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Ulverston Town Council Office, County Square, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7LZ
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’. This gives rise to the presence of a wolf on the town’s coat of arms. Other variations of the name recorded throughout history include Oluestonam (1127), and Uluereston (1189). Much of Cumbria, being in the hands of the Scots at this time, is not mentioned in the Doomsday Book. At that time Ulverston was in the county of Lancashire, only becoming part of Cumbria as late as 1974.
A thriving market town
On 11th September 1280 the town was granted a Market Charter by King Edward I during his visit to Carlisle. This gave authority for a market to be held in Ulverston every Thursday with an annual fair each September. This important event in Ulverston’s history is still celebrated every year during September’s Charter Festival.
The granting of a Market Charter was of great significance to the town and Ulverston enjoyed significant growth in its economy and status. As with much of this area, the town was a popular target for raids by the rampaging Scots under Robert the Bruce, but despite being burned down twice during the early 14th century, Ulverston continued to prosper.
Establishing local prominence
The Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) ordered by King Henry VIII saw nearby Dalton lose its status as the centre of power in the local area. Ulverston became the capital town of the locality, a title earned through its prime position on the trade routes across the sands from the Cartmel Peninsula, south to Barrow and to the towns on the west coast. Interestingly, in the 17th century, Ulverston became the birthplace of the Quaker movement as George Fox, founder of the Quakers, established a base at nearby Swarthmoor Hall.
A great British waterway
In 1795 architect John Rennie (designer of London’s Waterloo Bridge) constructed the Ulverston Canal 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. In 1846, the railway came and this, coupled with the introduction of modern ships, which were too big to negotiate the inland waterway, rendered the canal defunct. It was used commercially up until World War I but was officially abandoned at the end of World War II.
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 and food fairs. Ulverston also hosts a wide range of events and festivals and is pleased to welcome visitors 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
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), all former residents of Ulverston. 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. A bronze life-size statue of Laurel and Hardy and a museum dedicated to Laurel and Hardy can be found in the town.
Geography and History