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market place from rachel on Vimeo.

All Dalton Heritage Trail artworks** including the logo, leaflet, map, signage art, films and photographs are copyrighted to the artist Rachel Capovila and Barrowfull. Permissions are granted for the use of the Dalton Heritage Trail and educational resources relating to the trail ONLY under the administration of DACH. Any other use or reproduction must have permissions from the artist.

**Except where stated and the copyright remains with the named eg photographer or writer.

*Artwork copyright of the artist

Dalton first became a market town in 1239 with the right to an annual fair granted to the town by King Henry III – see the plaque in the little garden next to the castle. Although the charter does not mention a market at that time, in 1292 the right to a weekly market was mentioned as a privilege of the Abbot.

So a market was well established in the town by the thirteenth century and thrived for about two hundred years. This, and the proximity and influence of Furness Abbey, enabled Dalton to become a prosperous market town, indeed the pre-eminent town of the area, hence the title “Ancient Capital of Furness”.

Photo: Market Place – Nicos Nicholaides

However, two events led to its fast decline. Firstly, in 1537 the Abbey was dissolved and so the importance of the area began to diminish as trade had depended so much on the business of the monks. Then, in another hundred years, in 1631 the plague hit the town very hard with well over three hundred people dying, half the population of the town then.  The effect of these disasters combined was to almost destroy Dalton as a market town and soon the central market town of the area transferred to Ulverston which, by the end of the sixteenth century had overtaken Dalton in population – 514 compared to 466.

However, some market stalls did remain and the original Market Place, the oldest part of Dalton, is still home to many fascinating structures that reflect the town’s ancient history. The curved stone slabs once used for drying fish date back to 1869, while the elegant cast-iron drinking fountain with fluted columns was installed in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Photo: Aerial St Mary’s and Castle towards Market Place – Nicos Nicholaides


An old St Andrew’s Cross had stood for centuries in front of the castle but it became neglected and damaged, possibly during the Civil War. It was repaired in 1824 and 1843 and then replaced by the present cross in 1869 at the same time as the fish slabs were built. The old stocks and whipping post were also removed in 1856-9 and, it is said, were used by the vicar for firewood.

Photo: Victorian Drinking Fountain, Market Place – Ron Grierson


An old Victorian photograph shows a largish building in front of the castle; this was the office of a solicitor, William Butler, built in 1850/1and demolished in 1896. Before this, as shown in Cuitt’s drawing of 1817 were a couple of houses raised by large pillars or columns, two of which were used in the solicitor’s office and can be seen today in front of Bank House in Church Street.

In 1873 the Dalton District Local Board [forerunner of the Council] took over Butler’s office and used it until they moved to their new offices in Station Road.

Today, Market Place is used for events such as Christmas carol services and the 2022 Platinum Jubilee Party was a great success.

Photo: Market Place and fish slabs – Ron Creer



Dalton Castle is strictly a Pele tower, a fortified keep built for defence. In this case it was built to defend Furness Abbey monks from the Scots who were invading between 1314 and 1346.

In 1257 there is a documented reference to a prison in Dalton but the present castle, judging by its architectural details, could not have been built this early. Based on its current structure and taking into account the decay and alterations over the past 650 years, it is thought that the castle was built between 1325 and 1350; its construction is similar to many of that period with walls up to six feet thick and its dimensions forty five by thirty feet.

It is possible that the present castle was built to replace one destroyed after the last great raid of 1322 led by Robert the Bruce when much of Furness was devastated. The records of rents paid to the Abbey tell the story: prior to the Scots’ raid, the church at Dalton was taxed at £8 a year but after this was reduced to £2.

Although the role of the castle was originally defensive, since the raids soon ceased, it became a courthouse and prison used by the Abbey to dispense justice. The role of prison [the castle has a dungeon] continued until 1774 and the “Court Leet” was actually held in the castle until 1925. In 1644, during the Civil War, a number of parliamentary prisoners were held in the castle after a skirmish nearby.

