Ulverston is a towering success
PUBLISHED: 16:31 14 June 2011 | UPDATED: 18:13 10 May 2016
There is much more to this pretty market town than Laurel and Hardy as Emma Mayoh discovers PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
The monument built in memory of Sir John Barrow, high above his home town of Ulverston, commands the sort of breath-taking view that would tempt any young man to abandon plans of foreign travel.
Fortunately for us, the monument - shaped like the Eddystone Lighthouse - was built some time after his death, allowing Sir John to travel to exotic and undiscovered lands before playing a pivotal role in the British navy’s triumph over Napoleon.
John Barrow was born in 1764 and as a young man he went whaling in Greenland before exploring China and South Africa. Eventually he became a skilled administrator organising the British Navy so well they defeated
Today, it is the job of Ken Barrett, monument keeper, to ensure everything is looking shipshape.
Most days the 65-year-old climbs the 112 steps up the sliver-thin, spiral staircase to the lantern chamber. Although he admits to a few more aches and pains than when he took on the voluntary role in 1992, his hard work is rewarded when he reaches the top.
He said: ‘I love it because it’s so peaceful and the views are fantastic. I live at the bottom of the hill and it’s something I look at every morning. I became the keeper to give something back to the community.’
The Grade II listed building, also known as Hoad Monument, was built in 1850. Its construction, and recent renovation, speaks volumes about the town and the people living 450 feet below. The £1,200 needed for the original build was raised mainly by public subscription. The £1.2 million facelift, completed last year following a seven year closure enforced because of water damage, was raised through lottery and heritage grants but also through the tireless campaigning and fundraising of local groups and residents.
Ken, who at almost 20 years is the longest serving keeper in the monument’s history, said: ‘The people of Ulverston and the Friends of the Sir John Barrow Monument were absolutely fantastic in getting people donating money. Some of them are so passionate they have become unofficial keepers.
‘It is an extremely important monument for the town and I’m so pleased it’s now open again for the public to enjoy. It has been down to the people who live here.’
It is this passion and public spirit that make this market town such a success. As well as having a vibrant centre packed with independent businesses and historic architecture, the town supports a catalogue of renowned events and a vibrant cultural and arts scene. Much of this emanates from The Lanternhouse, a centre for research, development and production of art just outside the town centre.
Once the National School for Ulverston, the building has had many guises including as a Labour Exchange and storage centre for ordnance survey maps. It was also home to Welfare State International, a groundbreaking group of artists, until 2004 and it is their creative vision that helped mould The Lanternhouse into what it is today. It attracts artists and groups from around the world to the town.
It director, Andrea Hawkins, said: ‘For us it’s about having art that has real meaning in people’s lives, art that the local community can appreciate and enjoy, as well as the many artists who travel here from far afield.
‘It’s all about engaging as many people as possible. The community is very involved and supportive. We see our job to be at the heart of the cultural scene in Ulverston and to add to it. There is a rich culture here and a huge interest in it and Lanternhouse has been a big part of that.
The origins of the Ulverston Flag Festival started here and then the community took it on and made it even more incredible. That’s exactly the kind of effect we want to have.’
The Lanternhouse, unsurprisingly, is involved with another of the town’s biggest events. The building hosts some of the shows for the spectacular Ulverston International Music Festival, being held from June 3rd - 11th,
which showcases the musical talent of famous and emerging artists from across the globe.
It was founded by Ulverstonian and world renowned pianist Anthony Hewitt in 2004 and this year’s line-up is no less impressive with musicians from around the world coming to the town. The festival also has special concerts featuring local singers and schoolchildren who have the chance to perform to packed rooms at various venues around the town including Ulverston Parish Church and Coronation Hall.
Jane Cooper, from the festival, â said: ‘This is a big thing in the town. People really get into the spirit of it and look forward to. We have taken on more venues in addition to Coronation Hall over the years and through the hard work of Anthony, have attracted some really big name musicians as well as those who are on the brink of becoming very well known.
‘It is a wonderful nine days and places all over town spring into life. The concerts that involve the local community are particularly special. The heart they put into them is really inspiring and encourages more people to embrace music.’ There are many festivals in Ulverston, and that is why it is called Festival Town.
As well as the Ulverston Flag Festival, Ulverston Carnival Day, the Dickensian Festival which attracts between 25,000 and 30,000 people every year, the Lantern Procession and a walking festival. But Canadian-born councillor Judith Pickthall, who moved to Ulverston several years ago, is determined to make it even more famous through a newly created website all about the town’s festivals.
She said: ‘There is a lot to celebrate here which is why we are such a successful Festival Town. We get a lot of people come to see us just for this reason and we want even more people to know about us and to come and visit out town.
‘It is a very special place and lots of people should know that. I feel
very lucky to live in a place like Ulverston. It has everything you could ever want.’
There are two very different brews in Ulverston. Doug Gillam is continuing his family’s tradition as providing
fine food to the town at his tea room, Gillam’s. The family business was first set up in 1892 by John James Gillam, Doug’s great great grandfather. The business close for a period then 37-year-old Doug left behind a career in a band to pick up where his family had left off. He opened up the tea room in a unit on the other side of the road to the original stores. The gamble paid off. Gillam’s has just received an Award of Excellence from the prestigious Tea Guild in their annual awards.
He said: ‘I used to wear a Spandex all in one and drummed in the band. We were pretty good and played on Radio 1 and didn’t do too badly at all.
‘But I was really keen to re-start the family business though and I’ve grown it as well. I feel proud the Gillam name is famous in Ulverston and I hope I’m doing my family proud.’
Just a short walk away Anita Garnett is making her own brews. The 50-year-old started Ulverston Brewing Company in 2006 with husband, Paul Swann. They were based in an industrial unit at first but the pair have become so successful they have now converted and moved into the old auction mart building in Lightburn Road. All of the beers are named after the works of comedy duo Laurel and Hardy
Anita said: ‘We’re so proud that things have gone so well so far and we feel we are putting Ulverston brewing on the map. To be in a building like this too that has so much history is incredible. We can’t quite believe we’ve got all of this and it’s very exciting for us.’
Where is it? Ulverston is located in the Furness area of Lancashire, north of Morecambe Bay. Type LA12 7AR in your sat nav to get you there
What is there to do? Plenty. Explore the history of Ulverston on one of the historic town trails, take a walk up to the Sir John Barrow Monument which is open between Easter and October when the flag on Hoad Hill is flying, browse the shops or take a look inside the Laurel and Hardy Museum. You can also visit The Lanternhouse and be immersed in art at one of the many events held there.
Are there refreshments? Absolutely. There is everything from cafes, tea rooms and pubs to restaurants serving food from around the world.