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Birkett Memorial  - How the Lake Was Saved

“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.

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.

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


BIRKETT MEMORIAL- GRID REF - NY 467 242

Alasdair Meek & Pip Hall at the Birkett Memorial Photo Credit © Miles MacInnes William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett   © National Portrait Gallery, London Birkett Plaque Inauguration - Left to right: Pip Hall, Lord Richard Inglewood, Tom Birkett, Miles MacInnes. Photo Credit © Anne Clarke Ullswater Way

William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett   © National Portrait Gallery, London


Inauguration of the Birkett Memorial

The Birkett Memorial was inaugurated on 29th August 2017 in the presence of descendants of the founding members of the Ullswater Preservation Society, including Tom Birkett and Lord Richard Inglewood. Miles MacInnes, whose father Gurney was also a founding member, thanked United Utilities for their generosity in funding the memorial. He said, “How wonderful it is to be able to meet 55 years on to celebrate the achievements of our parents who, with very little external support, orchestrated the campaign and collected 500,000 names on a petition – and this long before the days of social media.” Miles also read this evocative extract from Norman Lord Birkett’s historic speech, “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.”