Walk 104: Wigan City Walk: The Road to Wigan Pie(r)

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.91 miles (3.08 km)

Time to walk: This is a walk, stop, have a good look, type of walk that took us roughly 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Flat & all on hard pavements

Parking: Plenty of cheap reasonable town centre parks

Public toilets: Cafes etc all around

Map of the route: 

We were working in Wigan in November 2017 &, as the region had seen heavy rainfall, were looking for a hard path walk. Luckily we came across a couple of town walks in Wigan itself known as the ‘Town Trails’ & have combined these into one compact stroll

Wigan lies 16 miles northwest of Manchester in Lancashire. It was historically run by the Brigantes, an ancient Celtic tribe that ruled much of what is now northern England. The Roman settlement of Coccium was established where Wigan now lies. Wigan is believed to have been incorporated as a borough in 1246 following the issue of a charter by King Henry III. At the end of the Middle Ages it was one of four boroughs in Lancashire established by Royal charter

During the Industrial Revolution Wigan experienced dramatic economic expansion & a rapid rise in population. Although porcelain manufacture & clock making had been major industries, Wigan became known as a major mill town & coal mining district. A coal mine was recorded in 1450 &, at its peak, there were 1000 pit shafts within 5 miles of the town centre. Mining was so extensive that a 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 & Liverpool Canal, was made famous by the writer George Orwell – we’ll visit this on our walk. In his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell highlighted the poor working & living conditions of the inhabitants during the 1930s

We’ll look at more of the history as we go so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Whenever we visit a new town we always look if it has a market & Wigan most certainly has – both an indoor & outdoor one. So this walk starts outside the indoor market. We’ll venture inside at the end…

…but in the meantime walk down the left side of it to the junction with Standishgate

2. Turn left into Standishgate & stand outside McDonalds. Standishgate used to be the main north – south route through the town in 1894 when there were many pubs along here. Look over the road at the large red building which was once the Roebuck Inn which dated back to the early 1800s

3. Walk back & cross over the junction continuing up Standishgate. The first thing that strikes us about Wigan town centre is it’s one of those places where you look up because the buildings are very pretty

On the right’s the Royal Arcade. Built in 1899, this is one of many such arcades in the town. It’s a really attractive place & deserves to be filled with individual shops

4. This early part of the town reminds us somewhat of the look of Chester, but the building that houses Marks & Spencer‘s is completely different…

This was built in the 1930’s & has more of a Jacobean look to it. Marks & Spencer have been linked to Wigan for a long time. Michael Marks, who owned penny bazaars, moved from Leeds to Wigan & built a warehouse in Great George Street in 1892. The M & S partnership was founded in 1894 & Wigan was the headquarters until 1897. We’ve already seen the Market Hall & it was here that M & S ran stalls until 1907

5. Continue up Standishgate where the buildings become even prettier, many with Tudor style timbers. Unfortunately they don’t date back to Tudor times as many are just fronts that were put on in the 1920s

The largest one is The Galleries…

6. In the middle of all this wood’s the rather French style Nat West Bank. The original bankers here in 1792 were Thomas Woodcock, Sons & Eckersley which then changed to Parr’s Bank &, in 1847 became known as Wigan Bank

Slightly further along on the corner of Station Road’s WH Smith

This facade dates back to 1925 & prior to that was a hotel called The Royal, along with an inn called The Eagle & Child, which was Wigan’s oldest public house & dated back to around 1619

7. It really is a clash of styles as the building on the other side of Station Road wouldn’t be out of place in Holland with its Dutch gables & mouldings

Now opposite across Standishgate we move on to Art Deco!! This is the rather flamboyant Makinson Arcade which dates back to 1897, although the spectacular canopy was added in 1996

Go inside, it’s most attractive

8. Make a slight detail on the left up Millgate & stop outside the old Ship Hotel, which then became a Yate’s Wine Lodge

Wigan’s cattle market used to be held in a yard at the side of the hotel. Once more we see the influence of the Dutch style gables

9. Keep walking towards the Market Place where the building occupied by Santander isn’t an original. It was rebuilt in 1982 as a brick faced property

In 1991 it was decided to change it again to mix in with the other properties that we see today. Many years ago it was the site of the Old Dog Inn & nearby was also the town’s fish market

10. Finally we arrive at Market Place…

…which is dominated by the church which we’ll see shortly. In the meantime turn left up the narrow Cooper’s Row

Look down at your feet in the alley to see an original coal hole cover where merchants used to deliver their coal

