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Wigan & Slavery

Wigan & Slavery

From the mid-18th through the mid-19th centuries Wigan and surrounding townships grew rapidly to become a significant hub in the Industrial Revolution that spread across the world. Population in the Wigan area mushroomed on the back of coal, cotton and iron industries, fuelled by private wealth and entrepreneurship.
 

It was construction of the Leeds-Liverpool canal that opened up large-scale coal production in the Wigan area in the 1770s. Local people were influential in constructing the canal, but we see the appearance of rich and powerful ‘foreigners’ from Liverpool and Bradford. John Hustler and Thomas Hardcastle were Bradford wool staplers and merchants and Jonathan Blundell, William Earle and John Hollinshead were Liverpool merchants. All served as members of the Leeds–Liverpool Canal Committee and provided some of the earliest substantial investments to develop waterways, railways and collieries.
 

In 1774 Jonathan Blundell started to mine coal in Orrell and in the 1800s the Blundell family mined coal in Ince, Wigan, Blackrod, Chorley, Winstanley and Pemberton. Coal production at Blundell’s Pemberton Collieries rocketed to a peak of 738,000 tons in 1913, when it was the largest colliery in Lancashire.
 

Over one hundred steam locomotives were built at Haigh Foundry owned by the Earl of Balcarres, including The Walking Horse in 1812 and two more steam locomotives by 1816. The Walking Horse, operating on John Clarke’s Winstanley and Orrell colliery railway, was the third commercially successful steam locomotive in the world and the first to cross a viaduct. The Earl’s collieries, together with the Kirkless Hall Coal and Iron Co. Ltd. and two smaller concerns, formed the nucleus of the vast Wigan Coal and Iron Company established in 1865 as the largest joint-stock company in the country, excluding railways.
 

So, where did the Blundell’s, Clarke and the Earl of Balcarres get their money?
 

Through the early nineteenth century, landowners, merchants, bankers, ministers, lawyers and manufacturers supplied capital to finance relatively small-scale mining and quarrying operations. Colliery owners Leigh, Woodcock, Berry, Bankes, Bradshaigh, Prescott, Culshaw, Dawson, Hardy, Jackson, Jarrett, Laithwaite, Langshaw, Lofthouse, Peckover, Monk, Townsend, Brimilow, Bradshaw, Stephen, Whaley, Barton, Hodson, Hatton, Winstanley, Claughton and the Germans fall into this category; and Longhbotham, Chadwick and Haliburton can be added by including engineers and ironmasters. However, as John Langton concludes, large infusions of capital were needed to sustain and expand the coal production industry and many of these people were incapable of making the necessary investments.
 

In his book ‘The Orrell Coalfield’, Donald Anderson mentions that Liverpool’s corporation “pursued a very enlightened policy” and engaged extensively in the slave trade. He reports that Bryan Blundell engaged in the slave trade, founded Liverpool’s first charity school, the Bluecoat School, and was instrumental in founding Liverpool Infirmary, Warrington Academy and 36 alms houses in Liverpool. His son, Jonathan, became treasurer of the school and Colonel Henry Blundell owned Pemberton Collieries and built St. Matthew’s Church and schools in Highfield, where I was baptized and educated. Anderson also mentions that a list of the ‘Company of Merchants trading to Africa’ included Henry Blundell and his friends, and that Henry Blundell was much concerned about William Roscoe and other abolitionists trying to end the slave trade. So let us look a bit deeper into the Liverpool slave trade.
 

From 1695 to 1807, 5,300 voyages from Liverpool transported almost one and a half million slaves to the New World. By 1787, thirty seven of the forty one members of Liverpool Council were involved in slavery. Further, all of Liverpool's twenty Mayors who held office between 1787 and 1807 were involved. Liverpool's net proceeds from the African trade in 1783-93 are said to have been £12,294,116, which today would have a relative value of between £1.2 and £87.0 billion.
 

There is much evidence to document deep and lucrative involvement in the slave trade by the Blundells and their partners Thomas Leyland, William Earle, Samuel Warren and Edward Chaffers. Records show that from 1722 to 1784 slave ships owned by the Blundells conducted 113 voyages with 31,341 slaves embarking in West Africa and 25,313 disembarking in the Caribbean. They also dispatched slaves to Chesapeake Bay.
 

I am not sure if John Clarke, owner of the Winstanley and Orrell collieries and The Walking Horse, was directly involved in the slave trade, but there is no doubt that as a major Liverpool banker he benefited greatly from the slave trade. His father established the first bank in Liverpool in 1774.
 

I have found no evidence that the Bankes family of Winstanley was directly involved in the slave trade, but there is no doubt they and other land owners benefited greatly from leasing land and mineral rights to Liverpool entrepreneurs. In the 19th century, Bankes developed their own colliery and railway, landscaped Winstanley Estate and bought an 80,000 acre estate in Scotland.
 

Robert Daglish built The Walking Horse and two more early steam locomotives at Haigh Foundry, so it is also important to identify sources of capital for the foundry. There is strong evidence that much of the capital to renovate Haigh Estate and expand the foundry came from the slave trade. When Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres, took over Haigh Hall it carried a debt of £6,000 (between £500,000 and £40 million in today’s money) and was in terrible condition. The Earl’s salvation came when King George III appointed him Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica ─ the jewel in the imperial crown ─ where he served from 1794 to 1801. There were more than a quarter of a million slaves on the island of Jamaica, where he purchased plantations and employed hundreds of slaves. It is reasonable to assume that he also profited from the sale of sugar and other products from his plantations. Further, he contracted slave-labour for the Army and the civil government in Jamaica. On completing his term as Governor, he received about £65,000 (between £4 and £240 million in today’s money). On returning to Haigh, the Earl is reported to have established an 'Aggrandising Fund' for the purpose of accumulating wealth for his family and in 1804 he appointed Robert Daglish engineer at Haigh Foundry.
 

The Slave Trade Act of 1807 abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, but not slavery itself. It was not until 26 years later that slavery was abolished. With the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833, James Lindsay, the 7th Earl of Balcarres and Baron of Wigan, was paid £14,473.15s.6d compensation for 895 slaves in Jamaica (between £1.1 and £48.2 million in today’s money). The Earl built Haigh Hall between 1827 and 1840 on the site of the ancient manor house.
 

To the east of the Pennines, landed gentry, London businessmen and local entrepreneurs had accumulated sufficient wealth to capitalize increasingly large collieries and early railways through the early nineteenth century. Around Wigan, local entrepreneurs had sufficient capital to get the ball rolling, but insufficient resources to capitalize large collieries and railways. This is where Liverpool merchants and bankers, who had become wealthy from the slave trade, stepped in.
 

Wigan Dissenters sent several petitions to the 1830 Parliament for the abolition of slavery and James Cropper (1773-1840), a Quaker born in Winstanley, up by the Big Stone, played a prominent role in the abolition of slavery. His mother was Rebecca Winstanley. Cropper served as Chairman of the Liverpool Anti-Slavery Society and his female relatives played central roles. William Roscoe, a partner of John Clarke, Thomas Leyland and the Earles, also was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery.
 

