Where are we?
Regional / borough map (.pdf, 581Kb)
About the Borough
Historians believe that the town of Wigan started life as a Roman garrison known as Coccium; in recent years major excavations have uncovered evidence of a significant Roman presence around the area of the present-day town centre.
The former ‘Ancient and Loyal’ borough of Wigan was one of the oldest in the country, having been established in 1246 by a charter from King Henry III.
During the English Civil War Wigan, in contrast to neighbouring Leigh, remained wholly loyal to the monarchy throughout the Civil War: a source of (usually) light-hearted rivalry to this day.
One of the reasons for this loyalty was the influence of the Earl of Derby, one of the largest landowners in the county, who had his seat at Lathom House, between Wigan and Ormskirk, to the west. Commander of the King’s forces in the Northwest, Derby made Wigan his headquarters. This, and Wigan’s location on the strategic north-south route, put the town in the thick of events.
The last battle of the Civil War in Lancashire was fought outside Wigan on 25th August, 1651. Known as The Battle of Wigan Lane, the conflict has entered local folklore. A Royalist force under the Earl of Derby was defeated by Colonel Robert Lilburne and his Parliamentarians. A monument in Wigan Lane, erected after the Restoration, marks the spot where Sir Thomas Tyldesley, a well-loved Royalist officer, was killed during the battle. The Earl of Derby escaped to Worcester after being sheltered by a local innkeeper, only to be captured later and executed at Bolton.
At the outset of the 19th century Wigan was actually a spa town, but the next hundred years witnessed enormous growth in the town’s population and industrial activity, as the town became the centre of the Lancashire coalfield.
The legacy of the Victorian and Edwardian renaissance can still be seen in present-day Wigan, with many impressive buildings in distinctive red brick, stone and terracotta. Notable amongst these are the Makinson Arcade, the Edwardian Market Place, the local history centre (built by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of Manchester town hall and the Natural History Museum), and the spectacular former court buildings in Crawford Street. The imposing former Mining and Technical College in Library Street became in 1989 the new Town Hall and central library.
During the 1920s many buildings were re-fronted in an imitation black and white Tudor-style, giving a highly distinctive look to the main shopping thoroughfares of Standishgate and Market Place.
One witness - in name at least - to much of Wigan’s past is All Saints Parish Church, set in peaceful gardens in the heart of the town. It was extensively rebuilt in 1847, although part of the tower is 13th century, and the Walmesley Chapel dates from 1620. There is some fine Victorian stained glass, including a William Morris/Burne Jones window depicting St Christopher, and the church offers guided tours to visitors on summer Saturdays.
Writing about Wigan in 1995, The Guardian newspaper said: “It’s a much more handsome town than most visitors might expect, as west coast railway travellers can just about glimpse from the North Western station as the gentle curving ascent of Wallgate opens up into the Market Place”.
American travel writer Bill Bryson wrote in his acclaimed Notes from a Small Island: “I was truly astounded to find [Wigan] has a handsome and well-maintained town centre. The shops seemed prosperous and busy...”
For more information about Wigan, visit Wikipedia Wigan (external link)
Its name means ‘meadow’ (lea) and the area was famous until the end of the 19th century for its dairy produce, including the ‘Leigh Toaster’, a well known local cheese.
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.
The old market cross stood outside the church in Pennington, and markets were held for the surrounding area once a week, with a cattle fair twice a year. After a dispute with Warrington, the fairs ceased at the end of the 16th century.
Leigh was divided in its allegiance during the Civil War, some being for the King and others for Parliament. A battle was fought in the town on the 2nd December, 1642, when 3,000 Chowbenters (from Atherton) beat back the Earl of Derby’s Cavalier troops from Chowbent to Lowton Common, where the Earl’s forces were put to rout.
The Earl of Derby passed through Leigh again in 1651, when he spent his last night in the King’s Arms in Leigh, before his execution in Bolton. The inn which housed the Earl was demolished in the 1790s, but a stone commemorating his stay was built into the wall, and can now be seen in a flower bed in the Civic Square.
