History of Ulverston
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History of Ulverston

A proud heritage

Ulverston as we know it has been shaped by numerous historical events, including the granting of its Market Charter, and the coming and going of various industries over the centuries.

Early beginnings

The history of Ulverston begins around AD430 when the Saxons took over from the departing Romans, at the beginning of the ‘Dark Ages’, a period where no records exist and very little is known.

Ulverston was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ulvrestun, deriving from an Old Norse family name Úlfarr meaning ‘wolf warrior’ and tun meaning ‘farm’ or ‘homestead’. In local dialect Ulverston is known as “Lile Ooston”.

King Edward I

On 11th September 1280 the town was granted a Market Charter by King Edward I. This gave authority for a market to be held in Ulverston every Thursday with an annual fair yearly “on the eve, the day and the morrow of the Virgin’s Nativity” (7th, 8th & 9th September). A second fair was established in the 17th century to take place on the Thursday in Whit week for “pedalry and hiring servants”. These important events in Ulverston’s history are still celebrated twice a year around about the end of May and during September’s Charter Festival.

timeline history of ulverston History of Ulverston timeline

A capital town

Until mid 16th century Dalton was deemed to be the “Capital of Furness” but in 1537 the plague came to Furness and all markets were forced to close. On re-establishment of the markets Ulverston became the capital town of the locality mainly due to its prime position on the trade routes across the sands from the Cartmel Peninsula, an ancient and potentially dangerous tidal crossing.

Crossing the sands

Until the building of the railway in 1846, the cross sands route was the major transport route in the area, with Guides appointed royally since the 16th century. Before that, the monks of Furness had provided guides for crossing the sands. In modern times a crossing of the sands has become a popular challenge walk for charity fundraisers.

Theatre Royal

In the Georgian period Ulverston’s importance in trade, industry and commerce increased. Wealthy inhabitants built town houses to enjoy “The Season”. By the end of the 18th Century Ulverston boasted two theatres, several lecture halls, a circulating library and an assembly room. The remnants of The Theatre Royal still exist as auction rooms at the end of Theatre Street.

A great British waterway

In 1796, Ulverston Canal was opened, and secured a further period of prosperity for the town. The canal connected the town with the Irish Sea and provided it with a port. This investment paid off and a thriving maritime community developed. Ulverston became the starting point for steamers to Liverpool, passenger ships to Scotland and London and for cargoes exporting copper slates and linen around the world.

With the increase in trade came an increase in the size of the town and between 1801 and 1841 the population of Ulverston doubled.

Continuing a proud heritage

Today Ulverston remains a bustling market town serving the Peninsula and providing employment through the many industries based here. The Market Place is still the centre of life in the town and modern Ulverston retains its old world appearance with many colourful houses and quaint cobbled streets leading from the square. Alongside the weekly Thursday and Saturday markets you’ll find unique shops and cafes, cosy country pubs, farmers’ markets, food fairs and festivals.

The Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre at Conishead Priory attracts participants to its residential Buddhism courses and day retreats from all over the world.

This unusual bond between history and modernity is also apparent in the oldest building in the town. The busy Parish Church of St Mary, which dates back to 1111, still shows traces of the early Norman church.

Ulverston’s famous Sons & Daughters

The first thing visitors see on entering Ulverston whether by road rail or sea is the imposing monument in the shape of a lighthouse high up above the town on Hoad Hill. This monument was erected to commemorate the life of Sir John Barrow who was born at Dragley Beck in 1764. From his humble beginnings in Ulverston, Sir John Barrow, naval administrator and traveller, went on to become the Second Secretary to the Admiralty charged with the running the British Navy.

Another famous inhabitant of the town was George Fox, founder of the Quakers, who established a base at nearby Swarthmoor Hall in the 17th century.

As well as Sir John Barrow and George Fox, there are other famous former residents of Ulverston. Lord Norman Birkett was a British judge during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Prestigious Victoria Crosses were awarded to Private Harry Christian (World War I), Frank Jefferson (World War II) and Basil Weston (World War II). We also have Maude Green, the mother of Rock and Roll music legend, Bill Hayley and Norman Gifford an England test cricketer; all former residents of Ulverston.

Latterly, the achievements of the town’s most famous son, Stan Laurel who, in partnership with Oliver Hardy, became one of the most famous comedy duos in the 20th century, has been celebrated with the unveiling of a life-size bronze statue in County Square. There is also a museum dedicated to Laurel and Hardy at the Roxy Cinema in Brogden Street.