Wigan is an industrial town in Greater Manchester in the north of England. It's 17 miles northwest of central Manchester and until 1974 was part of Lancashire.
Until 1800 Wigan was a small market town overlooking the River Douglas. The river wasn't suitable for navigation or for driving waterwheels, so the early phase of the Industrial Revolution passed the town by. Then came steam-driven mills powered by coal from the local coalfield, and the Leeds-Liverpool canal placed it right on the main trans-Pennine trade route. Wigan grew rapidly into a major centre for cotton-milling and clothing, along with mining and related industries.
In the 19th century, a narrow-gauge line carried coal trucks over a tressle viaduct spanning the river valley to the canal wharf, where the coal was tipped into barges. The name Wigan Pier is believed to have started from a joke in 1891, when a railway excursion to Southport was delayed outside Wallgate Station. "Where the hell are we, are we near the seaside yet? That there must be Wigan Pier . . . " - referring to the viaduct. The Wigan comedian George Formby Snr (1875-1921) took up the joke, which fitted well into his daffy Lancashire stage act, and his son George Formby Jnr (1904-1961), with his trademark ukelele, continued the theme. The viaduct was demolished in 1929 but the joke had become entrenched, and the canal wharf itself became known as the pier. In 1936 George Orwell visited Wigan, Barnsley and Sheffield to research the conditions of poor working people in industrial England, published in 1937 as The Road to Wigan Pier. In Wigan he lodged above a squalid tripe shop, whose owner regarded tripes as a unit of time, an insight worthy of Stephen Hawking: "I've had two deliveries of tripe since that happened . . . "
In 1974 Wigan was transferred from Lancashire to the new entity of Greater Manchester, along with Rochdale, Bolton, Bury, Oldham and others. The change was resented by some, and perhaps especially in Wigan, which was historically less connected to the city of Manchester, being something of a buffer state between Manchester, Liverpool and Preston. But all of that was almost fifty years ago, the Lancastria Irredentia faction are in their eighties and nineties, and post-industrial Wigan has more important matters to worry about.
Wigan stands between the M61 (Manchester-Preston, use exit 5 onto A58) and M6 (Midlands-Carlisle, use jcn 26 which is also the terminus of M58 from Liverpool).
1 Wigan North Western station has trains hourly from London Euston taking 2 hours via Warrington, and continuing north via Preston, Lancaster, Penrith and Carlisle to Glasgow Central. Slower trains from Euston also stop at Milton Keynes, Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
2 Wigan Wallgate station has local trains every 30 min or so from Manchester Victoria via Salford, also from Bolton and Southport. A ponderous train from Leeds takes two hours via Hebden Bridge, Rochdale, Victoria and Salford, but it's quicker to change at Piccadilly.
The two stations are barely 100 yards apart: North Western is actually to the south, but its tracks sweep round to head north.
National Express Bus NX570 runs daily from London Victoria, taking six hours to Wigan via Milton Keynes and Birmingham, and continuing to Preston and Blackpool. Change at Preston for buses to Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh, at St Helens for Liverpool, and at Manchester for most other inter-city routes.
Bus services from central Manchester are frequent but tedious: at least 90 min, with a change. The usual route is to take First Bus V1 via Salford to Leigh, then Stagecoach Bus 9 to Wigan.
Direct buses to Wigan (operated by Arriva) are Bus 575 from Bolton via Horwich, every 20 min taking 50 min; Bus 320 / 352 from St Helens every 15 min, taking 50 min; Bus 362 from Chorley every 30 min, taking 40 min; Bus 113 from Preston via Leyland hourly, taking two hours; and Bus 360 from Warrington every 30 min, taking an hour.
Wigan bus station is 200 yards north of Wallgate railway station.
The town is compact and you can easily walk between centre, canalside, museum and football ground. The borough however is large, with satellite towns. The quickest bus to Leigh is Number 8, every 15 min, taking 40 min via Higher Ince. Bus 10 also runs there via Ashton-in-Makerfield every 15 min.
- 1 Wigan Pier. The famous pier is simply an old canal wharf, and the area has been redeveloped with apartments. Its centrepiece is the museum of Trencherfield Mill, which has a mighty steam engine restored to working order; but the museum is closed, probably throughout 2020. Even the pub "The Orwell" has closed.
- All Saints' Church just north of Wallgate station dates to the 13th C but was mostly rebuilt in the mid 19th C.