Of course, cotton from slave plantations was the main source of raw material for the Lancashire cotton mills. And textiles and probably metal products from south-west Lancashire were exported in slave ships. In the mills and coal mines worked what many called “white slaves”, including women and children. The Factory Act was passed the same year as the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. This Act made it illegal to employ children under nine years of age, but made it legal to employ 9-13 year old children to work up to nine hours a day and 13-18 year old children to work up to 12 hours a day. In 1842 the Mines and Collieries Act removed women from the coalface, but still permitted boys over the age of ten to work underground. Only in 1870, with passage of the Education Act, did it become mandatory for all under the age 14 to attend school full time.
 

Social morals have changed over time, but black and white slaves are woven into the history and development of Wigan and other towns and cities. Many human beings were exploited and suffered, while others benefited.
 

Derek Winstanley

Champaign, Illinois, USA

 

References
D. Alvarado, R. Crick and E. Figueroa, Jr., The application of field geophysics for reconnaissance of a Jamaican slave village and the surrounding area (http://keckgeology.org/files/pdf/symvol/13th/Jamaica/alvarado_et_al.pdf)

D. Anderson, The Orrell Coalfield, Lancashire 1740-1850, Moorland Publishing Co., Buxton, 1975

D. Anderson, Blundell’s Collieries 1776-1966, Wigan Printing, Wigan, 1986

D. Anderson and A. A. France, Wigan Coal and Iron, Smiths Books, Wigan, 1994

A. Birch, The Haigh Ironworks 1789-1856; a nobleman's enterprise during the industrial revolution, Bull. John Rylands Lib. 35 (1953), 316-34

G.T.O. Bridgeman, The History of the Church & Manor of Wigan, printed for the Chetham Society, Vol. 15, 1888

British Banking History Society, Leyland and Bullins (http://www.banking-history.co.uk/leyland.html)

R. Daglish, A Yorkshire Horse, J. Railway and Canal Hist. Soc. 31(3), (1993), 123-31

Fisher, D.R. (ed.), 2009. Wigan Borough, The History of parliament: 1820-1832, Cambridge University Press (http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/constituencies/wigan)

M. Fletcher, The Making of Wigan, Wharncliffe Books, Barnsley, 2005

S. S. Friedman, Jews and the American slave trade, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1998

J. Hannavy, Historic Wigan, Carnegie Publishing Ltd., Preston, 1990

J. Hughes, Liverpool Banks & Bankers, 1760-1837, Henry Young and Sons, London, 1906

International Slavery Museum, European Profits (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/europe/profits.aspx)

A.P. Kup, Alexander Lindsay, 6th Earl of Balcarres, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica 1794-1801

(https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m2767&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOCUMENT.PDF)

James Lindsay, 24th Earl of Crawford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lindsay,_24th_Earl_of_Crawford)

J. Langton, Geographical Change and Industrial revolution: Coalmining in South West Lancashire 1590-1799, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979

Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present, MeasuringWorth, 2013 (http://www.measuringworth.com/index.php)
 

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 13, James Cropper (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Cropper,_James_(DNB00))
 

U. B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery, D. Appleton and Company, New York and London, 1918
 

D. Richardson, S. Schwarz and A. Tibbles (eds.), Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, Liverpool University Press, 2007
 

D. Sinclair, The History of Wigan, Wall, Printer and Publisher, Wigan, 1882
 

L. Turnbull, The Montagu Family of East Denton Hall (http://www.mininginstitute.org.uk/papers/TurnbullMontagu.html)
 

L. Turnbull, personal contact 8 March 2012
 

University College London, Department of History, 2013, Legacies of British Slave-ownership (/lbs/) (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/)
 

L. S. Walsh, Liverpool’s Slave Trade to the Colonial Chesapeake: Slaving on the Periphery (http://www.hslc.org.uk/downloads/walsh_paper.pdf)
 

Wikipedia, Breaking the Silence: Slave Routes (http://old.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/ slave_routes/slave_routes_unitedkingdom.shtml)
 

Wikipedia, International Slavery Museum (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/about/)
 

E. E. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, University of North Carolina Press, 1944
 

G. Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque with an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade, William Heinemann, Liverpool, 1897

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When The King Lost His Crown

When The King Lost His Crown

King Charles I believed in the divine right of kings and disdained Parliament. His attempts to govern without Parliament’s consent led to civil war that tore apart England, and Wigan, from 1642 to 1651.


The first blood of the civil war was shod by a Wigan contingent of Royalists in Manchester. It is well known that Wigan, a Royalist stronghold, was stormed in 1643 and sacked after Royalists lost the Battle of Wigan Lane to Parliamentary forces in 1651. It is less well known that Wiganers and people connected to Wigan played other interesting and prominent roles in the war. Here I identify some of these people and their roles.


From the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the rector of Wigan Parish Church served with almost regal power as lord of the manor. King James I presented Dr. John Bridgeman as rector and lord of the manor in 1616; Dr. Bridgeman was chaplain to James I and Bishop of Chester. From 1625 to 1643 he served as rector of Wigan under Charles I.


Wigan burgesses elected two Members of Parliament. By 1640 a split in allegiances between the Wigan Members of Parliament became evident: Orlando Bridgeman, Dr. Bridgeman’s son, was a Royalist and Alexander Rigby a Parliamentarian. Rigby, who probably was educated at Wigan Grammar School, was in command of Parliamentary forces that led an attack on Lathom House. Orlando Bridgeman had served as Solicitor-General to Charles, the Prince of Wales. In 1642 he was expelled from the House, but was knighted in 1643.


During the civil war a series of manifestos, published between 1647 and 1649 and mostly associated with the Levellers under the leadership of John Lilburne, offered a foundation for constitutional changes. It was John’s brother, Colonel Robert Lilburne, who commanded elements of the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Wigan Lane and was one of the signatories on the death warrant of King Charles I. Another group – the True Levellers, or Diggers – under the leadership of Gerrard Winstanley, a Wiganer, proposed much more radical changes that many say provided a foundation for socialism and even communism.


In 1649 the High Court of Justice found Charles I guilty of high treason, sentenced him to death, and he was executed. The President of the Court was John Bradshaw of Cheshire and of the widespread Bradshaw family of Bolton. In the 1490s, James Winstanley, the grandfather of Edmund Winstanley of Winstanley Hall, had joined an earlier John Bradshaw in Wales, where they operated a successful wool and cloth trade. Edmund’s mother, Elizabeth, married John Bradshaw Jr.; Elizabeth was daughter of Sir Gilbert Gerard of Ince Hall, Wigan, who served as Attorney-General to Queen Elizabeth I. The Bradshaighs of Haigh in Wigan were of the same family as the Bradshaws and in Wigan Parish Church is a chapel and memorials honoring Sir William Bradshaigh and his wife Lady Mabel. In 1543, Ralph Bradshaw, Esq., was Mayor of Wigan.


An uncle of Alexander Rigby was James Winstanley, gent., of Billinge, who was admitted to Gray’s Inn in London in 1624. Orlando Bridgeman also was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1624, as was Thomas Fairfax, parliamentary commander-in-chief during the civil war, in 1626 and John Bradshaw in 1627. James Winstanley provided legal counsel to Gerrard Winstanley and regicides Colonel Robert Lilburne and Colonel John Moore and in 1650 acquired the Braunstone Estate in Leicestershire.


