Unearthing the History of Wigan Town Centre and its local area

Posted: Tuesday 26th July 2022

From its beginnings as a village through to its contemporary significance as one of the industrial strongholds of northern England, Wigan has a storied history – one which has influenced its modern-day landscape, its home-proud people and its unique culture.

The town’s beginnings

The name Wigan dates back to around the 7th century, although the area had been conquered by the Romans in the 1st century and was an important settlement to them. Later, the Anglo-Saxons occupied the area and, in the 10th century, it saw an influx of Scandinavians which has resulted in modern-day place names and road names of Scandinavian origin.

In 1246, it was incorporated as a borough and the town prospered throughout the medieval period, with a population of around 3,000 people, and coalmining and wool-making as its two main industries. It was the site of multiple historical battles between the Royalists and Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, at which time the Royalist forces were defeated and lost control of northern England.

Wigan’s industrial significance

Throughout the industrial revolution, Wigan was an important market town with many materials and commodities produced by its residents, including coal, pewter goods and clocks. With the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1779, Wigan gained further importance as a hub for the transportation of coal from Lancashire mines to other major towns along the canal’s route.

In the 1800s, the town became a major centre of textile manufacturing, with eight cotton mills in the town by 1818. Alongside this, it still retained its reputation as a coal mining region, with a total of 54 collieries, which accounted for one sixth of all the collieries in Lancashire.

Wigan also became one of the first towns in England to be served by a railway in the 1830s, which connected it to larger towns such as Preston, Manchester and Liverpool. At this time, it was still a dominant force in the country’s cotton industry, and this continued through to the 20th century.

The decline of the coal and cotton industries in the mid-20th century had a staggering impact on the town of Wigan, with many years of mass employment and poverty. However, due to money being reinvested back into the town, it has since recovered over the last 20 years and has now reinvented itself as a major northern tourist destination.

Wigan’s modern-day regeneration

In the 1980s, Wigan Pier was redeveloped, which turned vacant warehouses into residential, leisure and commercial premises, and the town became world-renowned for its nightclub, the Wigan Casino, one of the homes of Northern soul music. In 1978, the club was even named the Best Disco in the World by the American music magazine, Billboard.

Fast forward to today and both Wigan town centre and Wigan Pier have received significant investment, with an ambition of transforming the town centre into a vibrant, attractive and accessible place for all to live, visit, work and learn.

The investment to Wigan town centre will see a new retail and leisure offer, and Wigan Pier will be home to a whole host of new eateries, leisure, retail and community facilities.

With over 200 listed buildings across the borough; and the emergence of a bustling independent food and drink scene, Wigan is a town embracing the old and the new, looking back fondly on its industrial beginnings while heading firmly towards a bright future.

Find out more about Wigan and to plan your next trip.