A-Z of Wigan by Sue Gerrard
The Northern town of Wigan can trace its beginnings to a settlement dating back to Prehistoric times and throughout its proud history it has played a leading role in the history of the United Kingdom. The Romans settled here with the Station Coccium. It was then home to a Saxon settlement and after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in became part of the Manor of Newton under Roger de Poictou. In 1315 it was the centre of the Banastre Rebellion and Edward II visited here in 1323 and stayed at Upholland Priory for two weeks. The Priory was dissolved in 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII. The Priory became St. Thomas the Martyr Church which became the parish church of Upholland in 1882 and can still be visited today.
Wigan played a leading role in the English Civil War and was the site of the decisive Battle of Wigan in 1651.
Wigan grew during the Industrial Revolution with coal production, engineering, and textiles among the many industries to be found here. The social conditions which resulted from this rapid change were written about by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier published in 1937. Orwell lived in Wigan for three weeks in 1936 to look at the bleak living conditions of the working classes and in doing so placed the area in the national spotlight.
During the Industrial Revolution Wigan became a hub of the transport network when canals came here with the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the Bridgewater canal which opened in 1761.
The Railway Age came to this area with the world’s first passenger railway, the Liverpool to Manchester line, and the driver of the train, Rocket was Edward Entwistle who was born in Wigan.
On 12th April 1918 Wigan experienced a Zeppelin Raid and seventeen bombs were dropped. There were five deaths and nine serious injuries. The Germans thought they were bombing Sheffield.
During the Second World War two remarkable women played their part in the war effort. The first wasMargery Myers Booth, the Wigan born opera singer who captivated Hitler and spied for Great Britain. She was captured by the Gestapo and although tortured didn’t reveal any information. At the end of the war, she was released from prison and later gave evidence against SS officers.
Mary O’ Shaunessywas born in Ashton-in-Makerfield in 1898 and travelled to France to become a nanny but while there, World War Two broke out. In occupied France she worked for the French Resistance by hiding British servicemen and directing groups to escape through the Pyrenees. After being betrayed she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Mary survived and went to Kenya where she was caught up in the Mau Mau uprising which she also survived.
Wigan has also produced some giants of the entertainment business such as George Formby, Roy Kinnear, and Ian McKellen. Song writer Barry Mason who co-wrote such hits as The Last Waltz and Delilah was born here. It was also the capital of Northern Soul thanks to Wigan Casino.
Two other well-known household names have lived here; the first was Dan Dare’s Batman Digby the accident prone to be man who has the accolade at being the only character apart from Dan Dare to appear in every story.
The second is Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame. He has one of the best-known addresses in Wigan, the fictional 62 Wallaby Street, where he lives with his dog Gromit.
Its well-known artists include Theodore Major and James Laurence Isherwood, of whom LS Lowery said: ‘He is the most likely to follow in my footsteps.’
Well-known writers include James Hilton author of Lost Horizons and Goodbye Mr. Chips. He became a Hollywood writer and won an Oscar for Mrs Minivar.
It’s certainly a sporting life in Wigan as they have a successful rugby league club the Wigan Warriors and Wigan Athletic football club who won the FA Cup in 2012. Among its well-known sports people are Liverpool footballer Roger Hunt, Olympic swimming champion June Croft and champion flyweight boxer Peter Kane.
Sue Gerrard's book A-Z of Wigan is available for purchase now.