent retailers and eateries as well as the national brand leaders.

Unlike many towns of its size - the population stands at around 11,500 - Ulverston still has its own book shop, a sweet shop that dispenses its goodies from jars on shelves and a haberdashery stall in the indoor market.

It has its fair share of charity shops, nail bars, hairdressers and beauty salons plus the big High Street brand names. But it is the sheer number of independents, run by local people who get involved in festivals, campaigns to save local facilities and community projects like town twinning that make Ulverston special. We took a whistle-stop tour and this is what we found.


Immediately dispense with any notion that Ulverston is solely for the fogeys. Teenagers and young adults are served by eclectic fashion shops like Pure in Market Street and Jute in King Street; lingerie is on display in Boudoir Pink in King Street; while mother-of-the-bride classics are available from Gina Cook or Phoebe Fashions, hidden off the main street in Potter’s Court.

The proprietor of the last is Dawn Fitzgerald, who specialises in designer fashion for the 30 to 60-year-olds, but dresses that are reasonably priced and can be worn more than once.

She bought the shop four years ago and says Ulverston attracts people from as far as Manchester to shop for clothes, gifts and local art. ‘It is a nice town which has maintained its character and, while being handy for the Lakes, it is not swamped by the crowds. It is ideal for a day out,’ said Dawn.

Round the corner in King Street, Sue Cash, who runs Pretty Things Boutique, agrees that the way each shop aims at a target market, means that they all thrive.

The feeling of working together has its climax every October with a fashion show – this year on the 25th - at Coronation Hall, the rather splendid concert hall which the town council and others are trying to save from the dreaded local government cash crisis.

The range of fashion even extends to the very young, with Boogles and Bump in Brogden Street catering for cradle to five-year-olds, although it has bridesmaid dresses up to age 12. It has the slightly challenging motto, in a sideswipe at the national brands -Clothes made for kids, not by kids.

Iain Raven, joint proprietor with his wife Jill, said: ‘All our clothes are made from organic cotton and ethically sourced.’ Iain added: ‘Ulverston is a fantastic place because of its diversity of shops.’ He went into business after being made redundant ‘instead of joining the ranks of the unemployed.’


Ulverston has around 20 independent tea rooms and cafes, as well as three pubs which specialise in grub – the Rose and Crown, Farmers’ Arms and Old Mill – an old-fashioned butchers, Irvings, which sources its meat locally and a sprinkling of delicatessens, including Blackedges in the indoor market.

We visited two of the cafes, chosen at random, and both were enthusiastic about the town’s culinary mix.

Jane Clee and Sam Iskinazi run Fourpence Cafe and Shoppe in King Street. The shoppe bit refers to antique bric-a-brac, sold in the front of the premises.

They moved from their former business, the Hat-trick at Low Newton, off the A590 six months ago. ‘We came because of the individuality of the shops and the uniqueness of the town,’ said Sam.

Lynne Watson, originally from Colne, came to the South Lakes district 15 years ago and set up Mad Hatters tearoom in a disused shop in Market Street three years ago.

‘All our food is freshly made on site from ingredients sourced in Ulverston,’ said Lynne, who also displays local artists’ work. The Alice in Wonderland theme extends to un-matched vintage crockery from charity shops in the town.

But the big food news for Ulverston is that is almost certain to host a Taste Cumbria food and beer festival on May 24 and 25.

This event has been a huge success in Cockermouth, attracting 20,000 visitors last year. Organisers have been trying to find a South Lakeland home and Ulverston was chosen.

The two breweries in the town, Ulverston Brewing Company at the former Cattle Market in Victoria Road and Stringers Brewery from Low Mill Estate, are expected to feature.


Ulverston has long been a ‘festival town’ with favourites like the South Cumbria Music Festival running from April 6 to 12 at Coronation Hall; Traditional Pasche Egg Rolling on Hoad Hill on April 21; Ulverston International Music Festival, June 6 to 15; Lantern Procession, which involves the whole town and attracted 15,000 visitors last year, on September 13, and the Dickensian Christmas Festival, which attracted 30,000 visitors last year, on the weekend of November 29/30 this year.

There are several new festivals planned for 2014, including the food festival mentioned above.

Another Fine Fest will celebrate the birthday of Stan Laurel on June 13/14. The famous early screen star was born in the town and visited it with his partner Oliver Hardy, as commemorated by the bronze statue outside the Coronation Hall.

The town also has high hopes for Ulverston a l’ancienne, a vintage cycling weekend on July 11 to 13. This involves bikes and clothing from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, an event apparently hugely popular in France, the country of Ulverston’s twin town, Albert.

And on September 28 Ulverston will be hosting an Apple Day to celebrate all things connected to the nation’s favourite fruit.


Ulverston is also proud of the fact that it makes things. The good news keeps coming with multi-national science companies on the verge of expanding, bringing hundreds if not thousands of highly paid, skilled jobs to the second biggest town in South Lakeland.

GlaxoSmithKline has announced its intention to build a biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant, which is just starting public consultation before the planning application goes in, not that there is much chance of the authorities turning away the chance for 200 highly-paid skilful science jobs, with more to follow.

And Germany-based Siemens, which bought the home-grown submarine engineering firm Tronic, is making strong noises about vast expansion in Britain, which can only be good news for Ulverston.

‘We are very excited about the future, with these firms and others bringing jobs for young skilled people, who can now look forward to apprenticeships or coming back here to live and work after graduating from University, instead of having to move away to pursue their careers,’ said town mayor Judy Pickthall.

The town council is also negotiating with South Lakeland District Council to take over management of the Coronation Hall, Market Hall, street market and car parks.

Ulverston, caught half-way between the larger towns of Kendal and Barrow, seems quite capable of looking after itself, fiercely proud of its independence and independents.

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