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.
Mortgage brokers and advisors from Manchester began their careers in Wigan before moving on to offering mortgage advice and brokering services to Prestwich, Wythenshawe, Didsbury and Bury.
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.