The castle has been repaired and refurbished a number of times. In 1546 at the direction of Henry VIII, the castle was repaired at a cost of £20 using materials from Furness Abbey which had been ransacked a few years earlier. The wood was rotting, roof needed re-leading and lime had washed out of the stonework. In 1784 and then again in 1816 more “modernisation” was carried out, then in 1856 one of the floors was removed, the remaining one raised and the staircase at the north end constructed. Further repairs were carried out in the twentieth century, especially after the National Trust took over the title from the Duke of Buccleuch.

Photo: Castle from St Mary’s gates – Ron Grierson


Inside, you enter through the main door into a passage with a staircase facing you. The fireplace in the corridor was probably used to heat the guard room as the one in the main room downstairs is a recent addition. Beneath where the toilets are now is the dungeon with its entrance seen in the floor of the ladies’ toilet. No doubt the entrance would originally have had a grill in the floor and the downstairs room would have been a holding area for prisoners before they were taken either into the tiny dungeon or the courtroom above.

When first built the castle had four floors but two were removed and the new wooden stairs added as an alternative to the stone spiral stairs. On the way up the new staircase you can see carved stone heads by the windows, one head being of a monk and the other believed to be of Christ. The third is a much older, Celtic, head, possibly kept to ward off evil spirits.

The main room at the top would have been the courtroom and now is used as part of a museum with geological artefacts, information regarding the life and works of George Romney and other aspects of Dalton’s history.

The side of the building had, for some years previous to 1856, built up against it two rough-cast gabled houses carried on columns, probably of 18th-century date, the open lower part of which served as a covered market hall. The original aspect of the tower on this side can therefore only be conjectured. The upper part of the wall, however, retains an original pointed window of two trefoiled lights with quatrefoil over which lit the original top floor, and two square-headed lights below. The houses on the south side were pulled down in 1850 and in 1851 their place was taken by a new building, used subsequently down to 1885 by the Dalton Local Board, and in its turn demolished in 1896.

As already mentioned, Dalton Castle is now under the care of the National Trust but the group who keep the museum going and open it to the public is the Friends of Dalton Castle, a purely voluntary group. The castle is generally open on Saturday afternoons in the summer; unfortunately, there are insufficient volunteers to open it more often.

For further information, visit the castle or see the NT page

–, or the Friends’ Facebook page


Dalton Castle (postcard). The building in front of the Castle was erected in 1851 and used as an Attorney’s office. In 1873 it was used as the Town Hall. In 1885 when Dalton Local Board moved to its new premises in Station Road it was used as a church Institute, and later as the Liberal club. It was demolished in 1896 – source Memory Lane, old photos of Furness etc.

The image shows the original ‘Town Hall’ but as you can see from the tender request the Clerk’s Office was at Market Square which I assume is the image. Again is Town Hall correct or should it read Local Board Offices?



William Close was born in 1775 near Cartmel and grew up on Walney Island. At 15 he was apprenticed to a surgeon, Roger Parkinson, in Burton-in-Kendal where he lived until completing his indenture in 1796. He attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School and obtained his Diploma on 18 April 1797. He returned to Furness and began medical and surgical practice at Dalton.

In 1803 he married Isabel Charnock from Newton at Dalton Parish Church and they had two children. He never owned his own house but rode a horse around the peninsula to treat patients. However, according to Harper Gaythorpe, “he found leisure, not only for careful investigation and research into the history, topography and archaeology of Furness, but in the arts of drawing and music . . . and to philosophical experiments [physics] and the various departments of general literature and was an expert shorthand writer”.

In his short time he was involved in many fields of study and produced patents and improvements in several. His areas of work included:
• introducing smallpox inoculation to the area
• mine safety improvements,
• Polyphonian brass musical instruments
• indelible inks
• publishing many works on the local history of the area
• advances in pumps, siphons and other hydraulic engineering challenges

How does one describe a surgeon, apothecary, hydraulic engineer, inventor, antiquarian, musician, artist, author and editor who was also responsible for saving the lives of the children of his village?  However,  ‘a little slender man, very clever, but rather changeable… and one who devoted himself assiduously to his professional duties’  is the only contemporary comment which remains of Dr William Close (1797.

