Laurel's Lancashire: Revisiting the comedian's birthplace

 Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy

Since appearing in their first film together in 1921, slapstick duo Laurel and Hardy have been making the world laugh.

From causing chaos as door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen in Big Business, to their side-splitting dance sequence in Way Out West, their escapades never grow old.

And who can forget Hardy’s catchphrase: ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.’

 Stan with his grandmother, and, right, visiting their house with Mark Greenhow

Stan with his grandmother, and, right, visiting their house with Mark Greenhow

This year marks 125 years since the birth of Stan Laurel and 50 since his death - so I revisited his birthplace, Ulverston, in Cumbria.

Known as a jumping-off point en route to the western Lakes District and for its vibrant festivals, this is where the comedian was born before moving to Glasgow.

But the Lancashire lad nearly didn’t make it - he almost died on the night he was born.

Mark Greenhow, owner and curator of the Laurel and Hardy Museum, showed me around his vast collection of memorabilia dedicated to the double act.

 The Laurel and Hardy museum, housed in an old cinema, features a projector playing their films

The Laurel and Hardy museum, housed in an old cinema, features a projector playing their films

Along with countless figurines, letters and photos, it includes a bed taken from Laurel’s grandparents’ house, a five-minute walk away.

Laurel - then known as Arthur Stanley Jefferson - was born in this stone cottage on June 16 1890.

“We like to think this was the bed Stan’s mother gave birth in,” he told me as we approached the iron bedstead, in the corner of the museum.

“He started life as a sickly child. They baptised him the evening of his birth because he wasn’t expected to survive the night.”

 The bed Stan Laurel was born in

The bed Stan Laurel was born in

Laurel lived in Ulverston with his maternal grandparents until he was five, while his parents were away working for the theatre - his father as a manager and his mother as an actress.

He left for boarding school in County Durham, but would often take the train back to visit his grandparents for holidays.

Leaving the museum, I spotted the grinning figures of Stan and Ollie outside Coronation Hall, where they made a famous balcony appearance in 1947.

Graham Ibbeson’s bronze statue of the duo, unveiled in 2009 after ten years of fundraising, is a constant reminder that Ulverston’s most famous son started life here.

 This 2009 statue of Laurel and Hardy was unveiled after a decade of fundraising

This 2009 statue of Laurel and Hardy was unveiled after a decade of fundraising

On June 20, the town will mark the anniversaries with Another Fine Fest, a festival of music, comedy and street theatre.

Many of the streets where the celebrations will take place would still be recognisable to Laurel today.

Market Street - where he used to go shopping with his grandmother - has changed little.

Overlooked by an 1845 clock tower, the cobbled avenue is still lined with independent shops, giving it an old-town feel.

One of these is the family-run grocers and tea room Gillam’s, where a young Laurel would buy his stash of Beer’s Treacle Toffee, made two streets away.

 Gillam's, on Market Street, is where a young Laurel bought his toffees

Gillam's, on Market Street, is where a young Laurel bought his toffees

Doug Gillam now runs the store, set up by his great great grandfather in 1892, and still uses the original brass scales to weigh out organic coffee and loose leaf tea.

An old delivery bike is parked outside, with a shop sign emblazoned across its frame.

This one is just for show, but in Laurel’s day, bicycles laden with toffees and other local produce would have bumped along the cobbles making deliveries.

“Some of my customers who are in their seventies used to be delivery boys,” he said, showing me around the store with its original quarry tiles and exposed stone walls.

 Gillam's still uses the original brass scales, once used to weigh out Stan Laurel's toffees

Gillam's still uses the original brass scales, once used to weigh out Stan Laurel's toffees

“It was hard work riding those bikes. Stan wrote fondly about coming here. People didn’t have much money in those days so buying sweets would have been a treat.”

The adjoining tea room is buzzing, and I ate lunch on a table next to a crackling wood burner from the 1850s, once used to heat a nearby Catholic school.

The menu is vegetarian - and I tucked into a £4.95  ‘bite and a sup’, Lancashire cheese, bread and homemade pickle with a pot of tea.

Afterwards, I strolled to the train station, leaving behind the spire of Holy Trinity Church, where Stan’s parents married in 1884, but is now flats.

 The Lake District, a view that Stan Laurel left behind

The Lake District, a view that Stan Laurel left behind

I headed out of Ulverston towards Lancaster on the same line that Laurel would have taken so often as a schoolboy after a visit to his grandparents.

Perhaps with toffees stuffed in his pockets, he would have passed these rolling meadows with grazing sheep, and Morecambe Bay, shimmering in the sun.

One day Laurel went further still, leaving Ulverston behind for good for the bright lights of Hollywood.

 Mural of Stan Laurel in Ulverston

Mural of Stan Laurel in Ulverston