Eighteenth century Leigh had a thriving domestic textile industry, most workers weaving in their own homes, but with one or two factories for hand-loom weavers. Tradition has it that a local man, Thomas Highs, was the inventor of a spinning jenny and the water-frame in the 1760s, the latter invention being pirated by Richard Arkwright, who subsequently made a fortune from the royalties.
The Bridgewater Canal was extended from Worsley to the middle of Leigh in 1795, and in 1819 a branch was cut from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Wigan to meet the Bridgewater at Leigh Bridge, giving access from Leigh to all parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Transport by rail was introduced in 1828 with the opening of the first public railway in Lancashire: the Bolton to Leigh Railway.
At the beginning of the 19th century mechanised weaving in other towns such as Bolton and Manchester caused a lengthy depression in the town, which was affected by the Luddite riots of 1821. In 1827 hand loom silk weaving was brought in to replace the traditional fustian cloth manufacture; but during the next decade industrialisation took place on a grand scale, and silk and cotton mills were built.
In the second half of the 19th century coalmining became increasingly important. As the coal reserves of Wigan were worked out, the Leigh coalfield was looked on as their successor, and mining became the largest user of labour after the textile industry.
Leigh was granted a Charter of Incorporation as a municipal borough in 1899. Eight years later the Town Hall was built - one of the borough’s finest public buildings and a dignified expression of civic pride.
Adjacent to the Civic Square is the graceful Parish Church of St Mary, whose original 1516 tower still stands, though refaced to match the rest of the 1873 rebuilding. With its pleasant parks, an excellent library and town square, Leigh today is a sturdy embodiment of civic pride. The busy centre has been enhanced by a new market hall and shopping centre.
The Turnpike Centre, housing the town’s library, an art gallery and concert hall is justifiably celebrated. Pennington Flash Country Park, centred on a large lake or ‘flash’ formed by mining subsidence, now provides some of the best sailing and bird-watching facilities in the region.
For more information about Leigh, visit Wikipedia Leigh (external link)
The name derives from Abraham, the surname of the lords of the manor until the early 17th century.
The former mining village gained a tragic notoriety in 1908 when 75 miners died in an explosion at the Maypole Colliery, one of the best documented of all pit disasters.
Until 1992 mining took place at nearby Bickershaw Colliery, but much of the area surrounding Abram is agricultural or reclaimed land.
Ashton means ‘ash town’ and Makerfield - formerly a district that stretched from Orrell to the River Mersey - means ‘the ruin in the clearing’.
It’s the borough’s third largest town, boasting a thriving shopping centre, conservation area and excellent leisure facilities, including a sports centre and a recreation area with major motor sports arena and leisure lake. Just over the border in St Helens is Haydock Park, one of the country’s top racecourses.
For hundreds of years the area’s fortunes were linked with the Roman Catholic Gerard family. One of the most celebrated Gerards was Sir Thomas, who was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London after an attempt to rescue Mary Queen of Scots.
The Gerards were Royalists during the Civil War, and in 1651 Charles II lodged at their seat, Bryn Hall, on his way to defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Coalmining in the 19th century brought the family immense wealth but they moved away to Hertfordshire after the First World War.
For more information about Ashton-in-Makerfield, visit Wikipedia Ashton-in-Makerfield (external link)
Lying north-east of Wigan, this pleasant residential village betrays little evidence of its mining and textile past. With Haigh estate to the west and Borsdane Wood to the east it still retains a rural aspect, and boasts superb views towards the West Pennine Moors.
Aspull Moor was an expanse of common land, formerly more extensive than at present, on which collieries were sunk and worked by the lord of the manor. The colliery waste heaps are gone now, and the giant Woodshaw Ruck has been planted with trees in one of the more successful tip reclamation schemes.
Find out more at Wikipedia Aspull (external link)
Astley straddles the East Lancashire Road in the south-east of the borough, close to the border with Salford.
Like most of the area it was largely rural until the 19th century, when the first cotton mill was built in 1833, followed closely by the Astley and Tyldesley Coal Company’s collieries in 1848.
The pit head gear of the former Astley Green Colliery is a notable landmark, although it is many years since coal was extracted. The large engine shed has been restored and the engine itself is believed to be the largest remaining colliery steam engine in Britain. Visit www.agcm.org.uk for more information.