- 2 Museum of Wigan Life, 41 Library St WN1 1NU. Sa, M-W 09:00-14:00, Th F 12:00-17:00. Council-run museum depicts life in Wigan from the Roman settlement of Cocchium to its present status as an urban borough within Greater Manchester. Free.
- 3 The monument at the junction of A49 Wigan Lane and Monument Rd marks the Battle of Wigan Lane, fought on 25 Aug 1651 during the final days of the Civil War. The Royalists were passing through town to try to join King Charles II at Worcester. Parliamentarian cavalry were in pursuit but their infantry was some way behind: when the Royalists realised this, they turned and counter-attacked. They made three assaults then their forces were spent, and the survivors fled as they saw the Parliamentarian infantry arriving. The defeat was a hammer blow to their cause because they'd been the last sizable English contingent of Royalists. Nine days later at Worcester, only Scots troops stood with the king; Cromwell's forces crushed them, Charles fled to the continent, and his kingdom became a republic.
- Watch football at 1 Wigan Athletic, 15 Loire Drive, Wigan WN5 0UH. Athletic were relegated in 2020 through going into administration, so they play in League One, the third tier of English football. Their home ground is DW Stadium (capacity 25,000) a mile west of town centre, which they share with Wigan Warriors RLFC.
- Bolton Wanderers Macron Stadium is five miles northeast, midway between Bolton and Wigan, off jcn 6 of M61. Wanderers play in League Two, the fourth tier.
- Watch rugby league: Wigan Warriors also play at the DW Stadium. They play in the Super League, the European top tier of rugby league.
- Hollywood Bowl is a bowling alley and American diner just west of town centre. It's open M-F 11:00-23:00, Sa Su 10:00-23:00.
- Empire Cinema shows mainstream releases. It's on Robin Retail Park west of town centre, see "Buy" marker.
- Wigan Roller Rink just south of town centre is for roller-skating / blading to music: think glitter globes and funky moves. Great family fun. Some sessions are just for lessons or private parties but public skating is Th 11:00-14:00, 19:00-22:00, F 19:00-22:30, Sa 11:00-16:00, 19:00-22:30, Su 11:00-16:00, 18:00-21:00; adult £5 and skate hire £3.
- The Leeds and Liverpool Canal stretches for 127 miles (204 km) across the Pennines. Opened in 1816, it connects the Irish Sea and Mersey at Liverpool, other canals such as the Bridgewater, several industrial towns of northern England, and eventually the North Sea via the Aire-Calder Canal from Leeds down to the Humber. It's fully navigable by boats up to 62 ft length and 14 ft 4 beam (18.90 x 4.37 m) and has a good towpath throughout for walking and cycling. In this region it snakes north from Liverpool to Burscough, then heads east through Appley Bridge to Wigan alongside the River Douglas: this forms a long artificial island. Wigan Pier is on the reach between locks 77 and 78. The canal loops the south side of town then turns north to Chorley before again turning east to Blackburn and ascending the Pennines. There are multiple access points.
- The Bridgewater Canal connects with the Leeds and Liverpool at Wigan and runs east via Leigh to meet the Manchester Ship Canal. It's also navigable but the towpath is not in such good condition - it's being refurbished, completion date tba.
- Flashes are areas that sank because of mining subsidence and became flooded. (This became woven into the Wigan Pier saga: "Eeh, I see the tide's in again".) Nowadays they're often wetland wildlife reserves and country parks, since even the most swinish property developers have failed to market housing amidst these bogs and lagoons. A mile south of town are Westwood and Wigan Flashes. Further southeast near the village of Leigh is Pennington Flash.
- Haigh Woodland Park is a large country park two miles northeast of town. It's ranged around Haigh Hall, a 19th century mansion converted into a hotel (see "Sleep" marker, but the hotel is closed). There are extensive grounds and parkland, and two golf courses, the Balcarres of 18 holes and the Crawford of 9. There's also a kid's playground, stables, shops and cafe. It's bordered to the west by the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
- 2 Three Sisters Circuit is a 1.5 km outdoor track mostly used for karting - if you've tried an indoor kart track this is the next step up. It also hosts other car and bike races and testing. It's two miles south of Wigan near the village of Bryn, which has buses and trains towards Ashton-in-Makerfield.