11. As the alley opens up on the right’s the John Bull Chophouse which was originally three 17th century cottages

The pub dates back over 500 years & is now a real ale drinkers paradise, offering over 17 real ales. Continue straight up the hill to reach The Wiend

The large structure ahead is an 18ft sculpture dubbed the ‘Face of Wigan’, which has been hailed as the town’s answer to the famous Angel of the North statue. The enormous sculpture is made from hundreds of steel panels welded together by artist Rick Kirby

His design was selected by shoppers in Wigan who were asked to vote on five proposed designs by artists from around the country. Mr Kirby said he had had no model for the enormous face, but was inspired by traditional public statues. The £80,000 artwork was funded by the developers of a new shopping centre

12. The glass building straight ahead is the Wiend Life Centre which houses the council offices.

Wigan is famous for its Wigan Warriors Rugby League team & there’s a statue of one of its heroes here…

This is William John “Billy” Boston MBE (born 6 August 1934) who played as a winger or centre. Born in Cardiff, Wales, Boston started his career as a rugby union player before joining Wigan in 1953. He spent the next 15 years at Wigan, where he scored a club record 478 tries in his 488 appearances for the club. He finished his career at Blackpool Borough before retiring in 1970. He also represented Great Britain in 31 Test matches & was part of the team that won the 1960 Rugby League World Cup.

Regarded as one of the sport’s greatest ever players, Boston scored a total of 571 tries in his career, making him the second highest try scorer in rugby league history. He is an original inductee of the British Rugby League Hall of Fame, Welsh Sports Hall of Fame & Wigan Warriors Hall of Fame, & was awarded an MBE in 1986

13. Turn round & head back down the left narrow side of The Wiend…

This is a medieval street , but many of these properties are 17th century. It’s most impressive with specialist shops. It used to contain a dentist, hairdresser & umbrella maker. What a lovely little street

In 1848 one Thomas Beecham stayed in this street & it was here, as a chemist, he made his famous pills

14. At the end we reach the Market Place once more. Stand facing the church. The red building was once Voses (United Cow Products) Tripe restaurant which was there for about 50 years from 1925

To the left, on the corner of the Wiend, once stood the Cross Keys Hotel

All of the town’s four main streets led to where we stand now & markets were held every Monday. Once also here was the market cross, town stocks & a whipping post. Bear baiting also took place here

Market Place was also known for the number of pubs it had..12 in 1634. It was also served by the town’s trams, which sadly no longer run

15. Walk to the left & look at the narrow alley that heads towards the church

The building on the left in the above picture is the Moot Hall. The original building stood here in the 1400s

Look behind…the impressive building with the dome looks almost Italian

16. Head through narrow Church Gates…

We love walking down secret passages that suddenly open up into expected spaces & at the end is a beautiful area that contains the church & an extremely large War Memorial

17. The church is the Parish Church of All Saints which is first referenced in 1199, but it’s not exactly sure when it was founded

Walk alongside the church…

Around the other side you get a much better view of the building

18. Pass through the stone arch nearby…

…where on the right’s a small stone building. The Bluecoat School was the first church school in Wigan built in 1773. It has had a chequered history, being a Police Garage during the war & also a home for Social Services furniture. It was given back to church in the early 80’s & is used for coffee & meetings after services

The inside of the building is probably the oldest part of Wigan, a Tudor house frame, was found when buildings were demolished at the bottom of Standishgate. The borough didn’t want it so the then Rector Canon Forrest a founder member of the Civic Trust had it placed in the school

19. Walk back & along Church Gardens which were originally part of the graveyard…

Look across to the impressive red building on the right which used to be the Magistrates’ Courts. Today it’s a not for profit arts centre promoting the best in arts & culture in the Wigan Borough. It was also known as Gerrard Winstanley House, a local lad who moved to London as a cloth merchant in the 1600s

He became a political activist & published “The Law of Freedom” &, in 1649, founded the ‘Digger Movement’  which cultivated common land as a means of making the earth a ‘common treasury’. He is widely acknowledged as being the father of both Socialism & Communism

20. Walk back to the war memorial & turn right down the narrow passage which opens up into Wallgate

Turn immediately right to see the Dog & Partridge pub which used to be called the Bees Knees. It’s now reverted to its original name

Look down the narrow alley to the side. At the end is the brewery so the beer didn’t have far to come!

