The Wigan Directory of 1881, Wigan

Wigan is an ancient and important market town, parliamentary and municipal borough, township and parish, 19 miles north-east from Liverpool, 18 north-west from Manchester, 195 north north-west from London, 10 west from Bolton, 16 south from Preston, 14 north from Warrington, 10 north-east from St. Helens, 38 south from Lancaster, and 19 south-east from Southport.

   The London and North-Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and Lancashire Union lines of railway afford communication with all parts of the kingdom. The town has also the advantage of water conveyance by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

   The principal part of the town is situate on rising ground of considerable steepness towards the north and east, and the town mainly extends from this to the north, north-east, and south. The River Douglas runs through it, being crossed by several bridges. This stream was made navigable under the powers of an act of parliament ontained in 1719, but since the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal the river course has been disused, as the Canal Company bought out the rights of navigation. The Douglas forms a great bend at Wigan, having come southerly from Rivington Pike, it now turns west and north to its confluence with the Ribble, above Southport.

   The Wigan coal field is one of the most important and productive in the kingdom. In addition to ordinary coal of excellent quality, a peculiar species - "cannel coal" - is found here, of great value from its highly inflammable nature. It is used principally for the manufacture of gas. There are upwards of eighty pits in the neighbourhood of Wigan. The various collieries are connected by branch lines with the railways mentioned above.

   The iron trade has latterly become a most important feature in the district. Very extensive furnaces, forges, rolling mills, &c., afford employment to a large number of hands.

   The proximity of Liverpool and the facilities for carriage naturally brought a portion of the cotton manufacturer to Wigan, where it has flourished to a considerable extent, there being several mills to the largest size for spinning and the manufacture of calicoes, checks, &c.

   There are also iron and brass foundries and engineering works, manufactories for spades, shovels, edge tools, screw bolts, tarpaulins and brattice cloth, chemical works, oil distilleries, several large breweries, & c. The history of Wigan is not less interesting than that of many towns of greater size.

   There are evidences that it was a place of note before British history began. The Ancient Britons probably had one of their entrenched towns on the hill which has the Parish Church near its summit, for when the greater part of south Lancashire was marsh-land or forest, such an isolated elevation, commanding a view of the valley of the Douglas, would be likely to attract the notice of men whose small tribes were constantly quarrelling, and whose subsistence was the chase.

   When the Romans had completed their conquest of Britain, they made roads that passed through Wigan, but there is no reason to believe that there was a station of any importance here, or that the roads were other than vicinal ways. The main road from the north to Mancunium (Manchester), possible passed down the Blackrod valley, the military station of Coccium being probably near that village; but the road that can be traced from Wigan northwards towards Ribchester, and south towards Warrington, was merely to connect this place with the main system of Roman military roads. The dome-shaped monticule between Whelley and the bed of the Douglas, though attributed as a military post to Cromwellian times, is more likely to have been a Roman post of observation. Roman coins have been found in Wigan, and more at Standish. The silent evidences of urn, coin, and earthwork are all of Roman domination that is left about Wigan, and but little of these.

   When the Romans were gone away the British had many struggles with the Saxons, and that hero of romance, King Arthur, is said to have won several battles in and about Wigan; but the sole authority for this statement is the following passage from "Nennius's History of the Britons" :-
"Then it was that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons, and though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conquerer. * * * The second, third, fourth, and fifth were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas (or Dubglas) in the region Linuis. * * * The eighth was near Gurnion Castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin Mother of Gid upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight. * * * The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill Badon. * * "
   There are no two commentators of note who are agreed about where these places are. Some say Dubglas is our Douglas, others place it in Scotland. The time at which Nennuis wrote is variously ascribed to the seventh and ninth centuries, while the manuscript used is not earlier than the tenth. The only one of the twelve battles elsewhere mentioned is the twelfth, by Gildas, but who Gildas was, no one knows, and he mentions not the name of Arthur, so that this period of the history of Wigan we must leave in darkness as we find it.