With the execution of Charles, the monarchy was abolished, a republic called the Commonwealth of England was established and Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. After the deprivation of Bishop Bridgeman, a nonconformist minister, James Bradshaw of Darcy Lever near Bolton, was granted parsonage of Wigan and he encouraged the siege of Lathom House – the seat of Royalist the Earl of Derby. No Members were returned to Parliament during the Commonwealth or under Protector Oliver Cromwell. Hugh Forth and Robert Markland briefly represented Wigan in 1659 under Protector Richard Cromwell.


In 1654 Gerrard Bankes became Mayor of Wigan. He was one of six Wiganers, including Gerrard Winstanley, given the name Gerrard in the period 1607 to 1613 when Gerrard Massie was Rector of Wigan. Gerrard Bankes’ father, like Gerard Winstanley’s father, was churchwarden at Wigan Parish Church.


Restoration of the monarchy began in 1660 when Charles II was received as King. In that year Sir Orlando Bridgeman served as Presiding Judge at the trial of the regicides of Charles I, including John Bradshaw. Bradshaw died in October 1659 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, but posthumously he was found guilty of high treason and his body was exhumed, hung in chains at Tyburn and beheaded.


Charles Hotham served as rector of Wigan from 1653 to 1662, when he was ejected for refusing to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity. After the Restoration, Sir Orlando Bridgeman purchased the patronage of Wigan rectory and in 1662 presented Dr. George Hall, Bishop of Chester and chaplain to Charles II, as rector. Dr. John Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society and Bishop of Chester, was presented as rector of Wigan in 1668: in 1656 he had married Robina, Oliver Cromwell’s sister.


John Molyneux, son-in-law of Alexander Rigby, and Roger Stoughton were elected to the First Parliament of Charles II in 1660. It was in the Third Parliament of Charles II in 1679 that we see political parties appearing for the first time: Charles, 2nd Earl of Ancrum, son of a confidential friend of Charles I, and Roger Bradshaigh, son of Sir Roger Bradshaigh of Haigh Hall, represented Wigan as Tories. William Bankes of Winstanley Hall was the first Whig Member for Wigan later in 1679; William was grandson of James Bankes who purchased Winstanley Hall from Edmund Winstanley in 1595.


The ancient and loyal borough of Wigan came to the brink of utter disaster and in so doing played its part in establishing the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament's consent. New privileges were granted to the Corporation including the liberty to buy or sell property with public money. Of great interest is the web of social, religious, economic and political connections 400 years ago, long before cars, railways, canals, radio, television and the internet. Communication was by personal contact, letter and horses.
 

Derek Winstanley

Champaign, Illinois, USA


References
Agreement of the People (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreement_of_the_People).

Alexander Rigby (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rigby,_Alexander_(DNB00)).

Battle of Wigan Lane (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Wigan_Lane).

Bithell, Eileen, Walsh, Eileen and BETA students, 2012. Wigan and the English Civil Wars”, BETA Research Book, Wigan.

Bridgeman, George T.O., 1888-9. The History of the Church & Manor of Wigan in the County of Lancashire: Parts 2 and 3, printed for the Chetham Society, Vols. 16, 17; Reprints from the University of Michigan Library.

English Civil War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Civil_War).

James VI and I (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_VI_and_I).

Orlando Bridgeman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Orlando_Bridgeman,_1st_Baronet,_of_Great_Lever).

Sinclair, David, 1882. The History of Wigan, Vols. 1 and 2, Wall, Printer and Publisher, Wallgate, Wigan.

Winstanley, Derek, 2011. Wigan: Home of Gerrard Winstanley and Socialism (http://www.wiganhistory.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=152).

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Pomp But No Circumstance

Pomp But No Circumstance

I read a publication recently purchased from my local charity shop for the grand sum of 30p. This handy little booklet is called ‘The Wigan borough Charters & Regalia’, published by the Wigan Heritage Service in 1996. It was in celebration of 750 years since Wigan was granted its first Charter in 1246 by Henry III.
 
The Mayor and Burgesses of the town were always a select few, landed gentry and the like all taking turns at running the town as Mayor or even as M.P. A closed society of men who all were at the pinnacle of Wigan’s economy and were very much needed regardless of the undemocratic ways of election.
 
The Moot Hall finds itself on much of Wigan’s Mayoral Regalia such was the identity of this former building of Wigan for many decades. It was always an unofficial town seal and only came to be replaced in 1922 when true arms came to the fore in remembrance of Wigan’s allegiance in the Civil War to the king with undying loyalty. This statement of a little northern market town was backed up by J.P. Rylands who described it as “perhaps the very best of all Lancashire town arms”. Wigan Rugby continue to use this as their badge.
 
At this point Wigan continued its setup where the Mayor was in charge and much civic pride was on show particularly in the same year as the new arms were granted. An official display of the halberds, maces and sword outside of the Mayor’s Parlour (pictured) did much for pride and identity as Wigan continued its independence and self efficiency as a County Borough.
 
Under the Local government Act of 1972, law requires a Chairman to be elected and to take the title as Mayor. The elected individual is chosen by current councillors and the term runs for 12 months. The Mayor is expected to attend a multitude of functions and receives an allowance of around £16,000 towards the costs associated with his year in office and must be apolitical. This role is purely a ceremonial one whereas the Leader of the Council is by virtue of being the leader of the largest political group on the Council. The Leader is the person who now takes the reins in the running of Wigan Borough.
 
Wigan has come a long way since receiving that first of many Charters from 1246 onwards. I have spotted many an issue with the Local Government Act of 1972 which seemed to take away Wigan’s independence when boundaries were changed. Leigh was amalgamated in to Wigan which now boasts 77 square miles of Borough. Greater Manchester was formed which doesn’t go down too well with us Lancastrians.
 
The town arms were changed once again in 1974 which incorporated parts of the Urban District Councils and also the Leigh arms. A dilution of Wigan’s proud and ancient history and that also of Leigh’s. The towns were not only separated during the Civil War but also had indifferences during the miners strike of 1926 and have their own unique ancient histories.
 
In the modern day sense there is no need for a Mayor who cannot provide a true reflection in his appearance by running their councils. The Labour Government of 2009 asked local councils whether they preferred an elected Mayor of the people or the current Leader model. A consultation exercise was carried out which didn’t get the expected replies from the townsfolk although the results showed an elected Mayor would better suit the people rather than the current setup. Councils were surprisingly given the option on which model to take and I don’t think it takes a great deal of thinking about if you’re the current Leader to want to change over to an elected Mayor, you would be jobless!
 
I say remove the ceremonial nonsense if the Mayor only exists to wear a nice robe and carry a lovely mace at functions. Civic pride simply doesn’t exist anymore.
 
Andrew Lomax

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Memories

Memories
'Ron Dawber' Picture

In response to Andrew’s thought provoking article below, I had a look at the WiganWorld website and browsed some of the images of Scholes. I’m originally from Ashton, so my knowledge of Scholes is limited and i struggle to relate to areas of modern Wigan, let alone from 40 years ago.

