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Wigan History
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Historical Wigan facts       20th Century Wigan       Clogs in Wigan       Wigan Quiz

HISTORICAL WIGAN FACTS

Wigan is one of the four oldest boroughs in Lancashire, receiving a charter from Henry III in 1246. It is believed to have started life as the Roman garrison town of Coccium.  Some of the town's charters are on  display in Wigan History Shop, a former Victorian library designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the celebrated architect of Manchester town hall and the Natural History Museum.  

Famous Wigan food products include Heinz baked beans, Pataks Indian foods, Potters herbal remedies, Uncle Joeís Mint Balls, and De Roma ice cream.  

Other well known Wigan firms include Girobank, the Tote, JJB Sports, US glass fibre manufacturers PPG, and carpet firm Milliken. Wigan is also the home of the North West Tourist Board and the Tidy Britain Group.

  Once the centre of the Lancashire coalfield - in the late 1800s there were 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre - Wigan no longer has any collieries. The last pit, Bickershaw, closed in 1992. 

Wigan was a key battle ground during the Civil War in the 17th century, and Cromwellís troops passed through the town twice. The town stayed loyal to the king, and was later rewarded with a ceremonial sword. Until local government reorganisation its motto was ĎAncient and Loyalí.  

The Verve, whose split was announced recently became Wiganís most famous musical export since ... George Formby! The band were all from the Wigan area and met while at Winstanley College, a sixth form centre on the outskirts of town.  

Other notable Wigan bands include the Railway Children and folk-rockers the Tansads. Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra is known the world over, while Andy Prior - dubbed the new Sinatra - owes his success to his formative years with WYJO. Nearby Leigh - part of the borough of Wigan - is the birthplace of Georgie Fame.  

In the 1960s and 70s, Wigan Casino was the spiritual home of ĎNorthern Soulí music, attracting thousands to its famous all-nighters. The casino burnt down in the early 1980s. In the 90s the town gained a reputation as a centre for jazz and now hosts an international jazz festival every summer.  

Well-known Wigan-born figures include entertainers George Formby, Roy Kinnear, Ted Ray and Frank Randle; minersí leader Joe Gormley; and former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Sir James Anderton. Actor Sir Ian McKellen grew up in the town in a house opposite Mesnes Park.  

Contemporary Wiganers of note include Kay Burley of Sky News; DJ, journalist and TV film critic Stuart Maconie; former Hollyoaks actress Davinia Murphy (who played Jude Cuningham), and Coronation Streetís Georgia Taylor (Toyah Battersby) and Eva Pope (barmaid Tanya Pooley). Local MP Ian McCartney is currently a high flier in Tony Blairís New Labour government as Trade Minister.  

Wigan Rugby League FC are the UKís top club side. In 1990/91 they won all the major trophies, and hold the record for the number of successive cup and league wins. In soccer, 2nd division Wigan Athletic are about to move into a new 25,000 seat stadium at the town's Robin Park, which they will share with the Wigan Warriors rugby club.  It has been paid for by...

Wigan Athleticís multi-millionaire chairman Dave Whelan, the boss of JJB Sports, whose phenomenally successful chain of sportswear stores is one of the UKís retailing success stories.

Literary links include George Orwell, whose unflattering portrait of the town at the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier, angered many, and American thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith, whose 1996 novel Rose was set in Victorian Wigan.

For a town with an industrial image, Wiganís countryside is a constant source of amazement to visitors. The borough has three country parks (including Haigh), more Sites of Special Scientific Interest than anywhere else in the region, and a wealth of wildlife and rare plants.

Wigan Pier, once a musical hall joke, has been restored as one of the UKís top heritage attractions, winning 15 national tourism awards for its portrait of local life at the turn of the century.

The name is thought to have first been used by George Formby Senior, a popular local entertainer in his own right. It described not a seaside pier but a small jetty, projecting over the side of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, which was used for tipping coal from railway trucks into barges.

Thomas Beecham first manufactured his famous pills in Wigan. Marks and Spencer was born in Wigan when Michael Marks joined forces with Thomas Spencer in 1894. For three years the town was the firmís headquarters.

In 1698 travel writer Celia Fiennes described Wigan as a Ďpretty market town built of stone and brick.í Almost three hundred years later the American travel writer Bill Bryson wrote: "Such is Wiganís perennially poor reputation that I was truly astounded to find it has a handsome and well-maintained town centre".

