Sir John Barrow’s Unlit Lighthouse
The “lighthouse” is in the town of Ulverston, a bucolic seaside town which hosts various festivals throughout the year. There’s an annual Dickens Festival each November in which many of the citizens dress in Victorian attire. Then there’s “Another Fine Fest” held in June. The title is a takeoff on the admonishing words “Well… that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” Oliver Hardy says these words in countless films to his comedic partner Stan Laurel. Ulverston’s modern claim to fame is as the birthplace of comedian Stan Laurel, who lived here until he was six-years-old.
Levity aside, viewed from afar, the 100 tower off the northern English coast of Cumbria sure looks like a lighthouse. The structure sits on the summit of Hoad Hill, 450 feet above sea level. The tower contains 112 narrow circular steps which lead to its lantern chamber. When you reach the top it commands a fine view of Ulverston and the nearby Morecambe Bay, a mile away.
Yet in its 170 years, the “lighthouse” has never possessed a functional light.
So If It’s Not A Lighthouse…
The “lighthouse” is the Hoad Monument to Sir John Barrow – designed in 1850 and completed in 1851 as a sea beacon or sea-mark. A sea-mark is a prominent structure aiding navigation.
Sir John Barrow (1764-1848 ) was an educator, world traveler and writer who had a long career in the Admiralty, thriving during 13 different naval administrations both Whig and Tory. Barrow’s 1831 book The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of H.M.S. Bounty: Its Cause and Consequences was the first to give an account of Captain William Bligh. It is still the definitive account of the mutiny on the HMS Bounty.
A year after Barrow’s death over £1,182 was raised by subscription to fund a monument in Barrow’s birthplace of Ulverston.
During the fundraising, a debate emerged: what should the monument be? An obelisk? A statue? A pillar?
According to historian Rob David, Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort in 1849 made the suggestion the monument be useful and imposing.
Beaufort said the monument should be “‘made subservient to some distinct and notable benefit to the navigation of anyone of the adjoining ports or channels’.
The fundraisers released a statement in 1849 announcing their decision about the monument:
Sir John Barrow’s whole life was passed in usefully serving his country, and his friends being desirous that this memorial should be also practically useful, have resolved that it should be so placed as to serve as a Sea-mark for the navigation of an intricate and dangerous part of Morecambe Bay, the site on the Hoad-hill, at Ulverston, having been approved by the Trinity House.
Architect Andrew Trimen’s design for the Barrow memorial is a copy of the Eddystone Lighthouse. Because the Memorial Committee never saw this as a lighthouse but strictly as a memorial, no provision was made to provide a light.
That is how a “lighthouse” ends up without a light.