Though much of Astley is now pleasantly residential, the area of ancient peat bogs south of the East Lancashire Road – Chat, Astley and Bedford Mosses – provides rare wildlife habitats recognised as of national importance.
For more information about Astley, visit Wikipedia Astley (external link)
The name has three possible origins.
- It was named from the alder trees which grew in great numbers in the valley known as the Owler Forest.
- It may be from alder, meaning elder, or chief.
- It may derive from ‘adder’, pronounced ather, meaning a small stream.
Unlike much of the borough, Atherton had strong Puritan leanings and supported Cromwell during the Civil War.
An early industry in the town was the manufacture of nails, which was continued by nut and bolt manufacturing in the 19th century.
In 1812 groups of discontented weavers threatened by the advent of powered looms, gathered at Flapper Fold and went in a mob to a new mill at nearby Westhoughton, smashing the machines and burning the factory. For this four people, one a boy of 14, were hanged at Lancaster.
Power-loom weaving eventually came to Atherton and, in the middle of the century, coalmining. The name associated with both these industries is Fletcher, owners of Atherton Collieries. They built a model estate for their workers at Howe Bridge, which has now been designated a conservation area.
One of the biggest ever pit disasters happened just outside Atherton on 21st December, 1910, when there was an explosion of fire damp in the Pretoria Pit. Three hundred and thirty three men were killed, of whom 28 came from Atherton.
Noteworthy landmarks in the busy town centre are Chowbent Chapel of 1722, the fine St John the Baptist Church of 1879 – now rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1991 - and 17th century Alder House, off the High Street (now a private residence).
In 1999, Wigan Council won government regeneration funding for Atherton, and the resulting Atherton Building Communities project has revitalised the shopping centre, local mills and the nearby Hag Fold housing estate.
For more information about Atherton, visit Wikipedia Atherton (external link).
South-west of Wigan, this former urban district was partially divided by local government reorganisation in 1974 and, around a decade earlier, by the M6 motorway!
The Wigan side boasts two of the borough’s oldest surviving halls: Bispham Hall, built around 1560 and superbly restored following a devastating fire in 1978; and Winstanley Hall, dating from the same period.
Chief industries in this predominantly agricultural and well-wooded area were mining and nail making. Locally quarried Billinge stone can be seen in many of the town’s older buildings, and there was also a thriving chair-making industry; Billinge chairs are rush-bottomed with high backs.
Two local beauty spots are Billinge Hill, with fine views across the Lancashire plain, and the tranquil Billinge Plantations - an important local nature reserve.
Winstanley has given its name to a popular residential area.
Golborne and Lowton
Though geographically close around the East Lancashire Road, Golborne and Lowton are quite different in character.
Golborne was until recently dominated by its colliery, scene of a tragic explosion in 1979 in which several miners died. Closure just ten years later has meant the chance to reclaim the site and its giant spoil heap for leisure and new industries.
Nearby Lowton, including the parishes of St Luke’s and St Mary’s, has seen much residential development in recent years - including the site of Anderton House, for many years the north-west headquarters of British Coal.
For more information about Golborne or Lowton, visit Wikipedia Golborne (external link) and Wikipedia Lowton (external link)
For a tiny rural village, Haigh has had a major influence on Wigan, largely through the activities of its manorial families.
It’s also given the town its most enduring and familiar folk legend, the curious tale of Mab’s Cross. The legend dates from 1295 when William de Bradshaigh acquired the manor and married Mabel le Norreys. According to the most popular version, William was absent for so long in the Holy Wars that Lady Mabel assumed him dead and married a Welsh knight.
After seven years Sir William returned, disguised as a palmer, pursued the Welsh knight to Newton-le-Willows and killed him there. As penance for her bigamy, Lady Mabel regularly walked barefoot and sack-clothed from Haigh to the cross in Wigan Lane, which henceforth became known as ‘Mab’s Cross’.
In reality, Sir William’s absence from Haigh was due to his banishment by King Edward II for his part in a rebellion against the Earl of Lancaster, and it was Sir William himself who was killed at Newton. He and his wife now lie reunited in effigy in Wigan Parish Church.
