|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.