History of Wigan Town
Wigan was an important Roman military station, known as Coccium; it lay on the Roman road from Warrington and Chester to the north, and close to the road from Manchester.
Wigan was granted its first royal charter in 1246, making it one of the four oldest boroughs in Lancashire – Manchester was only a village while Wigan was an important royal borough! There were four principal streets – Wallgate, Standishgate, Millgate and Hallgate (the use of ‘gate’ is a legacy of Scandinavian settlement in the 10th century), all converging on Market Place. Residence within the town walls was largely restricted to a select few, the burgesses, whose permission was required for strangers to stay in the town.
Wigan has long been an important coal-mining area – references to digging coal can be found as early as the 14th century. There were even coalpits in the very centre of the town in the 17th century.
In the 17th century, Wigan was, after London, the most important centre for pewter in the country; the town was also of national importance in the manufacture of clocks, bells and crossbows.
Wigan has always been staunchly royalist, unlike Leigh which, during the Civil War of the 17th century, supported the Parliamentary cause against the king. In 1651, the Royalist cause in Lancashire sustained its final defeat at the Battle of Wigan Lane.
In the 18th century, the famous Methodist, John Wesley, referred to Wigan as a town ‘proverbially famous for all manner of wickedness’! Ellen Weeton, a local governess, writing in the early 1800’s described the town as ‘a place of mental barrenness, where ignorance and vulgarity are their boast, and literature has scarcely dawned’!
In 1836, Wigan had its first full-time police force, of 6 men – within 4 years, all had been sacked for being drunk!
In the 1830’s, Wigan had 75 pubs, 15 of which were in Scholes. By the 1870’s, there were over 300, and over 70 in Scholes alone virtually one at every street corner!
Wigan Coat of Arms
Notwithstanding its ancient origin and notable record Wigan was almost unique amongst the Boroughs by having no coat of arms. In 1922 this reproach was removed when a worthy Grant was assigned by the College of Arms to the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors of the County Borough of Wigan, reciting the chief periods of their history with the armorials actually epitomising this history.
The language of heraldry is understood by few people, and although the description of the arms given in the official document is unusually simple, it is not unlikely that a rendering into ordinary language will be appreciated by most readers. The essential part may then be transmuted: "On a red field a three-towered castle in silver, surmounted by a crown composed of fleur-delis in gold. And for crest, on a red and silver wreath, a king’s head in its natural colours, full-faced and cut off below the shoulders, full-haired, with a gold crown and a red clothing, and in front thereof a lion couchant facing front in gold. And for Supporters: on either side a lion in gold holding in the exterior paw a branch of Mountain Ash (or Wiggin Tree) in natural colours
Mr. J. Paul Rylands describes this coat as "perhaps the very best of all Lancashire town arms, for it might, heraldically, belong to the Middle Ages, and is indeed symbolical of antiquity and loyally'. It is certainly a very privileged coat of arms as few if any coats bear so many symbols of royal favour-indeed, the incorporation of royal insignia into armorial bearings is jealously guarded and usually proscribed by the court officials. In Wigan 's new grant there are (1) A King’s head, CROWNED; (2) the Royal "Leopard" (or "lion couchant guardant"); (3) a medieval royal crown; and (4) the Supporting lions.
The King’s head in the crest officially represents no particular King; in the words of the Rouge Croix herald (in whose hands the design took shape) it is intended 'to be conventional likeness to an early English Monarch". It is actually modelled on the portrait of King Edward Ill, but from the point of view of the town it symbolises especially King Henry 1. On Wigan 's earliest town seal-probably 12th century-there appears a Towered or castellated gateway over the centre of which is depicted what seems to be the crowned head of Henry 1.
These devices, therefore, are taken as the chief symbols of the new bearings: the towered gateway becomes a Norman castle and the Kings head becomes a crest- indicating Wigan as a town of consequence and royalpatronage at the opening of the 12th century The Royal lion, again, marks another important period in Wigan history. Edward Ill, by ix charter of 1350, granted Wigan the right (with several other towns) to use a royal seal known as the 'King's Recognaisance Seal". on which was figured the Kings head and the royal lion. The Somerset Herald expressed the opinion that as none of the other towns had made use of the King’s permission by adopting the figures in their arms Wigan could with propriety include them, and his view prevailed with the Chapter of Heralds.