   We know nothing certain of Wigan in Saxon times, but the syllable "gate," in the nomenclature of streets, is understood to indicate a Saxon origin, and so we may be assured of its existence then, though it is not unlikely that in the later Saxon period it was almost entirely uninhabited, as it is never mentioned in the celebrated Domesday Book. One reason for this may be that it was, probably, an island amongst marsh-land and mere, and the Haigh side of the Douglas would be more likely to maintain a population.

   The origin of the name is said to be Saxon, Wigen or Wibiggin, but both are doubtful. After the Norman conquest, and when the Normans and Saxons were beginning to form one nation, Wigan emerged from obscurity, and Henry III granted its first charter. He also made his secretary, John Monsell, rector of Wigan and lord of the manor, and the manorial rights remained with the rectors until the Corporation purchased them.

   In the reign of Edward III Wigan sent two burgesses to Parliament; and though none were sent in the next reign, and there have been other intervals, yet it has since the usual practice to return two burgesses for this purpose. The feeble reign of Edward II was marked by trouble, and it would seem that the king passed this way more than once. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, rebelled and was defeated at Borough Bridge, and afterwards executed. Among those who aided him were Richardus de Holland, Willielmus de Bradshaghe, and Robertus de Cliderhou, parson of Wygan. The last was examined before the king for sending his sons to the earl and preaching treason in the church. He was fined £200, which was an enormous sum in those days, and bespoke the value of the living and manor of Wigan. William de Bradshaghe (or Haigh) seems to have escaped arrest, possibly by keeping out of the way, and he was a knight of the shire in this and the succeeding reign. The payment for borough members was two shillings a day at this time, and six or eight days were allowed for the journey to Westminster. It was in these times that Lady Mabel Bradshaigh performed her penance of walking bare-footed from Haigh to Mab's Cross, in Standishgate for marrying while her lord was away crusading in Palestine.

   When John of Gaunt married Blanche of Lancaster, to her vast possessions he added many gifts from the king (Edward III) his father. He obtained the title of duke, and about 1360, among other grants, he obtained the advowson of Wigan Church, and had it confirmed soon after.

   The county palatine - the earldom - and the Duchy of Lancaster passed through the line of Lancastrian kings, and Wigan would have its full share of the troubles in the Wars of the Roses. The Earldom of Derby (West Derby) having become separate from the Duchy, the Stanley family became chiefs in this part of the county, and Sir Edward aided Lord Surrey at the battle of Flodden Field, with bowmen and billmen from Wigan (A.D.1513), as well as other parts of the county. In the changes that came after the Reformation, a great decay of towns is mentioned, and in the act relating to this subject, in 1544, Wigan is enumerated among the suffering boroughs. In 1553, there was a general military muster of the whole realm, and the Hundred of Derby (West) produced the highest number of men in Lancashire - viz., 430, of which 52 were contributed by Wigan, and 67 by Prescot.

   In the reign of Queen Mary, the Protestants of Lancashire felt the force of persecution; and John Bradford, who was burnt in 1555, was a native of Manchester, and had preached in Wigan and the neighbouring towns. The chantry at the parish church was restored by this queen. Another military muster in the year 1574 gives 1090 men for West Derby. In this reign (Elizabeth's) Roman Catholics were persecuted for their assumed want of loyalty, and the laws against them were very severe, and in 1586, "the parson of Wigan" made a presentment of the names of priests concealed in the neighbourhood, and of the persons who harboured them. Two years later we have an account of certain payments to officers of the Duchy of Lancaster, and among them figures £5 10s. as the fee of the "clerke and steward of Wigan," showing into whose pockets went the balance of the value of the rectory and manor.

   Coming to the time of the Stuarts we find that Orlando Bridgeman, Esq., and Alexander Rigby, Esq., represented Wigan in the famous Long Parliament, till they left it to attend to the king in the war. Wigan was held for Charles, and in 1642, James, Earl of Derby, marched it to besiege Blackburn. In 1643, the Earl, who was strongly entrenched here, was driven out by Sir John Smeaton, and though there were some vicissitudes, it was mostly held for the Parliament after.