In later centuries the Bradshaighs encouraged the development of coalmining on their estates, particularly ‘cannel’ – a clean, smokeless coal valuable both as fuel and for carving into decorative household objects - and had much influence on the government of the borough of Wigan.
However, the last of the male line died in 1787 and eventually the manor passed to the Lindsays, Earls of Crawford and Balcarres. The Lindsays further expanded their coalmining concerns and took up iron founding; it was here that the famous Laxey Wheel in the Isle of Man is said to have been cast.
A new Haigh Hall was built between 1827 and 1840, mainly with local materials quarried from nearby Parbold. The extensive plantations were laid out in the 1860s to improve a landscape disfigured by coal mining, giving work to unemployed Wiganers during the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War.
The hall and its grounds were bought by Wigan Corporation in 1947, and now make up one of the region’s most beautiful country parks.
For more information about Haigh, visit Wikipedia Haigh (external link)
The earliest surviving documentary reference to Hindley, located in the centre of the borough, dates from the year 1212.
Until the late 19th century a tourist attraction in the shape of two ‘burning wells’ existed in Hindley, caused by the natural seepage of inflammable coal gas through water.
Nineteenth century Hindley is indelibly linked with the name ‘Eckersley’. Colonel Nathaniel Eckersley lived at Laurel House and served with the Duke of Wellington. A ceremonial sword, presented to him for his service at the military station in Manchester established after the Peterloo riots, can be seen in the town’s library.
His great nephew, also Nathaniel, was a wealthy Wigan mill-owner who built the library and local park with money left by his friend, local scholar and landowner John Leyland.
Much residential development has taken place in recent years, here and in nearby Hindley Green. The area to the north is particularly attractive, including picturesque Borsdane Wood and Hindley golf course, centred on 18th century Hindley Hall.
Hindley has its own baths, railway station and also a sports centre, which it shares with a local high school. The former Park High School (once Hindley Grammar School) is now a major educational resource centre for teachers.
For more information about Hindley, visit Wikipedia Hindley (external link)
Much of the south-west of Ince consisted of mosslands, hence its name, a Celtic word meaning ‘island’.
Coal lay under the surface and its increasing extraction in the 19th century resulted in Ince becoming an area of rapid industrial growth. By the end of the century it was a jumbled mass of spoil-heaps, collieries foundries, railway wagon works and cotton mills, separated by rows of terraced houses and crossed by a network of railways and canals.
In the southern part of the township, mining subsidence caused the land to sink, creating large areas of surface water known as ‘flashes’.
The regeneration of Ince was a priority for the new Wigan Council in 1974 and since then new houses, major environmental landscaping, a shopping centre and library – backed by local, national and European finance – have put the heart back into the area.
Plans are well-advanced to use government regeneration grants for a nature reserve around the wildlife-rich Ince Moss and Wigan Flashes area, as part of an ambitious scheme to transform the 600 acre site of the former Westwood Power Station into a major business and leisure park.
Lying west of Wigan, close to the junctions of the M6 and M58, Orrell was originally known as Orrell-in-Makerfield, to distinguish it from the village of Orrell, near Liverpool.
Various branches of the Orrell family held small estates here for centuries; a William Orrell was living at Orrell Hall (now in Spring Road) in 1558.
After the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal there was an influx of Liverpool merchants, buying land in the area to exploit the coalfields. One of these, a banker named John Clarke who owned the Orrell Colliery, built the mansion known as Orrell Mount which became the home of a group of French Benedictine nuns who had fled France after the Revolution in 1821.
The former reservoirs now known as Orrell Lakes provide an attractive setting for picnics, fishing and walking. Abbey Lakes, on the border with West Lancashire, is another popular leisure attraction.
The town is home to Orrell Rugby Union FC, for many years one of the most successful club sides in Lancashire.
For more information about Orrell, visit Wikipedia Orrell (external link)
Shevington and Appley Bridge
The name means ‘the settlement below the ridge’ and Shevington lies attractively on land which slopes gradually to the River Douglas.
Despite the ubiquitous mining activity of the 19th century, Shevington was predominantly rural until after the Second World War, when much new development took place and the M6 motorway was constructed.