Supporters are nowadays usually granted only to the great cities, but Wigan 's ancient importance has been thereby recognised: the lions giving fine distinction to a highly dignified and privileged coat of arms. The branches of mountain ash (in full berry) borne in the lions' paws, known in the northern dialects as the Wiggin or Wigan Tree, form a "rebus" or pun on the name of the town, and have the advantage of giving further symbolism to an already significant coat. The rebus has tradition behind it, for the Wiggin Tree is a conspicuous feature of several of the town's medieval seals. The helmet and "mantling” above the shield are normal accompaniments of all coats of arms, but have no heraldic significance. The artist is allowed considerable freedom in drawing this feature.
The motto adopted, "Ancient and Loyal," is in keeping with the Arms. For a great many years Wigan has on all occasions, official and unofficial, invariably referred to itself as the 'Ancient and Loyal Borough' but few are aware that authority for its use can be found in the Charter of Charles II-the governing charter of the town down to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. In that charter Wigan is designated by the King "an ancient borough" and granted a 'special token of our favour' for it's "loyalty to us", so that nothing could be more fitting than its adoption as the town's motto, and it is doubtful if anything connected with the new grant pleased Wiganers more than the fact that the King, through his College of Arms, has thus officially recognised Wigan’s title to the sobriquet.
New Crest and Logo - The Amorial Bearings of the Borough
"Progress with Unity", the motto of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan is an apt one for an authority which embraces fourteen former districts.
The black lozenges allude to coal mining and reflect the arms of Atherton U.D.C., Golborne U.D.C. and Hindley U.D.C.
The red roses refer to the County of Lancashire , Golborne and Hindley U.D.Cs.
The gold lion couchant is taken from the crest of the Borough of Wigan and features in one of the ancient seals of that borough.
The crowned castle is taken from the shield of the Borough of Wigan. The castle and crown are elements from one of the borough's mediaeval seals.
The mountain ash or Wiggin Tree is chosen as a pun on the name of the district.
Branches of this tree are borne by the supporters in the Arms of the Borough of Wigan and the tree features in several of the borough's mediaeval seals.
The dexter supporter is taken from the achievement of the Borough of Wigan.
The lion here wears a crown of the type which features in the crest.
The sparrowhawk occurs in the Arms of the Borough of Leigh and in the crest of the Atherton U.D.C.
Town Coat of Arms, old and new (.pdf, 258KB)
The Council's Logo
Wigan Council's logo was introduced at the beginning of 2000. Its prime purpose is to provide a modern image which will ensure that the public are aware of the Council's key role in providing local services. It has replaced the former 'Metropolitan Wigan' logo on stationery and publications, and is gradually being introduced on vehicles and signs as and when they are renewed. The formal crest, or coat of arms, is now only used in connection with the Mayoralty and for other civic and ceremonial purposes.
It is almost 70 years since George Orwell published the Road to Wigan Pier. He chose Wigan as the symbol of a civilisation founded on coal and went there to study the effects of the industrial recession of the 1930s and the lives of working class people in the mining and manufacturing districts of the north. His one disappointment was that the Wigan Pier he had set his heart on seeing had been demolished. Then in 1984 a group of students from Wigan College of Technology reinstated the two metal rails curved up like tusks that had stood on the canal’s edge. It was all part of a decision by the Labour controlled Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council to turn its back on the industrial past, by restoring its features. The warehouses opposite the pier were refurbished, the site cleaned up and re-opened as the Wigan Pier Heritage Centre, and an exhibition named “The Way We Were” was born. This transformation cost three and a half million pounds and Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the centre in March 1986.
Today Wigan Pier represents an informative emotional experience, a symbolic recovery of “The Way We Were”.
Wigan has had three historic seats of local government.