You’ll see i picked out an image of a bus stopping outside what looks like a pub with a handful of people outside. Again, i don’t really know where this photo is and i certainly don’t know any of the people in it, but the image haunted me. Quite why, I don’t know, but it left me feeling rather sad and mournful. In particular, i looked at the little child hand in hand with a dutiful parent. Clearly it seems, I’m not the only one who feels this as ‘Dorothys’ comments echo the way i feel. “Good Times” she writes. Was this a Wigan in happier times? If so, what’s gone wrong?

Modern Wigan is a busy, bustling place with people hurriedly getting their shopping done to ‘beat the rush’ or ‘nipping out for a quick sandwich’ or ‘grabbing a coffee.’ We have a greater disposable income than ever before, with every mod-con we wish, but we collectively seem more unhappy than ever. We’re dissatisfied with our lives and feel that they lack something. Yet, when you look at the picture of Scholes, you know that that child was probably content with its lot. The clothing of the other people suggests that the weather might not have been the warmest, but the child is in short trousers. And why do we think that the child was content with its lot – well probably because most of us can relate to it : when you were this age, your legs were made of asbestos and immune to the cold – wearing short trousers was fine. What is a task for the parent is a bit of an adventure for the child and if they play their cards right, they might come back with a quarter of acid drops.

What’s all this got to do with SaveWigan? Well, the photos trigger the memories of Dorothy and others, but sadly the photos and memories are all that’s left. When Scholes was bulldozed, there could not have been the foresight that the Internet would come along and people would be able to browse these images. Fortunately, some people had the foresight to ‘preserve’ Wigan with photography, but not everything was so fortunate. I googled “Three Sisters” and looked through 67 pages of results – not one featured an image of a coal tip. Why is an image of a slag heap so important? Well, what i judge as important or just interesting might not be what you feel, but the important thing is that we do what we can to value what we have, whether its bricks and mortar, a way of life; or as Dorothy puts it, “Good Times.”
 
Miles Gladson
 

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Bring In The Bulldozers

Bring In The Bulldozers

Take yourself back to 1945 if you remember it, or simply imagine 1945 for those who weren’t around. The greatest wartime leader Britain had seen is ousted out, the country is bankrupt and soon after the new Labour Government nationalise industries such as coal, electricity, gas, water and health in the form of the NHS. As time went on, ideas for a practically “new country” were banded about and without further ado changes were made in an instant which changed the culture and social lives of many.
 
Over the following decades a catastrophic demolition of Britain’s heart followed with the removal of so called “slum areas” in many towns and cities which housed communities and had done for many generations. Ancient right of way, place names and road names were removed for “the betterment” of its people although those who remember these times and witnessed places like Scholes undergo a major redevelopment program will tell you there wasn’t much choice in the decision as bulldozers crushed communities for the erection of high rise flats and non-descript housing areas. The relocation of these neighbourhoods in to blocks of flats like beans in a Heinz tin shut off that community spirit of the area and many other areas our social life was built upon. Everything became very private, hardly seeing your neighbours as you would hang the washing out in your own dedicated washing area, no wives talking to each other over the garden fence in respect to the price of bread anymore.
 
The WiganWorld website boasts some excellent photo’s of the real Scholes before it became subject to the slum clearance experiment. Self efficient with a wonderful high street, all this has been replaced with cosmetically poor buildings shaped from poor planning. The butcher, grocer and baker had to make do on Scholes Precinct which differs somewhat from their own dedicated community shops of the past. www.wiganworld.co.uk/album/showalbum.php
 
Another example perhaps in respect to having no choice in a decision was the demolition of the famous Market Hall, built as a gift for Wigan by the then Mayor Nathaniel Eckersley who commented on how “Wigan was proud of its markets” and from then on remained famous in its own right with the Market Square so fondly remembered for the annual Silcock’s funfair. I am yet to speak with anybody in respect to the above who wanted to see the Market Hall replaced with a clear mandate from the people of the time requesting the keeping of the current building which went ignored. A petition for even keeping the funfair was overwhelming in opposition to the plans so a fight on two fronts to keep what Wigan had for so long fell on deaf ears.
 
2011 and the stall holders are struggling to pay their rents, empty stalls and no buzz or character in a “box” of a building. A town now built upon cheaper shops which provide the shopper with everything they need without having to enter the Market Hall.
 
I would really like to chat with anybody in favour of the above demolition of the former Market Hall just so I can convince myself there is somebody out there! My email address is on the committee page.
 
Another “idea” was the demolition of anything Victorian which is covered in a separate topic by the excellent Simon Thurley at www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/28/they-conserved-the-victorian-cities
 
Andrew Lomax
 

 

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Thomas Linacre Extension

Thomas Linacre Extension

Whilst not an item on our current at risk register, I felt the need to write down the position we are in at the moment and reasoning behind objecting to current proposals of the NHS to re-house their Ophthalmology and Paediatric departments from the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary down to Parson’s Walk.
 
Having views the proposals at great depth, from a heritage & conservation point of view I see this as a no go. The scheme does not compliment the building and any changes which upset the layout are to be of great detriment to its image. Planning policy will say otherwise, but unfortunately these government set out policies are something the planning authority have to abide by, a bible if you like, whether we like it or not. Having a good relationship with case officers and other individuals within the authority, I am aware of the above and the difficulty in protecting heritage when their own views, like ours, potentially conflicting with current policy.
 
Before arguing over heritage & conservation of the site, I must mention current car parking provisions available to the public and staff. They are as follows: -

103 parking spaces, 74 for public use with 12 disabled. 29 for staff.
 
The proposed newly arranged car parking areas are as follows: -
 
77 parking spaces, 53 for public use with 12 disabled. 24 for staff.
 
Yes, that’s a reduction in car parking! Parson’s Walk suffers some of the most horrendous traffic and the Linacre always boasts a busy car park at most times of the day. Based on this alone and not being able to provide for increased traffic to the new departments, I believe it should have been thrown out and the applicant asked to provide further plans on car parking provision. A slight concern I have is the new substation built in Mesnes Park behind the Thomas Linacre has a road leading from the back of the building, it already seems to encroach upon park land. How much longer before the Thomas Linacre would like to negotiate that piece of empty land for car parking provision? Just one to throw in the mix.
 
Our other concern which triggered a reaction from the group is based upon heritage & conservation, which is why we exist. Currently based within a Conservation Area deemed at risk by the English Heritage, the proposals will take away the glamour of the current listed building that is the Thomas Linacre and create a ripple effect on an already shaky existence as a Conservation Area. The plans are not in keeping with the site and will always look like “that extra bit” rather than integration in to the current architecture of the building.
 
Overall I believe the complex is too small for extending, and a derelict site should be considered which houses Ophthalmology and Paediatrics only. It has been tried at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary to fit everything on the same site and this has made the place a parking nightmare. I foresee the NHS wanting to reduce current congestion up there but all they seem to be doing is moving the problem on elsewhere.
 
The application was minded to approve by the planning department and duly passed by the planning committee.
 
Andrew Lomax
 

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Selling The Family Jewels

Selling The Family Jewels

Unaccustomed as I am to seeing the great and the good in South Wales, it was cheering to see the Ryder cup taking place. Here is a fine golf course set in beautiful countryside, with commanding views and a lovely hotel attached to it. True, it’s over £140 a round, but people seem happy to pay this. The decent weather on the Monday coupled with crowds of people enjoying something of a freebie set me thinking about another golf course closer to my ‘home’ that has a fine hotel attached and is also set in acres of lush countryside – Haigh Hall.

