Wigan Pier on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal
|Postcode:||WN1-3, WN5-6, WN8|
It is asserted that the Roman settlement of Coccium was established where Wigan lies. Wigan was incorporated as a borough in 1246 by a charter of King Henry III. At the end of the Middle Ages it was one of only four chartered boroughs in Lancashire: Wigan, Lancaster, Liverpool, and Preston.
During the Industrial Revolution Wigan experienced dramatic economic expansion and a rapid rise in the population. Although porcelain manufacture and clock making had been major industries in the town, Wigan subsequently became known as a major mill town and coal mining district. The first coal mine was established at Wigan in 1450 and at its peak there were 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre. Mining was so extensive that one town councillor remarked that "a coal mine in the backyard was not uncommon in Wigan". Coal mining ceased during the latter part of the 20th century.
Wigan Pier, a wharf on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, was made famous by the writer George Orwell. In his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell highlighted the poor working and living conditions of the local inhabitants during the 1930s. Following the decline of industrial activities in the region, Wigan Pier's collection of warehouses and wharfs became a local heritage centre and cultural quarter. The DW Stadium is home to both Wigan Athletic Football Club and Wigan Warriors Rugby League Football Club, teams both in the top-flight national leagues of their sport.
The name Wigan has been dated to at least the 7th century and probably originally meant a "village" or "settlement", though all sorts of other suggestions have been made. The name of the town has been recorded variously as Wigan in 1199, Wygayn in 1240, and Wygan in numerous historical documents.
There is very little evidence of prehistoric activity in the area though a few Celtic place-names in the area around Wigan, such as Bryn, indicate the British language of the Iron Age. The late 2nd-century Antonine Itinerary mentions a Roman settlement called Coccium 17 miles from the Roman fort at Manchester (Mamucium) and 20 miles from the fort at Ribchester (Bremetennacum). Although the distances are slightly out, it has been assumed that Coccium is Roman Wigan. Possible derivations of Coccium include from the Latin coccum, meaning "scarlet in colour, scarlet cloth", or from cocus, meaning "cook".
Roman finds from Wigan include coins, a Mithraic temple beneath the parish church, possible evidence for the remains of a Roman fort at Ship Yard, and what is most likely a mansio – effectively a Roman hotel – with its own hypocaust and bath house. Despite evidence of Roman activity in the area, there is no conclusive evidence of Wigan being the same site as Coccium, and it has been suggested that it could be located at Standish to the north of Wigan.
In the early 10th century there was an influx of Scandinavians, possibly those expelled from Ireland. This can be seen in place names such as Scholes – now a part of Wigan – which derives from the Scandinavian skali meaning "hut". Some street names in Wigan which have apparently Scandinavian origins.
Wigan is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, possibly because it was included in the Neweton barony (now Newton-le-Willows), but it is thought that the church listed as standing in the Manor of Neweton is Wigan's parish church. The current church, All Saints, was built in the 15th century.
Wigan was created a sub-manor out of Neweton and the rectors of the parish church were lords of the manor until the 19th century. Wigan was incorporated as a borough in 1246 by the grant of a charter by King Henry III to John Maunsell, the local church rector and lord of the manor. The borough was later granted another charter in 1257–1258, allowing the lord of the manor to hold a market on every Monday and two annual fairs. Its borough status gave Wigan representation in the Model Parliament from 1295–1306
The Royal Charter allowed taxes to be made on transactions made in the borough by tradesmen and permitted the local burgesses to establish a guild that would regulate trade in the borough. Non-members of the guild were not allowed to do business in the borough without permission from the burgesses. It is thought that when the Charter was reconfirmation in 1350 it was changed, allowing the election of a mayor of Wigan for the first time. Three burgesses were elected to be presented to the lord of the manor who would choose one man to be mayor for a year.
The charter was granted to the lord of the manor, but it caused friction by erecting a borough corporation which could challenge his rights. In 1328 the lord of the manor complained that the burgesses were holding private markets, from which he gained no revenue. In the 16th century Bishop Stanley unsuccessfully challenging the right of the burgesses to hold markets, believing it should be the right of the lord of the manor. In 1583 the corporation attempted to usurp the lord of the manor by laying claim to the lordship on the grounds that they were fulfilling the duties of the lord to improve waste and common land and allowing construction on this land, running courts, and mining coal. A compromise was reached, dividing some power between the two parties. The corporation was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.