The first was the medieval Moot Hall, which stood at the Wallgate entrance to the Market Place. The first surviving mention of the Moot Hall dates from the 15th century; we know from a 17th century town seal that it was a hip-roofed building standing on rows of four pillars, with a door in the middle opening onto a balcony. On the ridge of the roof is a belfry containing the market bell, while in front is a market cross. It was usual, in such buildings, for the ground floor to be occupied by traders, and we know that in the 17th century there were butchers’ shops under the Hall. In 1719 the Moot Hall practically fell down and was rebuilt by the Rector. It was demolished and rebuilt once again in 1829, again with shops underneath, and with the local court held on the first floor; it was finally demolished in 1869.
The Town Hall in 1866
Wigan's Town Hall in King Street was built in 1866 and was neither the authority's administrative headquarters nor a particularly impressive building. Its ramshackle corridors provided increasingly unsuitable accommodation for both the Council's civic functions and the staff who worked there. This building was used until 1990 when staff and services were transferred to the Civic Centre, Millgate, Wigan and The New Town Hall (shown below):-
Designed by the Liverpool and Blackburn-based architectural partnership of Briggs and Wolstenholme, it was completed in 1903 and provided a new home for the rapidly expanding Wigan Mining and Technical College . The college had developed out of the Wigan Mechanics Institute, formed in the 1850s, and by the turn of the century was regarded as one of the country's foremost centres for training mining engineers. The Countess of Crawford opened the splendid new building in 1903 and a later extension was added in 1929. But as the region's pits dwindled, the demand for mining engineers gradually reduced, and other departments of the expanding technical college - notably art and building - moved in. By the end of the 1980s, Wigan College of Technology was growing rapidly and needed larger premises and at the same time the Council was looking for more space.
So a complex series of moves got underway which led to Wigan 's 'new' town hall being opened in June of 1990. The building received the royal seal of approval in November 1991, when the late Diana, Princess of Wales, performed the official opening. Excited crowds lined Library Street to greet the Princess, who was also opening The Galleries and the new Magistrates' Court.
The Town Hall isn’t just the nerve centre of the council – it is also one of the borough’s most stylish venues for weddings, functions and conferences. The Anjou Suite is named after the French region which is home to Wigan ’s twin, Angers . The walls of the Chamber’s function room display replica copies of ten royal charters granted to Wigan since a borough in 1246. The first charter, granted in that year by Henry III, no longer survives, the earliest one on display is the charter of Edward II in 1314. As Wigan is the oldest Borough its Mayoral Car heads the cavalcade on the Mall when the Mayor of Wigan attends the Royal Garden Party in July of each year.
Based upon a seventeenth century account of a charter of incorporation issued by King Henry I in 1100, (this Charter is now lost) Wigan claims to be Lancashire’s oldest borough.
The Charter itself developed from King Henry III issued in August 1246 reads:
Henry, by the Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Count of Angers; to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, chief ministers, and bailiffs, and his faithful subjects greeting; Know ye that we have granted, and by this, our charter confirmed for us and our heirs to our beloved and faithful, John Mansel, parson of the Church of Wigan, that his lands at Wigan may be a borough for ever, and that the burgesses of the same borough may have a Guild Merchant, with a treasury and other liberties and free customs to that Guild belonging, and that no one who is not of that Guild, may make any merchandise in the aforesaid borough, unless by the will of the same burgesses.
We have also granted to the same burgesses and their heirs that they may have rights of local jurisdiction, admission, and attachment within the said borough, and that they may come and go freely, and be free throughout our whole land, and through all the ports of the sea, from toll, custom, passage, pontage, and stallage, and that no Counties or Wapentakes shall have any influence on the tenures which they hold within the borough aforesaid. We have also granted to the same burgesses and their heirs, that whatsoever traders shall come to the borough aforesaid with their merchandise, of whatsoever place they shall be, foreigners, or others, who shall be of our peace, or of our leave, shall come into our land, may come safely and securely to the aforesaid borough with their merchandise, and safely there may stay and safely from thence may return by doing there the right and due customs; we do also prohibit that no one may do injury or damage, or molestation, unto the aforesaid burgesses, upon forfeiture of £10. Wherefore we do will and firmly command for us and our heirs that the aforesaid manor of Wigan be a borough for ever, and that the aforesaid burgess may have the aforesaid Guild Merchant, with an entry fee and with the other liberties and free customs to that Guild belonging, and that they may have all other liberties and free customs and quittances as is a aforesaid.