I’ve got fond memories of being taken around Haigh Hall on Christmas Day for a walk in order to burn off some of that Turkey. At the time, my teenage angst meant that I would probably rather been anywhere other than there and most preferably at home, listening to Jesus Jones and playing on a Megadrive. However, with hindsight I now realise that my parents’ intentions were good. Just occasionally, the Christmas weather wouldn’t be the dull damp affair that it is now, but a bright blue crisp day with air so fresh and pure that taking a lungful of it made you feel good to be alive. These were the times that thrusting your hands in your pockets you realised that the solid fuel handwarmer that Granny bought you was useful after all. It was also the time that you realised what a fine old building Haigh Hall was and how beautiful its grounds must have been.

Now, nearly 200 years since construction of the Hall first began, time is catching up with her. Large cracks have appeared in the walls of the lower floors and the upper floors are cruelly exposed to the worst of the weathers. As with many fine old buildings, upkeep is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive. The state of the nations coffers mean that any state sponsored rescue of Haigh Hall is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future. So what to do? Well, we could just amble on, sticking a plaster on what we can, hoping for the best and praying for a bit more global warming in order to dry up the damp. We could draw a line under it and pull it down – better its demolished in a controlled way than have a chunk fall on someone. Or my option to preserve Haigh Hall – sell it.

All the attributes that make Haigh Hall such a wonderful place are those keenly sought by developers. There is no reason that the building couldn’t be restored into a stunning country hotel, the type so sought after for weddings, golf weekends and film sets. It’s going to take a lot of money to restore her to health and this is money that the public sector is unlikely to have for the next decade if the prophets are to be believed. Only the private sector can afford to pump the money in and they will want to see a return. So why shouldn’t we set her free from the constraints of the public purse, free to pursue her life as a grand old lady of the countryside once again?
 
Miles Gladson
 

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Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

As reported in the Wigan Evening Post 25th October 2010, a planning application has been submitted to Wigan Council for car parking provision at the rear of the building.
 
The premises were vacated in 1990 by the council who re-housed in the former Mining & Technical College on Library St. After this relocation, a decision was made to partly demolish the building and the remains are what we see today. A covenant on the site in respect to what it can be used for was appeased by Wigan Council in 2005 to help the buyer of the time convert the site.
 
Whilst I welcome the decision to do something with the abandoned rear, it is still my hope that some structure can come of the facade which I admire greatly each time I pass the site. The stone tablet resting at the corner overlooking King Street is a site to behold with the town’s former unofficial Coat of Arms there for all to see, a true sign of local identity in a very much used capacity whether on buildings, council correspondence and even within some old library books. The current Coat of Arms just doesn’t scream identity and being, just a concoction of others council’s rolled in to one. The previous one with its motto “Ancient & Loyal” had an understanding and local significance which we could all relate too.
 
I have spoken to many about the derelict town hall site and most are of the opinion it should be knocked down. My beliefs in local history and the heritage and conservation of Wigan are staunch, and do not agree with such opinion. I’d rather be asking the question on how it was allowed to get in to such a state, with covenant, and no contingency plan upon leaving the site for bigger premises.
 
I am aware of a bunker underneath the site having had a conversation with a gentleman who used to run the war museum at Millom and shares an incredible knowledge on wartime Wigan.
 
Planning applications have been lodged for a hotel and retail units in the last few years, both thrown out. I just hope a compromise can be met soon, even if it means the authority becoming impatient and completing a compulsory purchase of the site.
 
Andrew Lomax

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Save The Galleries

Save The Galleries

Well, thanks in some part to the bright and shiny Grand Arcade, Wigan’s other great shopping precinct is now looking a little bit....er...tired. That’s a shame. The Galleries never really quite endeared themselves to Wiganers. The birth was a little traumatic coming as it did just one year short of the Market Hall’s centenary and it also opened in the right in the middle of a recession. Not surprising then that there were few fanfares and trumpets. After this stuttering start, The Galleries never really got going for reasons that must be difficult to truly fathom. It sat right in the middle of town, yards from the bus station and a short walk from the train station. Those of us with our own cars could park on the roof and have even less to walk.
 
Early on, I’d marked out the Galleries as THE place that I was going to charm the opposite sex. With a high footfall, there must be SOME chance of me getting lucky. With my best teenage ‘baggy’ I would hang around, just waiting for that stunning blonde to come along and question where I’d been all her life. I’d spend ages overlooking the escalators that took people down to Index, hoping (praying) that my Venus was on her way back up after picking up some screw-it-together-yourself black Ash video tape holder.

A misspent youth – it never happened. Venus never came my way. 

In part, I blame myself for this, but on reflection, maybe it was the Galleries themselves. Just why did Venus not want to shop there? Clearly it’s not just me that feels a little jilted since the downstairs part of The Galleries now looks more empty than a Chilean mine. Why does no-one want to go there? This is more of a debate for the town planners, but in the absence of any answers or solutions, perhaps it’s time for the Council to take a stand.   There seems to be a bit of a trend for the Health and Social services to be provided all over town. That’s not convenient. Surely a one stop shop would be better, with the public facing services all brought together in one convenient location?   Times are tough and it’s hard to see big business taking over the downstairs lots – they’re all at Robin Park or the Grand Arcade.   Empty units make it harder and harder for the small guys to stay alive, let alone prosper. It’s a vicious circle and one that we must stop.  
 
The Galleries will never be to everyone’s taste, but for the sake of the old Market Hall, we must not let them spiral into decline. If it was proper and just that the old Market Hall fell for The Galleries to be built in its shadow, then the Galleries should be a worthy successor to it. Right now, it’s hard to see this being the case and I have a sense of foreboding that if things continue, the plug will be pulled.   What a waste it would all have been. So, join my campaign to maintain and preserve what we have left and with a bit of look, Venus might just be tempted back. I’m still hopeful and still available.
 
Miles Gladson

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Pride & Identity

Pride & Identity

Having spent over an hour reading the website of the National Trust, praise the lord they are in existence!
 
Founded by Victorian philanthropists Miss Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1895, they have proved to have had an amazing insight in to the loss of coastline, countryside and in particular our buildings. Their argument of the time was of uncontrolled development and industrialisation which still reign true today, at least on the development side.
 
From the formation of the Trust to the present day, unprecedented hikes in membership have seen its first year based upon 100 members to now having 3,500,000 in 2007. Over this period of time, they have acquired 248,000 hectares of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, more than 700 miles of coastline and more than 200 buildings and gardens of outstanding interest and importance.
 
The father of the current Earl of Crawford & Balcarres served as Chairman of the National Trust and complained in 1964 how “almost every town in Britain famous for its buildings and its beauty, has had its centre cut out by speculators”. He went on to say “it is I think a scandal for our generation that we should live to see the destruction of our country and the suicide of its beauty, worse than anything Hitler was able to do with his bombs, for which our generation will be blamed and remembered in the future”.
 
Poignant words that have come true, a prophecy if you like. His position certainly allowed his voice to be heard and this warning shot came in the middle of urban town/city centre development which replaced much of the Victorian legacy and previous. I am sure we can all relate to such comments in our own towns.
 