   In 1646, a large number of persons were compelled to compound for their estates by the Parliament, and among them were the Gerards, of Ince and Bryn; Ralph Brown, of Aspull; and William Brown and William Tempest, of Wigan. The last two paid £20 and £7 respectively.

   The Duke of Hamilton quartered his troops here the night before Cromwell passed through and defeated him at Winwick, in 1648. Lord Derby was also defeated here at the battle of Wigan Lane, by Colonel Lilburne, August 25th, 1651, which prevented him carrying aid to Charles at Worcester, where he was finally defeated by Cromwell ten days after. Sir Thomas Tyldesley was killed in this battle (Wigan) and a monument was erected to his memory in 1689, which still stands on the scene of the conflict. Wigan sent members to some of Cromwell's parliaments. We conclude this notice with the fact that the young pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart passed through Wigan on his way to Derby in the ill-fated expedition in 1745. He slept in the Manor house in Bishopgate, on the night of the 28th of November.

   The government of this ancient borough, all old charters being superseded, is now vested in a Corporation consisting of a Recorder, Mayor, ten Aldermen, thirty Councilmen, a Coroner and Town Clerk. For municipal purposes the borough is divided into five wards - viz: Scholes, Swinley, St. George's, All Saints, and Queen Street Wards. The present Mayor is William J. Lamb, Esq. Neither the Reform Bill of 1832 nor that of 1867 has altered the number of members returned to Parliament.

   The magistrates hold petty sessions in the new Court House in Rodney street, every Monday and Wednesday, at ten o'clock; and the County Magistrates also hold petty sessions for the Wigan Division, in the same building, on Fridays, at eleven o'clock. There is also a court of quarter sessions, with a recorder as judge.

   The ancient and interesting Parish Church is a beautiful edifice dedicated to All Saints. With the exception of the tower, the edifice was almost entirely rebuilt several years ago. The interior is ornamented by several mural tablets to the memory of deceased parishioners. The living is a rectory, in the presentation of the Earl of Bradford. The other churches of the Establishment in the town are St. George's, a plain brick building in Church Street; St. Catherine's, Birkett Bank, is a beautiful edifice with spire; St. Thomas', Caroline Street; and St. James', Poolstock, are handsome modern edifices. There are three Roman Catholic Churches, and numerous other Independent, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other chapels of Noncomformists, which will be found in the Directory. All the Episcopal and Catholic Churches and Noncomformists have day schools in connection. The other educational establishments will be found mentioned under their proper heads.

   THE NEW INFIRMARY. - The suggestion to erect a building that should combine all the advantages of a hospital with those of the existing dispensary, was first made at an annual meeting of the subscribers of the present institution, held in February, 1866, the necessity for such an establishment having long been felt. The Dispensary Committee, upon enquiry, found that there would be no difficulty in the way of disposing of the premises and land belonging to the Dispensary, and appropriating the proceeds to the funds of an Infirmary, should the consent of the trustees be obtained and the right proportion of the subscribers so determine. Consent was given, and it was decided to erect an institution as soon as all necessary arrangements were completed. The subscription list shows many very handsome donations, John Lancaster, Esq., M.P., and the Wigan Coal and Iron Co., Limited, giving £3,000 each. The workpeople of the above company gave nearly £3,000; the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres and the Misses Gidlow each £2,000; Lord Lindsay £1,000; whilst many others gave sums of £500, £300, &c. The corner-stone was laid by the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, on the 26th December, 1870, and was opened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The buildings are arranged so as to front the main road from Wigan to Standish. The administrative offices and dispensary occupy the centre, right and left of which are wings for males and females, and in the rear of the offices is a two-storey pavilion for surgical or accidental cases. The ward accomodation is for 60 patients - 45 males and 15 females. The buildings stand on land the most accessible and healthy in Wigan, the extent of which is 7 acres, 2 roods, 14 perches, and 80 yards, at a cost of £6,192 10s., less £300 returned as a donation by A. F. Haliburton, Esq., from whom one portion of the land was purchased. The tender (£13,032) of Mr. Joseph Wilson of Wigan, for the building, &c., was accepted. Mr. Thomas Worthington, of Manchester, was the architect.