Edward II visited Wigan in 1323 in an effort to stabilise the region which had been the source of the Banastre Rebellion in 1315. The King stayed in nearby Upholland Priory and held court in the town over a period of several days.
During the Middle Ages Wigan expanded and prospered and in 1536, antiquarian John Leland described the town, saying "Wigan paved; as big as Warrington and better builded. There is one parish church amid the town. Some merchants, some artificers, some farmers".
Early modern period
In the Civil War, the people of the town were Royalists. James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, who was a prominent and influential Royalist, made Wigan his headquarters, his forces successfully captured Preston but failed in assaults on Manchester and Lancaster and two attempts to capture Bolton. Abandoning attempts to secure Lancashire he then took his forces to the Isle of Man to secure his holdings there. The Earl of Derby was absent when the town fell, despite fortifications built around the town, Wigan was captured by Parliamentarian forces on 1 April 1643, the takeover was complete in two hours and the town was pillaged before the defences were broken down and the Parliamentarians retreated. In 1648, Royalist forces under James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, occupied Wigan after they had been defeated by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Preston. The soldiers looted the town as they retreated to Warrington, and afterwards it experienced pestilence. Cromwell himself described Wigan as "a great and poor town, and very malignant".
The Battle of Wigan Lane was fought on 25 August 1651 during the Third English Civil War, between 1,500 Royalists under the command of James Stanley, Earl of Derby marching to join the King at Worcester and 3,000 of the New Model Army under the command of Colonel Robert Lilburne hunting them. Robert Lilburne arrived at Wigan to find the Royalists in the process of leaving to march towards Manchester but with his force consisting mostly of cavalry recognised it would be dangerous to engage in the narrow lanes and decided to wait for his foot to arrive and flank the town. The Royalists seeing an opportunity to engage the divided force turned around to engage but Lilburne decided to hold his ground deploying cavalry on Wigan Lane and infantry in the hedgerows to the sides, The Royalists made several charges but after two hours were unable to break the Parliamentarian line and were forced to flee after being overwhelmed by superior numbers. Although Stanley was injured he managed to find refuge in the town. David Craine states, "those who did not fall in the fighting [were] hunted to their death through the countryside". A monument on Wigan Lane marks the place where Sir Thomas Tyldesley a Major General commanding the Royalist troops fell; it was erected 28 years after the battle in 1679 by Alexander Rigby, Tyldsley's standard bearer.
Wigan was described by Celia Fiennes, a traveller, in 1698 as "a pretty market town built of stone and brick". In 1720, the moot hall was rebuilt, funded by the member of the borough. It was used as the town hall and the earliest reference to it dates from the 15th century. The hall was rebuilt in 1829 but demolished in 1869.
Wigan's status as a centre for coal production, engineering and textiles in the 18th century led to the Douglas Navigation in the 1740s, the canalisation of part of the River Douglas, and later the diversion of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in the 1790s at the request of the mill owners, to transport coal from the Lancashire coal pits to Wigan's mills and was also used extensively to transport local produce. As a mill town, Wigan was an important centre of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, but it was not until the 1800s that cotton factories began to spread into the town. This was due to a dearth of fast-flowing streams and rivers in the area, but by 1818 there were eight cotton mills in the Wallgate part of Wigan. In 1818 William Woods introduced the first power looms to the Wigan cotton mills. These mills swiftly became infamous for their dangerous and unbearable conditions, low pay and use of child labour. As well as being a mill town, Wigan was also an important centre for coal production. It was recorded that in 1854 there were 54 collieries in and around the town, about a sixth of all collieries in Lancashire.
In the 1830s Wigan became one of the first towns in Britain to be served by a railway; the line had connections to Preston and the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. Wigan began to dominate as a cotton town in the late 19th century, and this lasted until the mid-20th century. In 1911 the town was described as an "industrial town ... occupying the greater part of the township, whilst its collieries, factories ... fill the atmosphere with smoke". After the Second World War there was a boom followed by a slump from which Wigan's textile industry did not recover. While the town's cotton and coal industries declined in the 20th century, the engineering industry did not go into recession. The last working cotton mill, May Mill, closed in 1980.