Witnesses hereto:- Richard Earl of Cornwall, our brother, Roger le Pygot, Earl of Norfolk, Peter de Saband, William de Ferrers, Ralph Fit Nichol, William de Cantilupo, John de Plesset, Paul Peyner, Robert de Mustengros, Bartholemy Peche and others. Given by our hand at Woodstock , the 26th day of August, in the 30 th year of our reign.
The Town Hall building also boasts an intriguing facility of another kind, two Edwardian gents’ urinals. These have a small picture of a bee etched into their glaze at a point which indicates where men were supposed to aim in order to avoid splashing their spats. The Latin word for a bee is ‘apis’. The urinals, are now preserved for posterity, and are featured in a book about Britain’s most unusual toilets by the author Lucinda Lambton.
Following the reorganisation of Local Government 1974, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council inherited Town Halls from the areas of Abram, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Aspull, Atherton, Golborne, Hindley, Ince, Leigh, Orrell, Standish and Tyldesley. Following the closure of the district offices in March 2002 these buildings were used for office accommodation or sold off to the private sector. However, Leigh Town Hall still retains its Mayor’s Parlour and is used for marriages, as is Wigan Town Hall.
A Guide to the Stained Glass Windows in the Council Chamber
One of may generous gifts given to the college was from Mr Alfred Hewlett was the stained glass windows in what was then the Assembly Hall. Each window bears a statement or quotation. Due to the height of the windows and the smallness of lettering not all inscriptions are readable at ground level so they are listed below.
- The daughters of the year dance into light and die into shade.
- To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
- The moments we forego eternity itself cannot retrieve.
- Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (that last infirmity of noble mind) to scorn delights and live laborious days.
- Call it not vain they do not err that says that when the poet dies mute nature mourns the worshipper.
- Music gives soul to the universe wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.
- There cometh on good thing apart from toil to mortals.
- Well might the daring mariner of old dred thee, bleak sea and with trembling hands guide his frail bark a sail for those dry lands that lie in such a darkness.
- Words are things and a small, drop rop of ink falling like dew upon though produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.
- Around this temple let the merchant's law be just, his weights true, and his covenants faithful.
- The web of our life is of a mangled yarn, good and ill together, our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not.
- Call it not folly, spinner like to spin the thread of present life, in away to win what? For ourselves who not if we shall breathe out the very breath we now breathe in.
- Work secures the rich reward of rest, we must rest to be able to work well, and work to be able to enjoy rest.
- It is better to wear out than to rust out and there is a dust, which settles on the heart as well as that which rest upon the ledge.
- You will do the greatest service to the state if you shall raise not the roofs off the house, but the souls of the citizens.
- Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (that last infirmity of noble mind) to scorn delights and live laborious days.
- Deep in the mines dense gloom profound, far from the suns bright ray, under the safety lamps pale gleam the miner toils.
- All honour to steam the handmaiden of science.
- Crafty men condemn studies simple men admire them, and wise men use them.
- Blessing on science! When the earth seemed old, when fate grew dotting and our reason cold, twas she discovered that the world was young and taught a language to its lisping tongue.
- As the sun colours flowers so does art colour life.
- As much tunes the ear and colours tutors the eye, so words of taste refine the mind.
Townships from 2002
The Township programme has been set up to make it easier for residents to become involved in planning the future of their communities. The borough has been divided into ten Township areas. Each area has a Township manager and Township officer who are working to co-ordinate the way in which public services are delivered and encourage improvements in services, where they are needed.
