Where is Wigan Pier ?
The story goes that in 1891 an excursion train to Southport got delayed on the outskirts of Wigan not long after leaving Wallgate Station. At that time a long wooden gantry or trestle carried a mineral line from Lamb and Moore’s Newtown Colliery on Scot Lane, to their Meadows Colliery in Frog Lane (where the Council refuse centre is now).
This gantry was quite a structure as it had to span the Douglas valley crossing the river, the canal and the main rail line to Southport. As the delayed train waited for the signals to change one of the travellers remarked “where the b… hell are we?” and the reply became the basis for the immortal joke about the Wigan’s Pier.
George Formby Senior perpetuated the joke around the turn of the century in the music halls in Wigan adding that when he passed the Pier he noticed the tide was in (referring to the constant flooding in the low-lying area).
George died in December 1920 and, with the demise of the collieries in the area, the gantry had long passed out of existence. Therefore when people looked for the Pier, the tippler for coal wagons at the canal terminus became the chosen object of the joke.
This too was demolished when it became redundant in 1929. So when George Orwell, of “Road to Wigan Pier” fame, came to publish his book seven years later, he had to admit no such pier existed.
Since then, of course, a replica tippler has been erected on the site of the old one and the whole area has become today’s attractive cultural centre. But how many people realise its true origin?
Wigan Pier is a joke – isn’t it? Not quite!
A “pier”, in this context, is a device for tipping the contents of coal trucks onto canal boats. There were once many such devices in the Wigan area.
“Wigan Pier” is situated on the Leeds-Liverpool canal near the centre of the town. Around it grew a series of associated warehouses.
The “joke” is thought to have originated in a music hall act performed by George Formby Senior in which he talked of Wigan Pier in the same terms as the seaside pleasure piers in nearby Blackpool and Southport.
George Orwell perpetuated the false conception in his book “The Road to Wigan Pier”, in which he portrayed the dismal side of the town and ignored the positive aspects of life in a working class community.
By the mid 20th century the area around the pier had become derelict.
But in the mid 1980′s the area was redeveloped as part of an award winning heritage centre which attracts many visitors. This has since closed .
They call it “Wigan Pier”
Although not the site of the real Wigan Pier (which vanished a century ago) this spot (show in photo above) was so named after a local alderman artist painted it and called it “Wigan Pier.” This spot did help give Wigan its name in Saxon times. The Saxon name, Wiggin, means many fights and Wigan saw many battles, some in Arthurian times.
When the canal was built work men unearthed cartloads of weapons, rowels and armour dating from the early pre-Saxon days.