Picking up on the 3,500,000 members, that’s a great amount of people all interested in the history of this green & pleasant land. In times of uncertainty, many seem to be suffering an identity crisis with severe political experiments taking place with its own people and a loss of appreciation to the vast history our lands have to offer. You only need to see the figures for tourism and the main reasons for visitors to the UK being its history & culture. The Americans are in awe of our past and seem to offer more of a fascination than our own people.
 
The National Trust is currently chaired by Simon Jenkins, a right wing British newspaper columnist and author. Its president is none other than a gentleman with an incredible passion for heritage & culture, the Prince of Wales.
 
I sense a great deal of relief that the National Trust are not an arm of the government or rely on them for such funding. I praise all of those members who appreciate what little we have left, and how supreme we are in the offering of such heritage.
 
Andrew Lomax

 

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Getting My Head Around It

Getting My Head Around It

Having indulged in local planning laws over the past couple of years, I thought it was quite clear with the rules set out exactly what can/can’t be done depending on the circumstance of a building or an area.
 
I’ll give you three examples I have read recently which baffle to me no ends and continues my plight in understanding fully these apparently selective statements some people are using in light of proposed developments.
 
Mesnes Field
In a Conservation Area which is deemed by the authority of great importance. Many other planning applications have been turned down on this reason alone as a “detriment” to its current status.  A former Planning Officer and highly intelligent man in Martin Kimber foresaw the issues which could arise with any potential development and warned off anybody with an insight in to making a proposal. Town centre green space with a luscious playing surface (until the archaeological dig), a jewel in the crown. Planning Authority struggling to comprehend such development on a green site and are completely swayed by the feedback received by the English Heritage which moves the attitudes somewhat in to a position of let’s do it. Passed by Planning Committee.
 
 The Bell, Orrell
Beautiful open countryside with a development proposal afoot. Seemingly turned down and earned the full support of Chairman of the Planning Committee Coun Paul Prescott as he believes there’s a need to protect open green spaces.
 
Ashton Police Station/Old Banking Hall
The Police Station is within the Conservation Area. Coun Paul Tushingham comments how he hopes the new owners will have regard for the environment and the field at the back, bearing in mind it is part of a Conservation Area. The Old Banking Hall on Library St is in a Conservation Area and it’s usage is deemed to be restricted.
 
Just three examples with contrasting opinions, particularly on green open space but more importantly on the strength of a Conservation Area. Two contradictions came from Coun Prescott in light of passing the Mesnes Field development with no mind on open green space, but has a green space argument for The Bell.
 
Am I right in thinking these selective attitudes can be accommodated by twisting certain planning regulations and defining new meanings? I am not for one second suggesting that this goes on but I am deeply confused at the different opinions of developments in Conservation Areas.
 
Can anybody shed any light on this? Do leave a comment below you can remain anonymous if you like.
 

Andrew Lomax

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Books Books Books!

Books Books Books!

I acquired some books on the subject of history from a friend who had passed away recently and I felt it the right time to catalogue exactly what I have in total.
 
I always had a decent number of books and added to them where applicable, the closure of Smith’s made it further difficult for the purchasing of local history and the next best thing would turn out to be the Book Clearance Centre in the Galleries.
 
The following books are what I have in my existing collection on local history: -
 
Wigan Memories by True North Media
The Crawford Papers by David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford & Balcarres
The Wigan Coalfield by Alan Davies
The Orrell Coalfield by Donald Anderson
The Standish Collieries by Donald Anderson
Wigan Coal & Iron by Donald Anderson
About Standish by M.D. Smith
Wigan Past by the Wigan Observer
Wigan Past by Cliff Hayes
Working Class Wives by Margery Spring Rice
Roundabout a Pound a Week by Pember Reeves
The Wigan Borough Charters Regalia by the Wigan Heritage Service
Coalmining Women, Victorian Lives and Campaigns by Angela V. John
Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell
 
That’s fourteen books in relation to Wigan and district, and dozens more than I don’t have out there somewhere. I am particularly interested in the work of former borough Librarian A.J. Hawkes and in the near future I will try and purchase his collection on local history.
 
Let’s take a look at the books I have recently acquired: -
 
Around Hindley & Abram by Bob Blakeman
Standish & Shevington by Nicholas Webb
Images of Wigan by the Wigan Evening Post
About Haigh & Aspull by M.D. Smith
About Coppull by M.D. Smith
Wigan Fifty Golden Years by the Wigan Observer
Mainline Railways Around Wigan by Bob Pixton
The Pitbrow Women of the Wigan Coalfield by Alan Davies
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal by Mike Clarke
Upholland in Old Picture Postcards Volume 2 by Dr. Allan Miller
Ashton in Makerfield & Goldborne by Tony Ashcroft
The Wigan Co-Op Gala by Robert Norris
The Making of Wigan by Mike Fletcher
Wigan Town Centre Trail Second Edition by Philip Powell
 
That’s fourteen new books, fourteen! It has doubled my existing local history collection. That should keep me occupied for a great deal of time.
 
Andrew Lomax

 

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Rylands Mill Gem

Rylands Mill Gem

Built by John Rylands at a cost of £150,000, it was deemed the most expensive of its time (1863). It was so glamorous that the Earl of Derby commented it “a pleasure to see”.
 
As explained in an earlier article on Eckersley Mill, Rylands Mill was also casualty to cheap imports and died a slow death in textiles. A few businesses occupied the building over time such as Great Universal Stores, but the more lengthy ownership belonged to Wigan & Leigh College who annexed the building and this became known as the Pagefield Building back in 1985.
 
Deemed unsuitable for modern learning, a new building was proposed on the site of the current carpark (a large site which existed less than ten years). When this was completed, Rylands Mill once again became vacant in 2007 and has remained the same ever since.
 
I am greatly pleased I had such an adventurous outlook to local history when I was younger with Rylands Mill a hugely popular spot for us all at the weekends when the college was quiet. At that time of adventure seeking, the mill itself didn’t really appeal but its attached lodge certainly did. Abandoned since the days the mill was in production, all of the original fixtures and fittings could be seen and served as a great interest to us and fed our intrigue in to what exactly how they functioned. Only as I got older and I met people with such knowledge did I learn of those functions and became to realise the true age of these pieces of equipment, standing the test of time as good old British casting would. Sluice gate, piping for drawing the water, an industrial archaeologists dream with so much originality intact.
 
The main feature to us as roaming kids was the bridge over the lodge, the cast iron girders supporting the railway and all resting upon the huge stone blocks submerged in the water. A couple are subsiding at the moment. We made a point of getting on here each weekend and even some nights when it was warm and just sit in the middle, that’s after negotiating the really dodgy woodwork on the way and having to change directions aplenty. There was a great steel sheet in the middle to sit on and be bothered by nobody. To do this now there would be an outcry, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it in the age we live in. Once again as I got older, I learned the need for this railway and have yet to find a mill similar to this with such an engineering feat of a railway over the lodge. It's journey continued on to the weighbridge by the chimney and in to the shed.
 
Another regular haunt were the air raid shelters under the staff carpark, trench shelters actually, and had a capacity of 750. An adventurer’s paradise once again but sadly vandalised over the years and also filling from above ground blocked many of the passages, so who knows exactly how expansive they were?
 
