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Ulverston - the Furness Peninsula.

Ulverston, Cumbria and the Lake District.

History Location Accommodation

Welcome to the EDGE Guide to Ulverston. Ulverston on the Furness Peninsula in South Cumbria is less well known than the towns in the Lake District and the Eden Valley, the mountains to the north forming a natural barrier.

Ulverston has grown up in comparative isolation from the Lake District, (though Lake Windermere is only about 9mls/15km), and retains a distinct character of its own.

You may be surprised by the fact two former residents are world famous: George Fox began his Quaker movement here and Stan Laurel was born in Argyle Street in the town. A museum dedicated to Laurel and Hardy is to be found in the town.

Today Ulverston is a bustling market town serving the Peninsula and providing employment for many in the industries based at the town.

There are plenty of attractions in the area too:

Laurel & Hardy Museum - Conishead Priory - Swarthmoor Hall - Lakes Glass Centre - Sir John Barrow Monument - Ford Park House & Grounds - Birkrigg Stone Circle - Lake Windermere - Coniston Water - Morcambe Bay - South Lakes Animal Park - Duddon Sands - Gleaston Watermill - Dalston Castle - Furness Abbey - and more.

A great many sports are available including swimming, golf, angling, tennis, cycling etc, all in marvellous surroundings.

Ulverston, Cumbria and the Lake District.

The sea at Morecambe Bay is only a mile or so away, and at Canal Foot there is a public right of way across the sands to the Cartmel Peninsular, however it would be dangerous without hiring the services of a local guide.

2.5mls/4km to the south, just off the A5087, is Bardsea village with excellent views of the Bay.

Ulverston: a short history: top

Ulverston's history begins around AD430 when the Saxons took over from the departing Romans, at the beginning of the so called 'Dark Ages', a period when no records were kept so little is known of what went on.

The Domesday Book of 1085-86 a land and property census taken by order of King William I 'The Conqueror', mentions the town of Ulvreston.

The majority of Cumbria is not mentioned in the Doomsday Book it was at the time in the hands of the Scots, Ulverston was then in the county of Lancashire at the time and remained so until 1974.

In 1280 King Edward I went to Carlisle - Cumbria by this time was in English hands, and during his visit granted Ulverston a market charter. The market was to be held on Thursdays, (and still is), in addition there was permission given for a Fair to be held on the 7th-9th September each year.

The Fair still goes on and is well worth going to see, the climax of which is a torch light procession through the town.

The Market Charter was of great importance to any town lucky or politic enough to have one, almost guaranteeing an increase in prosperity and status, and Ulverston did indeed see improvements to its economy.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries of 1536-40 on the orders of King Henry VIII saw nearby Dalton lose its status as the influence over the local community of Furness Abbey came to an abrupt halt.

Dalton had been the capital town of the locality, this title went to Ulverston, this new title also came to the town because of its position on the trade routes over the sands from the Cartmel Peninsula and the south to Barrow and other towns on the west coast.

Ulverston prospered still further when in 1795 a canal was constructed by John Rennie, connecting the town with the Ulverston channel and Morecambe Bay and so the Irish Sea.

This investment paid off and with the increase in trade came an increase in the size of the town. Between 1801 and 1841 the population doubled.

The railway came in 1846 and this, coupled with the increased size of ships, (the canal could only cope with vessels of up to 30 tonnes), rendered the canal defunct.

Ultimately, however, the railways led to the demise of Ulverston as a major trading town.

Barrow was now connected by rail to the rest of the country and had a much better harbour able to cope with larger ships. Though the halcyon days of trade were over for Ulverston they left an indelible mark on the town.

Ulverston, Cumbria and the Lake District.

The finest buildings that can be seen today were built in that period. The town is less frenetic than it has been in the past and it benefits from not being on the main tourist routes.

As you approach Ulverston from the Lake District along the A590, you cannot fail to notice the lighthouse on top of a hill outside the town. This is the Hoad Monument, built in 1850 and dedicated to Sir John Barrow, (1764-1848), it also operates as a guide to shipping.

Sir John Barrow had gone to sea at the age of 16; by the age of 28 he was with the expedition to China with Macartney in 1792 and five years later went to South Africa, he recorded that he found the regime there brutal and disgusting.

In 1804 he became Secretary to the Admiralty, a position of great importance (a position once occupied by Samuel Pepys), in recognition of his skill as a seafarer of great experience and of his qualities as a statesman.

In this position he was able to fund expeditions to the Arctic. The Barrow Strait and Barrow Sound are both named after him. He was also a prolific writer.

In 1652 George Fox founded the Quaker movement at Swarthmoor Hall (1 mile south of the town off the A590, OS ref SD282772 Sheet 96).

Swarthmoor was owned by Judge Thomas Fell whose wife Margaret had been impressed by Fox's teachings and joined his movement. Swarthmoor was used for meetings for 38 years, until a purpose built hall was provided by George Fox.

Judge Thomas died not long after Fox had taken up residence in Swarthmoor Hall. Perhaps as a result Margaret threw herself into her work of extolling the Quaker movement, even going to speak to King Charles II on its behalf (the Quakers were persecuted to a degree).

This did not keep her out of prison for her outspoken religious views, but while in goal she continued her prolific writing.

Eventually Margaret and George Fox married, and they and their followers, though never popular with the established Church in England, were later given a certain amount of protection by King William III.

Ulverston: OS ref SD 285785 Sheet 96. Get the map.

Map of Ulverston