   The Union Workhouse has accommodation for 800 inmates. It is situate on the west side of the town, in Frog Lane, and was built in 1857. The Union includes the following places: - Abram, Ashton-in-Makerfield (or Ashton-le-Willows), Aspull, Billinge-Chapel-End, Billinge-Higher-End, Blackrod, Dalton, Haigh, Hindley, Ince-in-Makerfield, Orrell, Parbold, Pemberton, Shevington, Standish-with-Langtree, Upholland, Wigan, Winstanley, Worthington, and Wrightington.

   The County Court which is held every fortnight, has jurisdiction over a district co-extensive with the Union. The Town Hall, King street, erected at a cost of over £17,000, contains the Borough Gaol, Police and Fire Engine Stations, Sessions' Courts, and other public offices. In the same street are located the Liberal Club, the Theatre Royal, and the Public Hall. The latter building contains the Mechanics' Institute, Library and News-rooms, and two large rooms adapted for concerts, balls, or public meetings. The Arcade Building, King street, is a handsome pile in the domestic Gothic style of architecture, built for Richard Leigh, Esq., solicitor. The building is entirely faced with the best Yorkshire stone, richly relieved with carving and large columns of Shap granite, and contains the following accommodation: - An arcade of shops, the Manchester and County Bank, and several sets of fine offices. There are also buildings of recent erection which tend to ornament and improve the appearance of the town.

   WIGAN FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY. - The borough has to thank the munificence of two of its citizens for this noble institution. In February, 1873, Mr. Thomas Taylor offered to present £5,000 for the purpose of erecting a Free Library in Wigan, and some months later he intimated that instead of presenting the town with £5,000, he would pay the purchase money of the land, and erect upon it, at his sole cost, a Public Library, and upon its completion would hand over the building to the Mayor and Corporation. The town is still more indebted to Mr. Taylor in this alteration of the original mode of gift, for by the time the building was finished, the cost was found to be nearer £10,000 than £5,000. In October, 1873, died Mr. Joseph Taylor Winnard, an old inhabitant of Wigan, who had carried on an extensive practice as a surgeon in the town, and by his will, after certain other bequests, he left to the Mayor of Wigan for the time being, all the residue of the moneys to arise from the sale and conversion of his effects, to be expended in the purchase of Books to be placed in the Free Library. At this time the bequest was supposed to amount to a sum of £20,000, but, unfortunately, legal difficulties arose, the matter was put under the administration of the Court of Chancery and it was found that the actual sum applicable was about £12,000. In October, 1876, the ratepayers unanimously adopted the Public Libraries' Acts, and the building being at last completed, was formally handed over to the Mayor and Corporation on the 20th October, 1877. The opening ceremony passed off with great éclat, a procession, followed by a banquet, being the order of the day. After this event, the purchase of the books was taken in hand and steadily progressed. In bequeathing the money, Dr. Winnard had requested that Mr. Gerard B. Finch should be principally consulted in the selection of the books, and a more fortunate and appreciative choice could not have been made. Mr. Finch is a native of Wigan, educated in the town, afterwards taking the proud position of senior wrangler at Cambridge. To his careful and judicious selection the town owes its splendid collection of books, the Reference Library being considered by the most eminent bibliographical authorities, one of the finest in the kingdom. To Mr. Finch was also left the choice of the first Librarion, and at his recommendation the Corporation appointed Mr. Henry Tennyson Folkard, who up to that time had held the position of sub-librarian of the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House. In May, 1878, the Library was opened to the public, the books having been in the interim shelved and classified. Since that period the progress of the institution has been a continued success. A peculiarity of the working of the Library is its remaining open to the public on Sabbath day. In only three libraries in the kingdon, i.e., Manchester, Birmingham, and Wigan, has this been attempted, and in each case the success has been startling, none more so than at Wigan, for the report shows that over 10,500 people visited the Library on the Sundays in 1880. For this privelege the town has agin to thank the liberality of Mr. Taylor, who at his own expense keeps the building open on that day. In briefly mentioning some of the treasures of the Library, we may say its Reference Department is particularly rich in Patristics, Topography, and works relating to Natural Science and the Industrial Arts; in the latter class, its collection of Mining Literature, of which a special catalogue has been issued, is the best in the country. It possesses a copy of the 'Great' or Bishops' Bible, published in 1541; a fac-simile of the Codex Vaticanus, the oldest known copy of the Holy Scriptures in the world; a complete set of the Abbé Migne's great Theological Library, in 400 vols. quarto; Briam Walton's Polyglot Bible, and many others too numerous to mention. In its Topographical collection will be found all the great county histories, such as Baines' Lancashire, Dugdale's Warwickshire, Nichols' Leicestershire, &c., &c., and passing on to the Fine Art books, will be found those princely folios illustrating the great picture galleries of Europe, such as the National Gallery, the Louvre, the Museo Borbonico, the Vatican Gallery, and many others. To conclude, the Library contains in all about 25,000 volumes. The building, which is in the modern Gothic style of architecture, was erected from the designs of Mr. Waterhouse.