As my knowledge increased owing to my passionate interest, so did my appreciation for the mill’s architecture. I find it difficult to find another building to rival the work of Bolton’s George Woodhouse here with splendid pattern work along the frontage, a huge thanks to Wigan & Leigh College who had it re-pointed and cleaned to a high order. None of the remaining sides were restored. The chimney unfortunately did not receive the same attention either and has fading pattern work in the same style as the mill and a large but filled in crack. The later building of Mesnes Park on the doorstep complimented the mill’s architecture and created a fine blend of industrial and green space.
 
An interesting observation would be the huge plates attached to certain points of the mill, reinforcements if you like. They would have rods coming out of the back, running through the mill and meeting up at the other end to another plate. At certain point throughout the building you could see the smaller plates with the rods attached. These were needed due to the well-known coal workings beneath and risk of subsidence.
 
A site for sore eyes from Buckley St, a site of beauty from Mesnes Park and beyond (ignoring the glass frontage!). It would be fantastic should the mill receive a full restoration of its brickwork and bring out the splendid work of Woodhouse in its true glory.

Andrew Lomax

 

 

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Wigan Rectory Landmark

Wigan Rectory Landmark
G.T.O. Bridgeman 1875

Wigan Rectory has served as the home of the Rector’s of Wigan for many centuries, and more famously associated with the Bridgeman family, who were Rectors of the town at different times between 1600 and 1900.
 
The manorial rights were sold to the Wigan Corporation in 1861. These presumably include all mines and minerals under the land, amongst other rights now belonging to the authority.
 
The current building dates from 1875, but a Hall at this location can be traced all the way back to at least the time the first Bridgeman came to live here in the 1600’s. Not much is known of early buildings on this site.
 
By 1873, the house had become incredibly undermined and inhabitable, so it had to be pulled down by the then Rector G.T.O Bridgeman and rebuilt in 1875. A book of great interest to the reader comes highly recommended titled ‘The History of the Church and Manor of Wigan in the County of Lancaster’ by Bridgeman himself. Several older pieces were rescued from the old house and made to fit with the new, these in particular being two wings of a German altar piece of late medieval date. Dating from 1540-1550, there is a panel of Swiss coloured glass.
 
Sifting through the Wigan Corporation’s old minute books from 1940-1960, the authority were seemingly desperate to purchase the building and continued to ask the government for a loan to complete the transaction, which had been refused. A rather striking request for money came during the War! The Rectory had almost been sold in the early 1950’s but the church decided to keep hold of its valuable possession. In 1956 the Rector completely restored the house.
 
I took great delight in wandering the outskirts of the building a couple of years ago and have tried my luck getting back to take more photograph’s. It really does put you in a different place altogether, set back from the main roads and the privacy of the huge trees which surround the perimeter, I wonder why no local businessman and the like haven’t taken an interest in purchasing the property for the measly sum of £850,000. If the lottery number came up, I’d certainly be interested in the finest property Wigan has to offer. A true Lord of the Manor.
 
Perhaps its future lies in the hands of the local authority, should they take an interest in purchasing the house and surrounding land. At least then it would be put to use and allow more people to see it. An ideal location for functions, wedding receptions etc, I can see the potential should they rescue the building and complete remedial actions to the rotting wood internally. Perhaps an ideal location to display some of the 25,000 museum exhibits we have in store also?
 
The Rectory has been vacant since former Rector Malcolm Forrest resided here, owing to the upkeep of such a grand building. The current Rector is based at Wrightington St. There is at the moment an occupant who I’m told is completing minor works to the house.
 
Andrew Lomax

 

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Haigh Viaduct Trail

Haigh Viaduct Trail

A well hidden industrial giant, not many people can tell you the exact location of these thirteen aches and six iron spans, travelling over the beautiful Douglas Valley.
 
I was informed some years ago by local railway enthusiast Cliff Reeves, creator of local history DVD’s and the like since the early 1990’s. I got myself the Ordnance Survey Map of the area and decided to follow the former Lancashire Union Railway Line from Haigh Lower Plantations, starting at Whelley.
 
I took a colleague with me and we headed off on a beautiful summers day, shorts and the like all ready for a good hike. Having negotiated the consistently boggy trackbed, some with rather deep puddles all year round, we started to notice remnants of the former line starting at the iron bridge. Looking at the roof of the arch, soot is visible after the bridge having been blasted with smoke once the steam engine passed under it. A nice little reminder of another world.
 
We continued on and began to notice the countless amount of inspection/drainage chambers along the sidings and even spotted many a telegraph post, one still in situ but with a lean. This can be found at the bridge on Hall Lane. Continuing on the trackbed becomes rather narrow and overgrown, quite difficult to navigate and at one point we ended in a deep setting believing it the way forward only to find we had to get ourselves back up. If I had a video camera that day, it would have been a fine comedy moment watching us continuously slide back down the steep siding.
 
One we found our bearings again, we approached Sennicar Lane where the buttresses are still in situ, just no bridge. We made our way over to the other side and the viaduct then became apparent, spike fenced from our end. We decided to get ourselves on a lower level and look for a crossing over the River Douglas so we could at least get under the arches.
 
Roll back in to your childhood adventures and crossing rivers via overhanging branches, it was such fun! We made it to the other side although it was apparent we could have simply paddled through the river, although it would become tricky getting yourself up the embankment.
 
Once we had made it, a step back in time in to England’s green & pleasant land was experienced. Rabbits bouncing about everywhere, birds tweeting and calmness to the beautiful Douglas Valley really made the journey worthit, and of course we set our sites on a view from the top of the viaduct. It is worth noting the amount of water damage to the existing brickwork and no guttering.
 
Once again we found ourselves climbing, this time an incredibly steep embankment with silver birch present. We used the trees to grapple ourselves up and managed to get on. At this point the camera was brought in to action, enjoying incredible views and trying to imagine the many steam engines passing over the valley in what must have been a wonderful site. We were lucky to have this moment, as not long after a fence had been erected to stop people using the viaduct, presumably for health & safety, which is sensible. We also noticed how housing developments were creeping down the valley from Wigan Lane end.
 
We made our way home up Chorley Road in a frustrated mood questioning why the viaduct cannot be used for a greater purpose, rather than left to rot.
 
On the 14th May 2010, the Wigan Evening Post produced an article about the viaduct in the hope of bringing to the attention of the Wigan public exactly what gems we have, as is our intention at Save Wigan. After extensive conversation with the Bridges Team at Wigan Council, it really isn’t open to any funding, nor has it been since the Council took ownership nor will any funding likely appear in the near future. The only stipulation is for the authority to maintain the arch passing over Pendlebury Lane for reasons of public safety.
 
I would recommend to anybody on a summers day to repeat our walk and see what interesting finds in industrial archaeology you may find.  
 
Andrew Lomax

 

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Mesnes Field

Mesnes Field

“That old chestnut” many may say having read the title of this piece!
 
It’s all quiet on the Western Front as the saying goes after planning permission was granted earlier this year and works due to start in the Autumn. A Village Green Application had been lodged beforehand which was unsuccessful on the grounds of defining the locality which the said piece of land is situated, which poses the question is it a village green or not regardless of such technicalities?
 