21. Next door’s the Post Office which dates back to 1884 & was built with sandstone brought in from Liverpool. The space in front of the Post Office & pub used to contain the town well & stocks

Over the street’s The Berkeley, which was formerly called the Minorca Hotel & was a Georgian style coaching inn

Opposite is a bar that was plainly, obviously a bank. It was Walters, Barker & Ellis in 1866 & built in an Italian style

22. Turn round & walk back up Wallgate, stopping at the Art Deco frontage of the shop on the left

It doesn’t look anything from across the road, but have a closer look to see the 1930s designs

23. Over the road’s another of Wigan’s pubs, The Raven which was built in 1904…

Look up at the top of the building at the rounded top which is in an Edwardian Baroque style. The pub wasn’t open when we did this walk, but apparently the bar is full of art nouveau tiles & glass, with small rooms that are typical of Victorian & Edwardian public houses of the time

24. At the corner turn right down the impressive Library Street which has kept its Edwardian grandeur, & is enhanced by the way it sweeps downhill

It was finished in 1905 & linked Market Place with the Library, Borough Courts & Town Hall. About halfway down on the right’s Barrack Square which leads to Wigan’s late Victorian warehouse quarter, many of which were occupied by corn merchants

A Cloth Hall was opened here in 1784, but this was converted to 45 cottages in 1840

25. Back over Library Street’s the terracotta coloured Prudential Building which was built at the end of the 1800s. Once again you can see the Dutch influence of the gables which we’ve seen on other Wigan buildings. There’s more art nouveau evidence, with the sign over the door

26. Continue down to the Town Hall…

Wigan Town Hall is acknowledged as the town’s grandest building

The Town Hall continued in use until 1990, when the council moved its staff to the new Civic Centre, formerly the home of the Wigan Mining & Technical College, which was the second oldest School of Mines in the UK. The area was known for its coal mining industry with over 1000 mine shafts being sunk within 5 miles of the town centre

Coal was taken via the Leeds & Liverpool canal & later by rail to power factories & to heat homes in the region & also nationally. Coal from Wigan helped to power the industrial revolution. Lives for local families revolved around the mining industry, with men & boys from the same family working underground while girls & women worked on the surface. They worked long hours, confronting danger & health problems on a daily basis

27. At the bottom of the hill is a large modern building which is Wigan’s International Swimming Pool…

…& one of the first Olympic standard swimming pools in this country. As proof of the mine shafts that exist near the town centre, a digger disappeared down one when the pool was being constructed!

28. Back across Library Street’s the sign on the building says Wigan Free Library, however the building now houses the Museum of Wigan Life. The building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse & opened in 1878 as the town’s first public library. Its construction, on the site of Wigan Grammar School, was funded by mill owner Thomas Taylor & Dr Joseph Winnard, who each bequeathed £12,000. Dr Winnard’s donation paid for the library’s books, & portraits of the benefactors remain on display at the museum

 

In 1990, due to increasing need for space, the library was relocated to the Town Hall & in 1992, the newly formed Wigan Heritage Services opened the History Shop in the old library with the intention of hosting exhibitions & the Wigan local history collection, parish registers & census returns. The History Shop was closed in 2009 for a £1.6million refurbishment, & reopened as the Museum of Wigan Life

29. At the bottom of Library Street turn right & then right again to head up parallel King Street

King Street was built in 1791 to replace Faggy Lane. It was meant to be a high class residential & commercial area, but it also became the centre for entertainment as we’ll see shortly

30. There are many different building designs up this street, including No.47 which has the look of a grand Italian Palace, with its columns & triangles

The building has had several uses over the years, including the Wigan Dispensary & then the Wigan Savings Bank

31. Next up’s one of those old entertainment centres…the Royal Court Theatre

The theatre was built in the late 1800s, at a cost of £18,000 & costing 5000 people. Slightly further up the hill’s the County Playhouse, construction of which began in 1916, however, due to a shortage of materials & labour during World War I, it was not completed until 1919. The cinema opened on 22nd December 1919 with “The Peril Within”, starring Dorothy Gish. The first ‘talkie’ was the highly acclaimed “Broadway Melody of 1929” with Bessie Love & Charles King

A 2Manual Christie organ was installed in 1930 & the cinema became host to many distinguished organists over the years. A major fire in 1949 almost destroyed the County Playhouse, but owners Eagle Picturedromes carried out a complete refurbishment in record time. Further alterations in 1954 prepared the cinema for the wide-screen era.

