Boyhood and Youth

Although an only child, John Barrow (born 19.6.1764) was part of a large and active farming family. His father was also, (though John doesn't mention this, it's presumably in marriage / burial records ) a "journeyman tanner" and there is still a "Tannery Cottage" next door to the Barrow cottage. Tanning was a remarkably smelly and strenuous business and perhaps not quite respectable, which may be why John doesn't mention it it the Autobiography - written when he was 84 and a Baronet . The cottage seems tiny, bearing in mind it also housed an aged great-aunt and some extremely large furniture; but people then spent most of their lives either out of doors or in bed.

The cottage is opened to the public at certain times so you can go and see for yourself; check for times in the Library.


Here, front and back, is the cottage John Barrow grew up in as it is today, with the Hoad ( monument wrapped in scaffolding) not far away.

Below is the cottage in 1895, after it was given to the town by the Barrow family, seemingly with the original thatched roof still intact, also the garden wall. There are rambling roses over the door, quite possibly planted by John. You can see the Tannery (now Tannery Cottage) gable-end on its left.

"In the extreme northern part of North Lancashire is the market-town of Ulverstone, and not far from it the obscure village of Dragleybeck, in which a small cottage gave me birth on the 19th June 1764; being the only child of Roger and Mary Barrow. The said cottage had been in my mother's family nearly two hundred years, and had descended to her aunt, who lived in it to the age of eighty, and in it my mother died at the advanced age of ninety"

The most endearing thing about John Barrow, to my mind, is to be found in these quotes from the Autobiography:

"To the cottage were attached three or four small fields, sufficient for the keep of as many cows, which supplied our family with milk and butter, besides reserving a portion of land for a crop of oats. There was also a paddock behind the cottage, called the hemp-land ... converted to the cultivation of potatoes, peas, beans and other culinary vegetables; which, with the grain, fell to the labour of my father, who, with several brothers, the sons of an extensive farmer, was brought up to that business in the neighbourhood of the Lakes; and three or four of the sons held large farms under the Devonshire family - Cavendish and Burlington.

At the bottom of the hemp-land runs the beck or brook, a clear stream that ... abounds with trout.

Contiguous to the cottage was also a small flower-garden ... while yet a young boy I had full charge of keeping up a supply of the ordinary flowers of the season. I did more; I planted a number of trees of different kinds, which grew well, but, long after I left home, I understood that many of them had been destroyed by the turning of a road .
One of them [ a rowan ] ... has survived, which must be now seventy-five years old, and the mention of it kindles in my bosom a spark of gratitude, which an imputation of vanity even will not allow me to suppress"

Of all his many achievements he seems proudest of all of his youthful tree-planting efforts. That many were cut down to make way for road-widening schemes has ironic echoes with our own times.


This is Dragley Beck today, up behind the cottage, on a gusty November afternoon.
The Hoad is straight ahead through the trees. These are the fields that young John would have cultivated; in those days it would have been a much busier scene with vegetables, fruit-trees and livestock, like a very intensive allotment. The land was much more appreciated: if you had land you could produce food. Your family was less likely to starve. Nothing was wasted.

 These four pictures are taken from "Microcosm" by William Henry Pyne, published in 1804. Pyne travelled the country drawing the lives of ordinary country people with great accuracy and sympathy. The tanners are hard at work preserving and softening leather, and the washer- women are beating linen on the rocks with paddles. much as people still do their laundry in many parts of the world today. Although Barrow would have been a man of 40 when these were drawn, it's unlikely that the lives of poorer country people would have changed much since he was a boy.



This is the Town Bank School (founded 1658) after it was extended in 1781, 4 years after John left it in 1777 aged 13.
It is probable that only the projecting bit on the right is original. Besides lots of Latin and Greek, Barrow studied maths to quite an advanced level. There is lots about this in the Autobiography, what follows is just a taster:
"The only scholastic education I received was at the Town Bank grammar-school. under the Rev. William Tyson Walker ... an excellent classical scholar educated at Trinity College Dublin. Before this the school had fallen into the hands of an old gouty gentleman, of the naame of Ferdinand (usually called fardy by the boys) Hodgson, whose wife kept a sort of stationer's nd bookseller's shop. His knowledge of latin extended little beyond Syntaxix, As in Praesenti, and Pripria opus maribus &c , any further progress could only be had by a removal to a distance of sixteen miles, to the town grammar school at Hawkshead. Fardy Hodgson was particularly kind to me; and, being pleased one day at the manner in which I had performed my task, he took me by the hand into his shop, and spreading on the counter a great number of books for young people, he desired me to ... choose any one I pleased as a present. I pitched upon a small History of the Bible, with wood-cuts, which so pleased the old man that he foretold to my parents that I should prove a treasure to them ...."

Two views of Ulverston Market place from the 18th. century. The one on the left is probably 1750. Most of the shops had overhanging "pent" roofs to keep the rain off pedestrians (ie everybody) and there were slate "fish stones" on which fish were displayed for sale. Presumably the wet slates helped keep the fish cool. There was a "stocks" or pillory in which wrongdoers would be trapped while people threw unpleasant things at them. A large water-pump was installed next to the obelisk a bit later and another picture in the Ulverston library collection shows an enormous horsedrawn waterbarrel being filled from it.

Here we see someone sticking a poster onto the obelisk which obviously served as the town's notice board. As this excerpt from the Autobiography goes to show:

" ... one in particular I have reason to be proud of, the establishment of a Sunday School. Just after leaving school, in a conversation with a young friend, we lamented that thre was no such thing as a Sunday-School, for the benefit of poor children, and I suggested that we should propose one - but how? There was no newspaper, not even a printing-press. We, however, drew up a plan, and I undertook to stick it up on the Market-cross, the night before market-day. We saw that it excited great attention; it was talked of; a person offered himself to undertake it; and it succeeded so well that, to the Ulverstone Sunday School I and some of my family are [still] at this time [1844] annual subscribers"

So that's what young John is up to in the mural: founding a Sunday School. Not bad for a 13-year old. The curious thing is that his parents, observing he was a remarkably clever lad, wanted him to become a clergyman, but he has quite a lot to say about how he would have hated that life; indeed it's what spurred him on to leave home and get a job in Liverpool, as we shall see in the next instalment.