Tuesday, 29 October 2013

An Anti-Aircraft Gun, A Dog Carving and A Doctor - Market Place, Dalton

Dalton, nestled amongst a valley to the south of the Furness peninsula, may be a small town today but once it was the capital of Furness! The town is rich with a long and vivid history much of which can still be seen today, but scratch the surface and there is a wealth of hidden and forgotten heritage waiting to be found. In this post we will take a look at one part of Dalton, Market Place; the ancient heart of the town!

Sitting on a plateau on the edge of the valley is Market Place, the area where Dalton originates. It is here, around the Church, where the town built up from a, possible, prehistoric settlement to the ancient capital of the area.
The earliest evidence of settlement at Dalton was thought to be found where the Church and graveyard is today. Earth works that used to be visible in the Churchyard before 1850 were excavated at the beginning of the 19th Century.

In the past the earth works were believed to be the remains of a Roman fort built in AD 79 by Agricola as he advanced through Britain. A priest and historian, Father Thomas West, was convinced of this and wrote about it in his book 'Antiquities of Furness' published in 1775. But it was later when a local historian and surgeon, William Close (a man we will talk about later), undertook excavations on the earth works that this theory was proven to be wrong. The excavation provided no positive proof of Roman occupation with no artifacts from the time being found. Today, although all evidence of the earth works have been destroyed, it is believed that the features were evidence of an Iron Age settlement. The site certainly is the perfect place for such a settlement being on a plateau with good views all around and a stream not far away for water.

One of the most prominent features that stands proud on Market Place is, of course, Dalton Castle! The Castle is a small fortified piel tower which was erected by the monks of Furness Abbey as a court house and defensive structure. The Castle dates back to the 14th Century and has gone through many changes in its time. We wont get too much into the Castle and its history in this post, as we might be here awhile, but we will do a dedicated post about it in the future!

In front of the Castle is where the town market, which Market Place takes its name, would have been held. It was in 1239 that a Royal Charter was granted to Dalton giving permission for a weekly market. Although a market has taken place here since then the only evidence that can be seen today is of the Victorian market. Stretching in a half moon shape around the square are the marble slabs, known as fish slabs, once used for the market. These table structures were built in 1869 and are made from marble as the stone stays cool, even in the sun, which makes them perfect for displaying meat, fish and cheeses without them getting warm and going off. Interestingly enough if you look closely at the fish slabs you can find a carving of a dog! It is unclear when this carving was done but it certainly isn't a recent piece of graffiti. We would suggest it dates to somewhere around the 19th - early 20th Century. If anyone reading this has further insight into this please let us know!

At the centre of the market square stands the market cross, a feature that has undoubtedly been present in some shape or form since Medieval times. The first cross erected on the site would have no doubt been made from wood but it is hard to say when that was and when it was changed to stone. What can be established though is that in the 1700s and into the 1800s the cross was not the familiar cross we see today but was in fact a St. Andrew's cross. But notice in this image (see right) from the mid to late 1800s that the market cross doesn't appear to have any cross at all. You can see the pillar that would support the cross next to the bottom right window of the large building, but there is no cross. The building seen here in front of the Castle is the offices of solicitor Mr. William Butler, built in 1850/1 and later used as the Town Hall. It was in 1869 that the market cross was changed to be the one we see today.

Earlier we spoke of a Dr. William Close, a man who lived in Dalton for 16 years before his death in 1813 at the age of 38. Close spent his early years on Walney where he lived with his family. Later in life he studied at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and on obtaining his diploma in 1797 he immediately began medical and surgical practice at Dalton. As well as being a Doctor and surgeon Close was a keen historian, archaeologist, musician and artist. He also enjoyed physics and general literature. Close is noted as inventing an 'Engine for raising water by the lateral Communication of Motion' which was used in mines. In 1799, within years of Jenner's discovery of vaccination to prevent smallpox, Close introduced inoculation to the Furness Peninsula. He took up a residence at Rampside and made it so all the children of the lower classes could be inoculated at his expense. Doing this he not only confirmed the efficacy of the newly discovered vaccination but he also freed the area of smallpox within five years! A remarkable man who undertook so much in his short life that he is worth recognition. You can find the house in which he lived on Market Place behind the castle Chinese, marked with a blue plaque.

An interesting fact that many may not know about Market Place is that once, between the Castle and the now Chinese takeaway, there was a field gun and an anti aircraft gun! These guns were captured from the Germans in World War 1 and were brought here as mementos. These guns are no longer here and where exactly they went is hard to say but one can assume they were taken for scrap metal during World War 2.

Market Place in Dalton has a fascinating and rich history dating back thousands of years. There is so much to discover here that we have only just scratched the surface in this blog but we hope we have enlightened you to something you didn't know before. Why not take the time to go for a wander around Market Place and enjoy the visible heritage that still remains?

Interesting Old Images and Drawings of Market Place:

Images of Market Place Today:


  1. really interesting-some places to go and visit looking on with a refreshed eye!

  2. Enjoyed reading this. It's always good to learn something about the town you live in.

  3. I write a blog about cast iron drinking fountains and would like permission to use two photos of the drinking fountain in Dalton Furness blogged on Oct 29, 2013. I will, of course, credit and link back to your site. You can view my blog at http://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com


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