A careful green belt policy has preserved the pleasant semi-rural character, and the village is surrounded by long-established woods on all sides (ancient Dean Wood is especially popular) and an intricate network of footpaths. The old village centre, around the memorial park, has been designated a conservation area.
Close by is Appley Bridge, a popular residential area surrounded by the attractive Douglas Valley countryside. The village boasts splendid views and walks to the popular beauty spots of Ashurst Beacon, Parbold Hill, and Fairy Glen.
Both Appley Bridge and Shevington have become popular with commuters in recent years thanks to local stations offering frequent services to Manchester.
For more information about Shevington, visit Wikipedia Shevington (external link)
Standish is a historic township on the Wigan to Preston road. The name consists of two elements meaning ‘stone’ and ‘enclosed pasture for cattle’.
The Standish family held the manor of Standish for at least 700 years. The name was first mentioned in 1202.
John Standish was knighted after he helped to kill Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants Revolt, in 1381.
After the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, the Standishes were at the centre of a plot to restore King James to the throne in 1690. In 1715 Ralph Standish joined the Jacobites at the Battle of Preston. He was indicted as a traitor and found guilty, but later pardoned.
The Standishes afterwards abandoned the Stuart cause and took no part in the rebellion of 1745. The male line died out in 1752 and the last of the female line died in France in 1920. The estate, consisting of 3,000 acres, was broken up and sold the following year.
At the sale Standish Hall failed to reach the reserve price. Parts of it were dismantled and shipped to America, where the press claimed it was the home of Miles Standish, military commander of the Pilgrim Fathers, although more recent research suggests he was of the Ormskirk branch of the family.
Standish’s finest building is the parish church of St Wilfrid’s, the only Grade I listed building in the borough and one of Lancashire’s finest. The present church dates from 1584, although the spire was added in 1867. Nearby, the town’s ancient wooden stocks and market cross can still be found, along with an old well which has recently been restored.
Its mining days long since gone, the town has become one of the borough’s most popular residential areas. Its local shops thrive and the town boasts several celebrated restaurants. Worthington Lakes, a well-wooded series of reservoirs, are a popular beauty spot.
For more information about Standish, visit Wikipedia Standish (external link)
Like many of its neighbours Tyldesley, to the east of Leigh, grew to prominence through coal and cotton.
The earliest evidence of history in Tyldesley are the remains of the Roman road running through the area between the camps at Wigan and Manchester. In 1947 two urns containing about 600 Roman bronze coins, minted between AD 259 and AD 273 were found nearby.
Like its neighbouring townships, Tyldesley suffered industrial unrest at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1823 a strike and lock-out occurred at Messrs Jones, spinners. The hands there struck for an increase in wages, and were sacked. The employers invited new hands to come in and learn to spin. Shortly the mills were full of new workers (called by the old ones ‘Knobsticks’) working for the old wages.
On leaving the factories these new hands were assaulted in the streets by the old spinners, and eventually Messrs Jones provided beds in the factories, and hired armed guards to protect them day and night. After a while the old hands gave up and left town to seek work elsewhere.
One of the many ancient halls in the area was Cleworth, from which a strange tale of witchcraft and enchantment has been passed down. In 1596, by the malicious action of a conjurer named Edmund Hartley, the two children of Nicholas and Anne Starkie, and some of the servants, were "possessed with devils". Hartley was hanged for witchcraft at Lancaster Castle. At first he denied his guilt, but after he was strung up and the rope broke, he confessed; and on being strung up again the rope held and he died. Two ministers of religion were brought to Cleworth; after two days of fasting and preaching they were able to exorcise the unfortunate victims.
Today, land reclamation and new housing developments have changed the face of its outlying areas, but the centre still retains the atmosphere of a bustling market town. The refurbished market square is part of a conservation area, while the steep terraces branching off the main streets lend the town a distinctive character. Astley Street park is a much-loved local ‘oasis’ in the town.
Opposite the market is the old church known as Top Chapel, built in 1789 for the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection, a breakaway sect of the Church of England.
For more information about Tyldesley, visit Wikipedia Tyldesley (external link)
(top)Report a missed bin Apply for a HWRC permit Have your say Pay your bill Find a place