It closed on Sunday 13th November 1966 with Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” & was taken over by the Leeds Based Star Cinemas chain & they converted it into Star Bingo & Social Club. Since then it has since been used as a discount store & nightclub

32. Walk to the top of King Street…

…where straight ahead’s the striking Clarence Hotel. This late Victorian period property is now Harry’s Bar & is the venue for the World Pie Eating Championships

33. Turn left & walk down the wider Wallgate towards the railway bridge in the distance…

…passing Wallgate Station which is one of two railway stations serving the town. The station serves 2 routes, the Manchester-Southport Line & the Manchester-Kirkby Line

Just past the station’s the Victoria Hotel…

The Hotel was built in 1894. Have a closer look as it’s very decorative with several interesting markings

34. On the other side of the road’s the more modern North Western Railway Station. The station is named North Western, not because it is situated in the north west of the town, but because it was at one point operated by the London & North Western Railway. It later became part of the West Coast line between London & Scotland

Opposite the station is the imposing Tower Buildings, built in 1898. We found it hard to find much history about the building, but today much of it appears to have been converted into flats

At the end of Tower Buildings, just before the bridge is the Swan & Railway Hotel, noted again for its art nouveau decor & impressive interior

35. It’s time to do something a bit famous & take ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. Walk under the railway bridge & head straight down the busy dual carriageway

The Road to Wigan Pier is a book by the British writer George Orwell, first published in 1937. The first half of this work documents his sociological investigations of the bleak living conditions among the working class in Lancashire & Yorkshire in the industrial north of England before World War II. The second half is a long essay on his middle class upbringing, & the development of his political conscience, questioning British attitudes towards socialism. Orwell states plainly that he himself is in favour of socialism, but feels it necessary to point out reasons why many people who would benefit from socialism, & should logically support it, are in practice likely to be strong opponents

The book grapples, “with the social & historical reality of Depression suffering in the north of England”

36. The large factory on the left’s Trencherfield Mill

Trencherfield Mill is a former cotton spinning mill standing on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, built in 1907. It was taken over by the Lancashire Cotton Corporation in the 1930s & passed to Courtaulds in 1964. It was driven by a 2,500 hp triple expansion four cylinder engine built by J & E Wood of Bolton in 1907. The two halves of the engine were called Rina & Helen. They drove a 26 foot flywheel with 54 ropes at 68 rpm. The engine was stopped in 1968 & the mill is now part of the Wigan Pier redevelopment area

37. We arrive at Wigan Pier which is the name given today to the area around the canal at the bottom of the Wigan flight of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

The original “pier” at Wigan was a coal loading staithe, probably a wooden jetty, where wagons from a nearby colliery were unloaded into waiting barges on the canal. The original wooden pier is believed to have been demolished in 1929, with the iron from the tippler (a mechanism for tipping coal into the barges) being sold as scrap

A telling of the origin of what really was ‘Wigan Pier’ goes that in 1891, an excursion train to Southport got delayed on the outskirts of Wigan not long after leaving Wallgate Station. At that time a long wooden gantry or trestle carried a mineral line from Lamb & Moore’s Newtown Colliery on Scot Lane, to their Meadows Colliery in Frog Lane (where the Council refuse centre is now). This gantry was quite a structure, as it had to span the Douglas valley, crossing the river, the canal & the main rail line to Southport. As the delayed train waited for the signals to change, one of the travellers remarked “where the b… hell are we?” & the reply became the basis for the immortal joke about Wigan’s Pier

George Formby, Sr. perpetuated the joke around the turn of the century in the music halls in Wigan, adding that when he passed the Pier he noticed the tide was in (referring to the constant flooding in the low-lying area). George died in February 1921, & with the demise of the collieries in the area, the gantry had long passed out of existence. Therefore when people looked for the Pier, the tippler for coal wagons at the canal terminus became the chosen object of the joke. The tippler became the favoured location when people subsequently wanted to see it. There are references to it in songs such as George Formby Junior’s “On the Wigan Boat Express”

No.1 Wigan Pier is the old terminal building

38. We retrace our steps back up to Wallgate Station & turn left just after it down King Street West…

Near the junction with Clarence Yard stood one of Wigan’s town centre collieries, Chapel Colliery & King Coal & Cannel Pit. Cannel coal was popular back in Roman times & was exported to America in the 17t century. Cannel coal is brown to black oil shale & is derived from resins, spores, waxes, & cutinaceous & corky materials of terrestrial vascular plants. It accumulated in ponds & shallow lakes in peat-forming swamps & bogs of the Carboniferous age under oxygen-deficient conditions. Cannel coal typically contains much less fixed carbon than bituminous coal