The Furness peninsula at the turn of the 19th century provided an interesting environment for a man with Dr Close’s enquiring mind, and he supervised the medical welfare of a variety of people in that region, including agricultural labourers, miners, and factory workers. Infectious diseases were inevitably rife, and the young were particularly vulnerable, so in 1799, only three years after the development of the vaccine against smallpox, Close inoculated all the poor children of the nearby village of Rampside at his own expense (despite not being a wealthy man).  Within five years, small pox was duly eradicated from the area.

Photo: William Close Cottage – Ron Creer


Another of Close’s achievements was his creation of indelible inks. William Close experimented with various substances to make indelible inks, both black and red. Because the inks available in his day did not produce a permanent written text the ‘testimony of writing’, as he described it, could be lost, erased or defaced by exposure to humidity, or fading, or particularly by the deliberate use of ‘oxigenated muriatic acids’ [hypochlorite bleach]. He wrote that, since the invention of printing, there was less need for indelible ink but that, particularly in the case of individual texts and legal documents, permanent ink was needed to preserve ‘the transactions of the day, and to ratify the affairs of the future’.13

The ink of his time was made by the addition of ferrous sulphate and gum or sugar to an infusion of oak galls. After experimenting with various substances he devised the following recipe for indelible black ink:

‘Take of oil of lavender, 200 grs. copal in power, 25 grs, lamp black from 21⁄2 to 3grs with the assistance of a gentle heat, dissolve the copal in the oil of lavender in a small glass phial, and then mix the lamp black with the solution upon a marble slab . . . put the composition into a bottle, and keep it excluded from the air’.

Close was also interested in the history of his neighbourhood and was keen to record and preserve local landmarks for future generations. He illustrated and supplemented Thomas West’s The Antiquities of Furness(1805) from his house at 2 Castle Street, Dalton in Furness.  The building is now marked by a blue plaque.

Music, in particular the improvement of brass instruments, was another of Close’s passions.  He was clearly a polymath, his interests also ranging from the development of safer types of explosives to land drainage technology.  He also wrote about the ancient church bells and stained glass in Dalton Church, about local villages and their people, about buildings including those of Gleaston, Coniston, Pennington and the two Urswick villages. Close also analysed 250 years of births, deaths and marriages recorded in the Dalton Parish Church registers, with special attention to the plague in Dalton from 1631 to 1632 during which 545 of the 2000 in the parish died.  He gave evidence of his research in the form of detailed letters to journals of various kinds.

During the last 10 years of his life, Close prepared a manuscript entitled Itinerary of Furness and the Environs which, had not the author died so young, would have been as widely known as West’s Guide to the Lakes. The manuscript provides brief information about all the towns and villages within 21 miles of Ulverston, “containing the distances … with notices of County Seats, picturesque scenery and all objects meriting attention … and much information dealing with the manners and customs of the inhabitants; with copies of title deeds and letters of historical significance.” [Gaythorpe]

In 1811, at the height of his powers, he contracted tuberculosis and he died two years later at the age of just 38. He was buried, after his own instructions on Walney where he had played as a boy. He had specified that his grave should have no headstone and his widow burned most of his papers after his death.

It has been considered that Close has never received the recognition that all his achievements deserved, partly because Furness was thought to be too “remote” and partly because he was such a polymath; maybe if he had specialised more he would be more well known.


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Dalton is the ancient and historic capital of Furness and has approximately 8,000 residents at the current time. Ideally located less than thirty miles from the Lake District and close to the Irish Sea coast and nature reserves, Dalton is home to one of the Counties largest tourist attractions, South Lakes Wild Animal Park.