Wigan is twinned with the French city of Angers, in the Loire Valley. The two councils exchange Ďambassadressesí every year.

Wigan Metropolitan Borough is the 9th largest Metropolitan district in the country covering 77 square miles. In population terms the Borough is the 12th biggest in the country at around 310,000. Wigan itself has around 90,000 residents.  

Wigan is the most westerly borough in the county of Greater Manchester, lying halfway between Liverpool and Manchester - although most residents still think of themselves as Lancastrians.

Haigh Hall is the ancestral home of the Lindsay family, Earls of Crawford and Balcarres. The present hall was built between 1827 and 1840.

Haigh woodlands were laid out in the 1860s, giving work to unemployed Wiganers during the cotton famine caused by the American civil war. In 1947 the hall and its grounds were bought by the then Wigan Corporation and it is now run by Wigan Councilís leisure services department.

Wigan has one of the countryís most famous swimming clubs - the Wigan Wasps - responsible for training scores of top swimmers, like former Olympic medallist June Croft

And finally.... what's the link between an old-style red telephone box and Wigan's war memorial in the grounds of the Parish Church?  The answer is that they were both designed by the same architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who was also responsible for Liverpool Cathedral).

The 20th Century

1900 Foundation stone laid of Electric Light and Power Station

1900 Foundation stone laid of Wigan Technical College

1900 Turning on of electric current in Wigan

1901 Wigan Corporation Tramways opened for traffic

1902 Tramways purchased by the Corporation

1903 Wigan Mining Technical College opened

1903 Opening of the public Bowling Greens in Mesnes Park

1905 Opening of new tramways office in the Market Place

1906 General Booth visits Wigan

1907 Opening of Carnegie Library, Pemberton

1910 Sir Francis Sharp Powell Statue unveiled in Mesnes Park

1911 Opening of Parish Church grounds to public

1914  Territorial battalion, Manchester Regiment mobilised at Wigan Drill Hall

1915 Foundation stone of Wigan Girls High School laid

1917 Workshops for blind opened in Millgate

1919 Mabs Cross removed from its site during widening of Standishgate

1921 Re-erection of Mabs Cross in the grounds of Wigan Girls High School

1922 Opening of Wigan YMCA

1924 Mesnes Road opened for traffic

1925 Wigan War Memorial unveiled

1930 First Robot traffic signal in Wigan operated at Stadishgate and Mesnes Street crossing

1930 Opening of Wigan Corporation new petrol bus service between Wigan and Ashton

1933 Opening of Wigan,s automatic telephone exchange

1933 Thunderbolt struck house in New Market Street

1934 The King opened the East Lancashire Road

1935 First Belisha Beacon road crossing installed in Wigan

1935 Foundation stone laid of new Grammar School

1936 Broadcast of new Parish Church bells by the BBC

1937 Wigan Christopher Home officially opened

1942 Wigans first British Restaurant opened

1945 King and Queen visit Pagefield Ironworks and the war time nursery at Wigan Rectory

1947 Wigan Corporation bought Haigh Hall/plantations from the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres for £18,000

1952 Wigans first mobile library carrying 2,500 books operated for the first time

1954 Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburugh visited Wigan and officially opened John McCurdy Hall

1956 The Mayor opened the new £46,000 Wigan Water Works

1958 Parbold Bottle destroyed by a gale in 1942 unvielled after restoration by public funds

1964 Wigan Central Station closed

1966 Wigans new Public baths opened

1974 Wigan Metropolitan Borough formed from a union with 14 smaller local authorities

1978 Three Sisters Recreation area opened at Bryn

1979 Ten men killed in an explosion at Gollborne Colliery

1980 Wigan Casino Closed

1980 St Georges Church Wigan gutted by fire

1983 Wigan Hospice accepted its first patients

1984 Wigan Woolworths closed

1986 HM The Queen opened Wigan Pier

1988 Wigan Officially twinned with Angers in France

1989 Westwood Power Station and cooling towers demolished

1989 Gollborne Colliery closed

1991 Princess Diana officially opened The Galleries

1992 Bickershaw Colliery, British Coals last deep mine in Wigan,closed

1993 Amalgamation of the staffs of Observer and Wigan Reporter

1994 Wigan Rugby League win RL Challenge Cup for 7th successive year

 

 CLOGS

Little lads no longer make their clog irons spark because they do not wear them any more. Walter Hurst is the last of the Wigan Clog makers.