   WIGAN GRAMMAR SCHOOL is of ancient foundation, but the precise date of its foundation is not known. It is ascertained from documents still extant that there was a school in 1597. The original building stood on what is called School Common, near the river Douglas, and a portion of it still remains in the form of a cottage. In 1723 this building had fallen into decay, and it was found necessary to build a new school. For this purpose a site was obtained in what is called Schoolcroft, in Millgate, where the Free Library now stands, and a stone building was erected in the classical style of architecture, the cost of which was defrayed by subscriptions from the inhabitants. In this building the work of education was carried on till the end of 1872. By this time, owing to imperfect foundations and other causes, the building had become dilapidated; and, as it was badly lighted and imperfectly ventilated, damp, dismal, and unwholesome, it was thought to be unsuited for the education of the young. The number of pupils, too, had largely increased, and the accommodation was not sufficient for their requirements. It was therefore decided to build a new school. Under the Wigan Improvement Act a site had been reserved for a new school in a much better situation at the corner of the new Mesnes Park. This was due to the enlightened interest taken in the school, as in all that tends to the welfare of Wigan, by an old pupil, the Chairman of the Governors, N. Eckersley, Esq., of Standish Hall.

   In the year 1874 the site on the Mesnes Park was marked out, and in the following year the work of building was begun. The Governors were determined to erect a school worthy of the town of Wigan, which should remain for ages as a memorial of their public spirit, and of their interest in the comfort and well-being of the youthful population. Plans were procured from Mr. A. Waterhouse, the eminent architect, who designed a school remarkable for the excellence of its accommodation, for its spacious and airy rooms, and for the air of brightness and cheerfulness that characterises the whole building.

   Wigan Grammar School may be taken as a model of what a school building ought to be which is intended to be the home of boys at the most elastic and impressionable time of life. The effect of such a bright and cheerful building must have a beneficial influence on the minds and spirits of the pupils, and may go far to help the refining and humanising work of education.

