The Famous Folks of Morecambe Bay
We may not be in Beverley Hills and I’m pretty sure that “Maps to the Homes of the Stars” is a long way off, but Morecambe Bay can boast its fair share of famous folks – some more recent and others a little older. Plus there are some folks you think you don’t know but who actually made huge a contribution to our everyday life.
Take Sir Richard Owen for example; he was born in Lancaster in July 1804 and was one of the country’s leading palaeontologists. He achieved much during his lifetime but the thing he will be most remembered for is coining the term “dinosaur” – meaning “terrible reptile”. He was also one of the key people behind the Natural History Museum in London – one of my favourite places to visit when work takes me south.
If all that seems a little too far in the past, then how about John Waite? Many of us of a certain age will remember his hit single “Missing You” which was a colossal hit in 1984 but did you know that he too was born in Lancaster? His career has now spanned over 30 years and he’s released 10 studio albums. He may now live in Southern California but perhaps we could tempt him back to his home town for a gig or two at the next Music Festival? While we’re on we should also maybe have a word with Busta Rhymes who, despite being born in New York, spent part of his childhood in Morecambe – maybe someone reading this knew him and can tell us a little about what the young Busta was really like?
If music isn’t really your thing then what about comedy? Mr Excitement himself, Jon Richardson was born and raised in Lancaster, attending Ryelands Primary School and Lancaster Royal Grammar School before heading off to university in Bristol and life as a professional comedian. Of course he’s got a long way to go to live up to the achievements of Morecambe Bay’s most famous comedian Stan Laurel who was born in Ulverston. There are numerous commemorative place names, plaques and, of course, the lovely museum in the town, but my favourite has to the florist in Market Square named Floral and Hardy. Makes me chuckle every time I see it! In May 1947 Laurel and Hardy visited Ulverston and Stan was presented with a copy of his birth certificate (prior to that he used to joke that he thought he’d been Made in Taiwan!). You can find out much more about Stan and Ollie at the Laurel and Hardy Museum in the town – just next to the cinema.
Perhaps Ulverston’s most tenuous claim to fame is that Bill Hailey’s mum was born there. Maude Green was born and raised in the town and was a classically trained piano teacher. She emigrated to America aged 15 and gave birth to her Rock ‘n’ Roll legend son in 1925. I’ve not found any plaques or monuments dedicated to him, but there is certainly a huge monument raised in honour of our next famous son of the bay Sir John Barrow. Born in June 1764 Sir John was fluent in many languages (including Chinese), was the last person to shake Nelson’s hand before the Battle of Trafalgar and was a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society. The monument is 100ft high and is built of limestone from Birkrigg Quarry. If you’ve not been up the inside then it is well worth doing, though you will need a head for heights as the open staircase winds up around the inside of the monument (I managed to go the whole way up with my eyes closed!).
Back down in Morecambe and our famous folks continue with Dame Thora Hird who was well known and loved for her comedic talents but was an accomplished straight actress too – her two performances in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads” monologues were superb, each one winning a BAFTA.
And finally, no piece about the famous folks of the bay would be complete without a mention of “Our Eric”. Eric Morecambe was born in the town and famously took the town as his showbiz surname but next time you visit his statue on the prom look a little closer and you’ll notice that he’s wearing a pair of binoculars. Eric was a keen birdwatcher and the nearby RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss named a hide after him in recognition of his support. When the statue was reinstated after someone had sawn him down his wife, Joan, took time to speak to just about everyone who had turned out to see the unveiling, despite it being a bitterly cold day. After the long winter we’ve all endured I reckon we could use a little of Eric’s magic – “Bring me sunshine…”
By Beth Pipe, The Cumbrian Rambler
Images by Steve Pipe