A the rear of his shop in the centre of Hindley, Walter the third generation of the business is the first to admit that clog making is a dying art.

A quarter of a century ago there was hundreds of clog makers in the North West. One by one the shops closed as the demand fell away. Walter still makes clogs but the request for working clogs is no more. The ones he makes now are for abroad and dancers. There was an upsurge in business when the medical profession announced that clogs were good for childrenís feet.

The Hurst cloggers was started by Walters grandfather in 1898. After is grandfather started his business in Wigan he moved back to Hindley setting up a small shop opposite to the pub called The Wiganer, witch was a minutes walk from the present one at 4 Wigan Road, Hindley, which was opened 7 years after the end of the first world war.

The main business was clog making were clogs was the essential footwear in industrial Lancashire. In the 1920ís and 30ís Hurstís employed six men making and mending clogs. In those days Hindley had six cotton mills and 16 coal mines so demand was very high.

They made four types of clogs. There were four types of clogs.

The pit clogs. These were clasp fasteners for easy release. These could be easily be slipped of in case the wearer got his foot trapped under a fall of rocks.

The slipper clogs. These were worn by women in the cotton mills. They had a strap and button fastener.

Third was the Gibson or laced clog, popular with housewives which were useful when worn in the kitchen or washhouse

Lastly there was the derby or laced clog which lorry drivers bus drivers and farmers wore.

The main protection for clog soles in the early days was clog irons, which were nailed to the wooden soles. Today they can still have irons fitted but usually they will be rubber.

After the Second World War clog making went into decline, partly due to the stigma of clogs being for poor people and employers insisting that the work force wore steel toe capped boots.

In the 1960ís clogs began to crawl there way back due to the medical announcement that they were good for the feet. In the 1970ís Morris dancing emerged on the public front which again called for the small scale manufacture of clogs. As clog wearing took hold again, orders from abroad arrived at the Hindley shop and soon dancing clogs found there way to America, Canada, South America and other countries.

Some of the dancers wanted fancy clogs with pointed toes and long tongues and brass eyelets on which bells are hung. Also miniature souvenier clogs were sold which came in many different colours, five inches long and are exact replicas of adult clogs.

Sadly the days of working clogs have long gone and will never return. 

Since writing this, Walter Hurst as ceased trading. No more clogs for sale at Hindley. 

 

 

WIGAN QUIZ
  1. Name the Wigan opera star who sang for Hitler and spied for her country
  2. What was George Formbyís wifes name
  3. Which Wigan MPís statue is in Mesnes Park
  4. Which artist painted a view based on Wigan Coal and Iron Works in 1930ís
  5. Which year did Wigan Corporation buy Haigh Hall
  6. Which cinema did the Beatles appear at on 13th Nov 1963
  7. Which famous Wigan entertainer was known as the Wigan Nightingale
  8. In which street is Uncle Joes Mint Ball factory
  9. What year did the Market Hall close
  10. Which year did George Orwell research in Wigan
  11. Name the cafť in the former OLD Arcade
  12. When was the Maypole pit disaster
  13. Which former president of the National Union of Mineworkers was born in Ashton
  14. Name the local Pilgrim Father who sailed on the voyage of discovery
  15. What former Coronation St actress lived at 300 Wigan Lane
  16. Which member of Royal Family visited the Heinz factory at Kit Green
  17. What year was the Hippodrone destroyed by fire
  18. Name the Wigan artist well known for his Rain Figures
  19. Which district the a man live under the floor boards of his council house for seven years, emerging in 1982
  20. Which year did Wigans international swimming pool open
  21. Name Wigans last deep mine which closed in 1992
  22. Who opened Wigan Pier in 1986
  23. What kind of animal was buried on land which later became part of Wigan Cemetery
  24. Which town is George Formby buried
  25. Name the famous rugby league player born in Cardiff who scored 2,859 goals during his 921 games.

ANSWERS

  1. Margery Booth
  2. Beryl
  3. Sir Francis Sharp
  4. L S Lowry
  5. 1947
  6. ABC
  7. George Formby Senior
  8. Dorning St
  9. 1988
  10. 1936
  11. Gorners
  12. 1908
  13. Joe Gormly
  14. Myles Standish
  15. Jennifer Moss
  16. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Ann
  17. 1956
  18. J Lawrence Isherwood
  19. Ince
  20. 1966
  21. Bickershire Colliery
  22. The Queen
  23. A monkey
  24. Warrington
  25. Jim Sullivan