   The building is in what is sometimes called the domestic Gothic style - of red brick freely treated with stone facings - and is a splendid specimen of the builders' art. As we enter from the S.E. side a corridor leads to the lecture hall, a magnificent room 70ft. long by 30ft. wide, and about 40ft. high, brightly lighted by ten large and lofty windows. On the same floor, opening out of the corridor, on either side are two classrooms; and, at the other end of the corridor, is a spacious dining hall, intended for the accommodation of the many pupils who come from a distance. Ascending a handsome flight of stone steps we come to another spacious room, about 40ft. by 30ft, with a high pitched roof, lighted from both sides. This room was designed as a drawing school and is used for this as well as ordinary class purposes. Opposite there is another classroom used for the preparatory school. Throughout the building there is no waste of space, but all is used to the best advantage. The school provides accommodation for 300 boys. To the southern end of the building consists of an elegant and commodious house for the head master. The building stands in about two acres of ground, and possesses a good open playground, and a covered playground for wet weather.

   After considerable delay in building, the school was formally opened on Nov. 3rd, 1879, by N. Eckersley, Esq., in the presence of the then Home Secretary, (Sir R. A. Cross), and a large assembly of all who are interested in Wigan. It was matter for general regret that the Mayor, Mr. W. Crompton, who had taken great interest in the building, and looked forward anxiously to its completion, was prevented by serious illness from being present at the opening.

   The school possesses an exhibition of £50 a year, tenable for three years at Oxford or Cambridge, founded by the liberality of Mr. F. S. Poewll, who has always proved a sincere friend to everything that tends to the benefit of Wigan.

   One of the great improvements in the town is the New Market Hall. It was opened on the 21st May, 1877, by the Mayor of Wigan, Alderman Walter Mayhew; the Earl of Bradford being present at the luncheon, as guest of his worship. The town was dressed in holiday gear, and the event must certainly take rank as one of the great days in the history of the borough. Hitherto, the vendors and buyers of merchandise in our public streets have been exposed to all kinds of weather, but now they will have as comfortable places for the conducting of their business, and all the means and appliances, to boot, as may be found in any tradesman's shop. The Market Hall is a brick building, 200 feet long by 150 feet wide, and stands almost directly N. and S. It is 26 feet high to the internal eaves. It is covered by three distinct bays or roofs: in the centre is the principle entrance, which is relieved with stone facings, those from the Yorkshire quarries forming base pilasters, with foliated caps. There is also a Fish Market attached, 120 feet long by 50 wide. The general contractor was Mr. C. B. Holmes, of Cross Street Saw Mills, Wigan. The cost of building, including site, was £40,000.

   Adjoining the Market Hall is a large open square, which has been paved and laid out specially for the wholesale business; it is well supplied with all kinds of vegetables, hay, straw, and other produce, on market days, and is considered one of the finest squares for this purpose of any town in the kingdom.

   The Park, opened by the High Sheriff of Lancashire, N. Eckersley, Esq., is a great boon to the town; it is prettily laid out in ornamental walks; it has a very fine lake, with several kinds of birds; there is also a handsome fountain. The Pavilion, situated on a terrace, opened in 1880 by the Mayor, Mr. ffarington, is a very handsome building, with a glass dome and a balcony. On Whit Monday and 1st Monday in August, the Park is the scene of two galas for the benefit of the Infirmary.

   The Tramways, from the Market Place to Lamberhead Green, were opened on Monday, the 2nd of August, 1880. The nominal capital of the company is £70,000, in 7,000 shares at £10 each, in which only £20,000 has been issued.It is intended that the Tramways should consist of three routes, viz: - Wigan to Pemberton, Ince and Hindley; and a distance of one mile up Wigan Lane. At present, the only portion of the line completed is that from Wigan to Pemberton. Mr. C. H. Beloe was the Engineer.

   The banking establishments in the town are the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, the Manchester and County Bank, Parr's Banking Company, and the Savings Bank.

   Fairs are held on Holy Thursday, and the day before and after June 27th, October 28th, 29th, and 30th. The Wigan Union contained at the census of 1861, 94,561 inhabitants; in 1871, 111,898; and in 1881, 139,882.

   Acreage of the Union, 47,018. The population of the borough of Wigan, by the census of 1861, was 37,658; in 1871, 39,111; and in 1881, 48,196.


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