39. The rather grandeur building slightly further along dates from 1893 & was built originally by the Liberal Party as the Wigan Reform Club. A competition was held to choose the design & architect for the building & the 2nd place design by Heaton & Ralph was the one which was eventually constructed. It was designed in a rich Flemish Renaissance style

The corner of Crawford Street’s is the bottom end of the street we stood at earlier by the church which contains the Magistrates’ Court. The building at this end on the right is the old Crown Court

Straight ahead at the end of King Street West is the massive, former Co-op Clothing Factory which was built to employ girls made redundant as a result of the cotton famine in the 1860s. Unfortunately the Co-op closed in 1993 & the building stayed empty for some years, however it’s now a mixture of residential properties & a business centre

40. If you fancy something ‘sweet’ turn left & walk down the hill & round the corner to arrive at a Wigan institution – Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls

Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls have been produced by WM Santus & Co. Ltd since 1898. The ingredients are: pure cane sugar, oil of peppermint & cream of tartar. The early mint balls were made by William Santus’ wife, Ellen, before production moved to the factory

The packaging, usually a sealed can, describes its contents as “pure & good”, & “They keep you all aglow” & carries a picture of the mascot, a smiling man in a top hat

British singer/songwriter & humorist Mike Harding has a song called “Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls” on his 1975 album Mrs Ardin’s Kid. It also appeared as the B side to his 1975 single “My Brother Sylvester”. Wigan Warriors have a version of the song celebrating some of its legendary rugby players of the 1950s & 60s such as Billy Boston, Brian McTigue & Eric Ashton that plays before some of its home games at the DW Stadium

On 16 February 2011, WM Santus’ factory produced the two billionth Uncle Joe’s Mint Ball, which was encased in resin & placed on display at the Museum of Wigan Life

41. Walk back up past the Co-op Factory past the somewhat dilapidated Grand Hotel…

This was a former Temperance hotel & has now been derelict for some time & was the subject of an arson attack in 2016

Over the road, on the Telephone Exchange wall, is a plaque which commemorates Walmesley House which was built by John Walmesley in the 17th century. Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the night here during his retreat after the Jacobites failed to take the English Crown at Derby

The following night, the man in pursuit of him, the Duke of Cumberland also spent the night here

42. As the road bends sharply to the left look straight down the hill…

This is part of Hallgate which was one of Wigan’s medieval streets that linked the Wigan Hall with the church & Market Place. The gatehouse can be seen at the bottom

43. Our route though is to the right down the other, much narrower part of Hallgate…

…& at the end turn left down Market Street

44. The impressive building on the left’s the Queen’s Hall Methodist Mission. In the early 20th century, the social context of Wigan was that of poverty & deprivation & many people were in great need of moral & spiritual guidance. In 1902 Rev WA Harrison was chosen as the minister & he started the church in the open air & it then moved to its first home in School Lane Hall

As the congregation grew The Hippodrome was used & in less than two years the church had a congregation of over 600 names. The present building opened in 1908 with seating for 2000 people

45. Turn right under the arches into The Galleries shopping centre…

The arch leads into Wigan Square which contains Wigan’s Open Market with its many levels & a clock tower that contains a bell tower that looks like the one in St Marks Square Venice

46. Walk through the gap at the side of the tower that is Hindley Walk. On the left is one of the entrances into the place where we started this walk – Wigan Indoor Market & it’s now time to have a look around

There’s been markets in Wigan for many years & the Indoor one here opened in 1988 with over 100 stalls. There were some superb food stalls (including pies!)

It had been a bitterly cold early morning walk & we were in need of something hot & satisfying. The biggest queue was around a stall selling hot roast meats with all the trimmings. Many pensioners were buying great nourishing roast dinner takeaways

The biggest seller by far was a large Yorkshire Pudding that was filled with a meat & veg of your choice & then folded & dipped in gravy – the best hand-held food ever & all for £3!

So, suitably nourished that’s the end of our early stroll looking at the town of Wigan. When we told some locals we were doing this walk they said there would be nothing to see & how run down the town was

From an outsider’s view, Wigan is no more run down than any other town in today’s climate &, if you look up, the old buildings are quite beautiful. Much has been made of the Pier & the history surrounding it & certainly more could be done here. Not every town has markets like Wigan’s & the locals should be proud of its heritage

So our view is we really liked it & if you’re in the area it’s well worth a visit so…

Go Walk!