- Croon: in any tune lyric wherever the word "heaven" appears, you can substitute "Wigan" with pleasing results. A similar effect is obtained by replacing "paradise" with "Heckmondwike".
- The Wigan Diggers Festival is a music festival and market held in mid-Sept to celebrate the 17th century "Diggers", the radical socialist land reformers led by Gerrard Winstanley. The next event is on Sat 12 Sept 2020.
- Watch Wallace & Gromit cartoons - they're frequently re-screened - for an idyllic vision of 1950s cobbled northern town life that's somewhere between a Hovis advert and Blake's Jerusalem. The pair lived at 62 West Wallaby Street, Wigan WG7 7FU, where a public monument is surely overdue.
- Wallgate has the usual dismal High St cavalcade of charity shops, vape stores, pawnbrokers, fast food outlets and empty units. It leads into the main shopping strip, Standishgate, which has Makinson Arcade at its foot, The Galleries mall west side and Grand Arcade east. These malls' greatest contribution to Wigan's culture was during construction, which uncovered Roman remains confirming that here stood the garrison and settlement of Coccium.
- Wigan Market, at the corner of Mesnes St and New Market St, is open M-Sa 08:30-17:00. Lots of empty spaces in the indoor market but still a good variety of stalls.
- The big edge-of-town mall is Robin Retail Park 100 yards south of the football stadium, with an ASDA. The Empire Cinema and Red Robin pub are also here.
- Meat pies: lots of outlets, though they may have been trucked in from miles away. The World Pie-Eating Championships are held annually, usually in Nov / Dec in Harry's Bar in Wallgate. Any kudos for breaking the official record of 6.72 pies in seven minutes will be only slightly dimmed by the unofficial feat of Charlie, a bichon frise who in 2007 scoffed twenty pies and gnawed another ten while his owner was distracted, thereby jeopardising the event. (This being the flat-capped north, the distraction was caused by a pigeon flying into the owner's chimney.) A fresh batch of competition pies was hurriedly baked and Charlie's owner took advantage of a loophole in the rules to enter the dog as a competitor. To no avail: Charlie couldn't face another pie.
- Uncle Joe's Mint Balls are a local delicacy, made by William Santus & Co on Dorning St and widely available.
- There's a slew of budget eating places along Wallgate and King St, with the usual High Street names but no stand-out.
- There's another group next to the football stadium, notably Red Robin Pub / Wackey Warehouse, open daily to 23:00.
- John Bull Chop House is an excellent traditional pub in an ancient building on Coopers Row 100 yards north of Wallgate station. It's open Tu-Th 16:30-23:00, F Sa 13:00-01:00, Su 15:00-23:00.
- Other central pubs are The Moon Under Water (JD Wetherspoon) on Market Place, The Anvil on Dorning St, The Swan and Railway on Wallgate between the stations (re-opened in Dec 2019 after tasteful refurbishment), and the Royal Oak on Standishgate a little way north. The Bowling Green is half a mile north on Wigan Lane.
- Clubs and late spots include The Boulevard, Jaks, Ibiza, Bentley's, Revolution Wigan and Indiependence.
- Premier Inn in town centre is on Harrogate Rd off A49. They have others on Warrington Rd (Marus Bridge) south of town, and to the north at Standish near jcn 27 of M6.
- Mercure Wigan Oak Hotel, Orchard St WN1 3SS, ☏ . Modern city centre chain hotel. A bit dated but comfy and fair value. B&B double £65.
- 1 Holiday Inn Express, Leigh Sports Village, Sale Way, Leigh WN7 4JY (A579 eight miles southeast of Wigan), ☏ . Comfy business hotel in sports village. B&B double £80.
- 2 Haigh Hall, School Lane WN2 1PE. This upmarket hotel is closed. The operators Contessa were stripped of their lease over fire safety concerns, blocking of public paths and green space, and poor hygiene. They vacated and boarded up the Hall in Nov 2019, but there is no recognition of this on their website.
Wigan is well-served by all major UK mobile telephone networks.
Town centre is well-policed, but exercise usual caution especially around late-night drunks. There are some rough outlying estates where the visitor has no reason to go.
|Routes through Wigan|
|Glasgow ← Chorley ←||N S||→ Newton-le-Willows → Birmingham|
|Liverpool ← Skelmersdale ←||SW NE||→ merges with|
|Liverpool ← St Helens ←||SW E||→ Bolton|