The latest issue arising is the funding shortfall of £2.8 million from the North West Development Agency in which one of the three benefactors to the cause of a boys & girls club on this site, Dave Whelan, has refuted the idea that they could fill the funding gap and is seemingly reliant on the local authority and outside bodies coming up with the cash. The original idea being so honourable as it is, doesn’t this throw in to question the intentions of the frontrunners and their apparent immortalisation of the kids of today having nothing to do? This shortfall would be proven as pocket money to such people.
 
Having been involved with much email traffic in respect to the proposals (and some not), the Freedom of Information Act has proven a handy tool for some people who have uncovered many contradictions from the inception of the idea back in 2007 up until the present day, which doesn’t look good for us as a town and how we deal with such things. An example being the Martin Kimber document (now not at Wigan Council) which seemed to lambast the proposers as rushing to get the deal through and also the site selection proving inappropriate which would throw up allsorts of difficulties. Mr. Kimber has been proven right but the stance of the planning authority had alarmingly changed since the departure of Martin. I would sum up the whole process by reading the following: - www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7955561/A-Government-ruse-thats-nothing-short-of-an-insultation.html
 
It is expected that Wigan Council are to fund staff wages and the like at £400,000 annually and rising each year. In the current climate it just doesn’t seem possible that this can be made to happen with 850 council employees under threat with job losses and severe nationwide cuts even to the smallest of schemes.
 
I have happily put myself on record in full support of the proposals but elsewhere would be more appropriate looking at the dereliction of the town. Wigan needs a boys & girls club but the footprint must be on a smaller scale, having planned this on the Bolton model, let us not forget it took Bolton decades to get themselves in to such a prime position and we seem to take the attitude that this could happen overnight for Wigan too.
 
We all know the children of today are completely different, glued to their PC’s and hand computers, but let’s test the water and get the club built in a realistic position and see how we go.
 
To finish off with the field, I happened to read through some of the old Wigan Corporation minute books around the time they purchased the land and was surprised at just how desperate the authorities of the time were to purchase church lands regardless of long term plan. It had been mooted at the time that a new town hall could be situated here, but that was shelved. The Corporation went to a great deal of cost to level the field in to the beautiful surface it had retained over the decades until the archaeological digging spoiled this for good. Now all we have left is an uneven surface.
 
I ask myself many times over why the authorities have chosen not to make much more use of the field owing to its supreme central location. Mesnes High had wrapped up in 1989 and so the field at this time should have had a masterplan and how to utilise this best for years to come. Saturday/Sunday football, Silcock’s back in to the town centre, firework displays, agricultural shows and much more. Why the defence of “sacred land” for so many years and then let it go at the drop of a hat?
 
Were missing out here. Let’s make use of this field and stop dumbing it down, painting a picture in the mind of the passer by who endlessly get to see drinking and the like taking place. I for one dream of Wiganers descending from all corners to attend events smack bang in the middle of the town.
 
Andrew Lomax

 

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Eckersley Mill Relations

Eckersley Mill Relations
William

Like the many thousands of Wiganers who have had relatives working in the textile industry, I am no different. I do however have one distinct advantage, time.
 
Two generations worked here from WW1 all the way through to closure in 1971, in which my Grandfather continued in a capacity which needed such expertise when Dorma Sheets put the mill to good use in the 1980’s. When this had finished, so did the family link.
 
Dating from at least 1779, the Lomax family have always resided in Pemberton and always managed work in the mills, whether weaving or fitting. Two generations were also iron turner's although it is unknown exactly where in Pemberton. The name Lomax happens to be one of the most ancient surnames of Lancashire and is very much associated to places like Bolton and Bury. A true Lancastrian name rarely found outside the county.
 
My Great-Grandfather was William Henry Lomax, born 1896 in to a family of eleven children (and counting) by Robert Lomax and Alice Malsom (n). At these times, poverty was rife and a death in the family was a common happening and something widely accepted in society. Of these eleven, four boys and seven girls in all, only three survived the conditions of the time. William Henry the only boy, and his two sisters Alice and Annie. I do pinch myself sometimes and thank my lucky stars that William hung around, the reason I am here today.
 
William married in 1923 to an Irish lady named Nora Taylor which provided four children, two boys and two girls. All four were to find work at Eckersley’s with the girls of course stuck in the weaving sheds and the boys doing something much more mechanically minded, fitting. William already was a skilled practical engineer and a highly regarded individual with an incredible knowledge of steam and went on to devote his life to keeping the engines running at the mill.
 
Their first child, my Grandfather, Robert Lomax was born in 1924 and took his education in fitting from his father. Robert, like his father, became once again highly regarded for his expertise and knowhow and could take to repairing anything put in front of him. This continued in other employment at the Westwood Power Station before returning to Eckersley’s for Dorma.
 
Robert met his wife to be at Eckersley’s and they married in 1950. Eunice Falconer hailed from Chesterfield and her parents ran the Dog & Partridge by the Parish Church whilst Eunice found work at the local mill. During her short time here before mothering her first of five children, she was promoted to the title of ‘cotton fibre length and strength tester’ based in one of the labs.
 
As time went on, so did the modernisation of the cotton industry and the introduction of electric motors to replace the steam engines was unbearable for William, which coincided with his death not long afterwards. Having spent many hours, days, week, months and years around flywheel’s, the dust chute particularly was his undoing at a time where the danger’s of cotton dust and other elements were unknown. He was granted early retirement from the mill because of his illness, something unheard of back then. Things were so bad that he was penned in at home and seriously ill, the need for an oxygen tank there to support his excessive vomiting must have been an horrendous site.
 
William passed away in 1964 and received a terrific send off from colleagues. The sheer amount of floral tributes and cards became so overpowering that an article of thanks in the local newspaper written by his wife was one of sheer gratefulness to those who cared for William and felt so much for him.
 
One of a kind, he was a gruff man with an accent we don’t get to hear much of anymore. A true Wiganer and Lancastrian man, you only need to read local books on dialect to get an understanding of the way he used to speak. He had no days off, he only knew the mill and how to support his family. A fantastic story for moving to Poolstock Lane was so William could get to work in a flash but also get to the pub across the road even quicker, such insight! During Wakes Week, he would travel to other mills in the vicinity and find work there, such was his need to be around engines.
 
The textile industry had been in decline since WW2, Eckersley’s having received massive orders during the War for the making of soldier uniform and other assorted military needs. After finishing in 1971, Dorma Sheets came calling in which my Grandfather Robert found work with them as explained in the earlier part of this piece.
 
So, having had such close relations with the mill, it is a huge part of my ancestry and I care very much for the site and thoroughly enjoy its views. I am a regular visitor here and try to picture the original six mill’s letting off that incredible amount of power. I am hopeful that when development comes along soon, it is kind to the complex and it remembers all those thousands who had worked there and made Britain so great. Notwithstanding the sentiment, the complex boasts some wonderful architectural features, no expenses spared with beautiful brick terracotta at the former canteen and also remaining tiling in the engine houses.
 
“A Life Devoted To Eckersley Mill” is the most fitting tribute to William and also speaks for the family in general. This inscription is found upon his memorial.
 
Andrew Lomax
 

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