Birkett Memorial - How the Lake was Saved

Grid Reference: NY 467 242

" So small, so lovely, so vulnerable"

The Birkett Memorial in Pooley Bridge remembers the Ullswater Preservation Society and Norman Lord Birkett QC who, in 1962, made a decisive contribution towards saving Ullswater from becoming a reservoir. The memorial is generously sponsored by United Utilities

In the early 1960’s Manchester was facing a serious water shortage. The existing sources, including the reservoirs of Haweswater and Thirlmere, were insufficient to cater for a growing population and increasing industrial demand. As a result, the Corporation Waterworks put forward a number of proposals for taking increased supplies from the Lake District, including Ullswater.  Plans for the lake involved building a weir on the river Eamont at Pooley Bridge, effectively creating a reservoir and increasing the level of the lake by some 3ft (0.9m).   Manchester Corporation promoted a Bill to the 1961/62 Session of Parliament which included these proposals. 

There was an immediate and vociferous public outcry - local residents formed the ‘Ullswater Preservation Society’ and quickly organized a petition of over 500,000 signatures. Public meetings were held under the banner of ‘Hands off Ullswater’.  Local politicians, councils, the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’ and the then Lake District Planning Board all lent their support.

The Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 8 February 1962. Passionate speeches from all sides of the House and most notably by Lord Birkett QC resulted in the approval, by 70 votes to 36, of a motion to exclude Ullswater from the Bill. Lord Birkett’s powerful speech, “deeply felt and eloquent”, is rightly considered one of the finest in modern Parliamentary history and undoubtedly saved the lake “for all people for all time”.

He concluded,  “Thus far and no farther. Go away. Come again another day, if you will. But in the meantime, do that which ought to have been done before. Produce the hydrological data on which the House can come to a proper decision. Until that is done, you have no right whatever to invade the sanctity of a National Park". 

Lord Birkett died of a heart attack a few days later.

In 1965 a revised and much reduced scheme was approved following a Public Enquiry.  Water is now taken from Ullswater by tunnel to Haweswater under strictly controlled conditions which prevent abstraction when water levels fall.  A huge underground pumping station at Parkfoot Holiday Park is largely unnoticed.

William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett by Elliott & Frybromide print, 1951. Purchased, 1996Photographs Collection NPG x86371 ©National Portrait Gallery.

The Making of the Birkett Memorial

The memorial was carved by renowned lettercarver Pip Hall  who has also carved the Poetry Stones in Hallin wood. Stonemason Alasdair Meek helped install it

It is located on land owned by United Utilities near the Ullswater steamers pier in Pooley Bridge.  This disused pumping station is a very popular view point.

The inscription ‘Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice’ is taken from Christopher Wren’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral and translates  ‘If you seek his memorial  - look around you’

It was chosen as being particularly appropriate by Richard, Lord Inglewood, whose father, William Vane MP (later the first Lord Inglewood) was instrumental in ensuring the success of the campaign.

Above: Letter carver Pip Hall (right). Stonemason Alasdair Meek (left)

By Miles MacInnes, whose father, Gurney, was a founding member of the Ullswater Preservation Society.

With thanks to our sponsors and supporters

United Utilities

Richard Inglewood and descendants of the Ullswater Preservation Society

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