In 1937, Wigan was prominently featured in George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier which dealt, in large part, with the living conditions of Britain's working poor. Some have embraced the Orwellian link, as it has provided the area with a modest tourist base over the years. Others regard this connection as disappointing, considering it an insinuation that Wigan is no better now than it was at the time of Orwell's writing.
The Grand Arcade shopping centre was opened on 22 March 2007. The area around the pier is being developed, undergoing a 10-year project rebranding the area as the "Wigan Pier Quarter". Trencherfield Mill, at the centre of the pier development, will be refurbished and used to house a hotel, a restaurant, a café, shops, and 200 apartments. The Wigan Life Centre south building opened on 19 September 2011 housing office accommodation for Wigan Council, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust and NHS Ashton, Leigh and Wigan and a swimming pool and fitness suite. The north building will open in 2012. Plans for the 18-storey "Tower Grand" were suspended in 2008 due to a slump in the residential homes market. Galleries Shopping Centre houses shops as well as an indoor market.
The former Westwood power station site which was transformed recently into the Westwood Park business park and features a large amount of Wigan MBC office space will be further transformed by the creation of a 55-acre textiles centre in co-operation with the Chinese state owned trading company Chinamex at a cost of £125M. Up to 1,000,000 square feet of manufacturing and research space will be created along with an estimated 1,000 jobs. Chinamex, which represents 70% of the Chinese textiles industry and has 6,300 member companies, will in addition offer space in the development to member companies for up to two years at a time to allow the establishment of a British subsidiary before moving on to dedicated premises.
The Tote chain of bookmakers has its headquarters in Wigan, providing about 300 jobs in the town. H J Heinz are amongst the largest food manufacturers in Europe. Their 550-acre site in Wigan is the largest food processing facility in Europe. JJB Sports, a nationwide sports clothing retailer, was founded in Wigan as a sports shop by John Jarvis Broughton (later JJ Bradburn) and was bought and expanded by businessman Dave Whelan. Girobank is also based in the town. William Santus & Co. Ltd, confectioner and producer of Uncle Joe's Mint Balls, is based in Wigan.
Sights of the town
Wigan's long history is reflected in its 216 listed buildings, of which are 20 Grade II*.
Mab's Cross is the only Scheduled Monument in the town and is listed Grade II*. It is a mediæval stone cross that probably dates from the 13th century. There is a legend surrounding the cross that Lady Mabel Bradshaw, wife of Sir William Bradshaw, did penance by walking from her home, Haigh Hall, to the cross once a week barefoot for committing bigamy. There is no evidence of the legend though and no record that Lady Mabel was married to anyone other than Sir William Bradshaw.
Haigh Hall was built in 1827–1840 on the site of a mediæval manor house of the same name, which was demolished in 1820. The hall is surrounded by a 250-acre country park, featuring areas of woodland and parkland.
Wigan Town Hall is a Grade-II listed building.
Mesnes Park was opened in 1878; McClean was chosen to design the park through a competition. There is a pavilion in the centre and a lake. Millions of pounds are being spent restoring the park and its pavilion and grandstand. The park is 30 acres.
Wigan's war memorial was unveiled in 1925. Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott and funded through public donations, the monument is now a Grade II* listed building. There is also a memorial on Wigan Lane which marks the site where Sir Thomas Tyldesley died in 1651 at the Battle of Wigan Lane.
The Museum of Wigan Life (formerly Wigan Central Library) opened in 1878.
The Wigan Pier Quarter is at the heart of a 10-year regeneration programme that began in 2006 to revitalise the area.
Trencherfield Mill, part of Wigan's industrial heritage, was built in 1907 and is a Grade-II listed building.
Wigan is home to the annual World Pie Eating Championship, usually held at Harry's Bar on Wallgate. The competition has been held since 1992, and in 2007 a vegetarian option was added.
Wiganers are sometimes referred to as "pie-eaters". The name is said by some to date from the 1926 General Strike, when Wigan miners were starved back to work before their counterparts in surrounding towns and so were forced to metaphorically eat "humble pie". Either that or it is the townsfolk's well known love of pies.
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