They will also be encouraging local people to have a greater involvement in the borough’s Community Plan by helping people to identify local issues and action. Each of the ten townships has a Township Forum -–the Forums provide a link between the agencies that deliver services in the borough and local communities. Over time they will be responsible for producing local plans and charters.
- Ashton - means ‘ash town’ and Makerfield – formerly a district that stretched from Orrell to the River Mersey – means ‘the ruin in the clearing’. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Landgate, Bryn, Ashton Heath, Stubshaw Cross and Town Green.
- Atherton - An old name for the centre of Atherton is Chowbent, where ‘Chow’ is a personal name, and ‘Bent’ means a grassy field. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Hag Fold, Howe Bridge , and Hindsford.
- Hindley - The earliest surviving documentary reference to Hindley dates from the year 1212. All Saints Church, built by public subscription in 1641 and rebuilt in 1766, was from the time of its founding, a centre of Puritanism. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Hindley Green, Low Hall, Platt Bridge , Abram, Bickershaw, Bamfurlong, and Spring View.
- Leigh - The parish of Leigh was formed in the 12th century and comprised the six townships of Bedford, Pennington, Westleigh, Astley, Atherton and Tyldesley with Shakerley. Leigh is the second largest town in the Metropolitan Borough; and it was granted a Charter of Incorporation as a municipal borough from Queen Victoria on August 2nd 1899 . Before this, Leigh was the largest Urban District Council in England .
- Golborne - The name Golborne means ‘golden stream’ where yellow flowers grew in abundance. The site of the town is one of the claimants to the battle of Maserfield in which Penda, pagan King of Mercia was victorious over the Christian King (and later saint) Oswald; the name is mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Lowton, Lowton St Lukes and Lowton St Mary’s.
- Orrell - Two local beauty spots are Billinge Hill, with fine views across the Lancashire plain, and the tranquil Billinge Plantations an important local nature reserve. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Far Moor, Billinge, Highfield, Winstanley and Marus Bridge .
- Standish - This is an historic village on the Wigan to Preston Road . The parish church of St Wilfrid ’s is the only Grade I listed building in the borough. The present church dates from 1584, although the spire was added in 1867. St Wilfrid’s with its 16 th century nave and splendid oak roof, its early 17 th century pulpit and bench-ends is justly renowned as one of Lancashire ’s most interesting churches. Nearby, the town’s ancient wooden stocks and market cross can still be found, along with an old well which has recently been restored. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Appley Bridge , Crooke Village , Aspull, Haigh, Shevington, Shevington Vale, and Shevington Moor.
- Tyldesley - Ten miles southeast of Wigan is the neighbourhood of Tyldesley. The refurbished market square is part of a conservation area, although land reclamation and new housing developments have changed the face of its outlying areas. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Mosley Common, Shakerley, Gin Pit Village , Astley Green and New Hall Farm Estate.
- Wigan - is one of the four oldest boroughs in Lancashire . It is believed to have started life as the Roman Garrison town of Coccium . Some of the charters are on display in Wigan History Shop in Library Street , a former Victorian Library. Wigan was a key battleground during the Civil War in the 17 th Century and Cromwell was known to have passed through the town twice. The town stayed loyal to the king, and was later rewarded with a ceremonial sword. Further neighbourhoods in the Township are Beech Hill, Scholes, Lower Ince , Higher Ince, Swinley, Whelley, Whitley, Goose Green, Hawkley Hall, Kitt Green, Lamberhead, Marsh Green, Marus Bridge , Newtown , Norley Hall, Pemberton, Poolstock, Worsley Hall, Worsley Mesnes and the Town Centre.
The Township Programme has been set up to make it easier for residents to get involved in planning the future of their communities. The borough has been divided into ten Township areas. Each area has a Township Manager and Township Co-ordinator, who are working to co-ordinate the way in which public services are delivered locally and to encourage improvements in services, where they are needed.
They will also be encouraging local people to have a greater involvement in the borough's Community Plan by helping people to identify local issues and action. Each of the ten townships has a Township Forum - the Forums provide a link between the agencies that deliver services in the borough and local communities. Over time, they will be responsible for producing local plans and charters.
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