|Wigan is one of the four oldest boroughs in Lancashire, receiving a charter from Henry III in 1246. It is believed to have started life as the Roman garrison town of Coccium. Some of the town's charters are on display in Wigan History Shop, a former Victorian library designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the celebrated architect of Manchester town hall and the Natural History Museum.
Famous Wigan food products include Heinz baked beans, Pataks Indian foods, Potters herbal remedies, Uncle Joe's Mint Balls, and De Roma ice cream.
Other well known Wigan firms include Girobank, the Tote, JJB Sports, US glass fibre manufacturers PPG, and carpet firm Milliken. Wigan is also the home of the North West Tourist Board and the Tidy Britain Group.
Once the centre of the Lancashire coalfield - in the late 1800s there were 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre - Wigan no longer has any collieries. The last pit, Bickershaw, closed in 1992.
Wigan was a key battle ground during the Civil War in the 17th century, and Cromwell's troops passed through the town twice. The town stayed loyal to the king, and was later rewarded with a ceremonial sword. Until local government reorganisation its motto was 'Ancient and Loyal'.
The Verve, whose split was announced recently became Wigan's most famous musical export since ... George Formby! The band were all from the Wigan area and met while at Winstanley College, a sixth form centre on the outskirts of town.
Other notable Wigan bands include the Railway Children and folk-rockers the Tansads. Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra is known the world over, while Andy Prior - dubbed the new Sinatra - owes his success to his formative years with WYJO. Nearby Leigh - part of the borough of Wigan - is the birthplace of Georgie Fame.
In the 1960s and 70s, Wigan Casino was the spiritual home of 'Northern Soul' music, attracting thousands to its famous all-nighters. The casino burnt down in the early 1980s. In the 90s the town gained a reputation as a centre for jazz and now hosts an international jazz festival every summer.
Well-known Wigan-born figures include entertainers George Formby, Roy Kinnear, Ted Ray and Frank Randle; miners' leader Joe Gormley; and former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Sir James Anderton. Actor Sir Ian McKellen grew up in the town in a house opposite Mesnes Park.
Contemporary Wiganers of note include Kay Burley of Sky News; DJ, journalist and TV film critic Stuart Maconie; former Hollyoaks actress Davinia Murphy (who played Jude Cuningham), and Coronation Street's Georgia Taylor (Toyah Battersby) and Eva Pope (barmaid Tanya Pooley). Local MP Ian McCartney is currently a high flier in Tony Blair's New Labour government as Trade Minister.
Wigan Rugby League FC are the UK's top club side. In 1990/91 they won all the major trophies, and hold the record for the number of successive cup and league wins. In soccer, Wigan Athletic have moved into a new 25,000 seat stadium at the town's Robin Park, which they share with the Wigan Warriors rugby club. It has been paid for by...
Wigan Athletic's multi-millionaire chairman Dave Whelan, the boss of JJB Sports, whose phenomenally successful chain of sportswear stores is one of the UK's retailing success stories.
Literary links include George Orwell, whose unflattering portrait of the town at the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier, angered many, and American thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith, whose 1996 novel Rose was set in Victorian Wigan.
For a town with an industrial image, Wigan's countryside is a constant source of amazement to visitors. The borough has three country parks (including Haigh), more Sites of Special Scientific Interest than anywhere else in the region, and a wealth of wildlife and rare plants.
Wigan Pier, once a musical hall joke, has been restored as one of the UK's top heritage attractions, winning 15 national tourism awards for its portrait of local life at the turn of the century.
The name is thought to have first been used by George Formby Senior, a popular local entertainer in his own right. It described not a seaside pier but a small jetty, projecting over the side of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, which was used for tipping coal from railway trucks into barges.
Thomas Beecham first manufactured his famous pills in Wigan. Marks and Spencer was born in Wigan when Michael Marks joined forces with Thomas Spencer in 1894. For three years the town was the firm's headquarters.
In 1698 travel writer Celia Fiennes described Wigan as a 'pretty market town built of stone and brick.' Almost three hundred years later the American travel writer Bill Bryson wrote: "Such is Wigan's perennially poor reputation that I was truly astounded to find it has a handsome and well-maintained town centre".
Wigan is twinned with the French city of Angers, in the Loire Valley. The two councils exchange 'ambassadresses' every year.
Wigan Metropolitan Borough is the 9th largest Metropolitan district in the country covering 77 square miles. In population terms the Borough is the 12th biggest in the country at around 310,000. Wigan itself has around 90,000 residents.
Wigan is the most westerly borough in the county of Greater Manchester, lying halfway between Liverpool and Manchester - although most residents still think of themselves as Lancastrians.
Haigh Hall is the ancestral home of the Lindsay family, Earls of Crawford and Balcarres. The present hall was built between 1827 and 1840.
Haigh woodlands were laid out in the 1860s, giving work to unemployed Wiganers during the cotton famine caused by the American civil war. In 1947 the hall and its grounds were bought by the then Wigan Corporation and it is now run by Wigan Council's leisure services department.
Wigan has one of the country's most famous swimming clubs - the Wigan Wasps - responsible for training scores of top swimmers, like former Olympic medallist June Croft.
And finally.... what's the link between an old-style red telephone box and Wigan's war memorial in the grounds of the Parish Church? The answer is that they were both designed by the same architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who was also responsible for Liverpool Cathedral).