Wigan is a town in Greater Manchester, England. It stands on the River Douglas, south-west of Bolton, north of Warrington and west-northwest of Manchester. Wigan is the largest settlement in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan and is its administrative centre. The town of Wigan had a total population of 97,000 in 2011, whilst the wider borough has a population of 318,100. Historically in the county of Lancashire, Wigan during classical antiquity was in the territory of the Brigantes, an ancient Celtic tribe that ruled much of northern England. The Brigantes were subjugated in the Roman conquest of Britain during the 1st century, and it is asserted that the Roman settlement of Coccium was established where Wigan lies. Wigan is believed to have been incorporated as a borough in 1246 following the issue of a charter by King Henry III of England. At the end of the Middle Ages it was one of four boroughs in Lancashire possessing Royal charters; the others were Lancaster, Liverpool, and Preston.
During the Industrial Revolution Wigan experienced dramatic economic expansion and a rapid rise in the population. Although porcelain manufacture and clock making had been major industries in the town, Wigan subsequently became known as a major mill town and coal mining district. The first coal mine was established at Wigan in 1450 and at its peak there were 1,000 pit shafts within of the town centre. Mining was so extensive that one town councillor remarked that "a coal mine in the backyard was not uncommon in Wigan". Coal mining ceased during the latter part of the 20th century.
Wigan Pier, a wharf on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, was made famous by the writer George Orwell. In his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell highlighted the poor working and living conditions of the local inhabitants during the 1930s. Following the decline of industrial activities in the region, Wigan Pier's collection of warehouses and wharfs became a local heritage centre and cultural quarter. The DW Stadium is home to both Wigan Athletic Football Club and Wigan Warriors Rugby League Football Club, both teams being highly successful in their sports with the former being the 2013 FA Cup winners and the latter being the most successful Rugby League side of all time.
The name Wigan has been dated to at least the 7th century and probably originally meant a "village" or "settlement". It has also been suggested that the name is Celtic, named after a person called Wigan. This may have been linked with Tref, meaning ) to give an original name of TrefWigan. The name of the town has been recorded variously as Wigan in 1199, Wygayn in 1240, and Wygan in numerous historical documents.
There is very little evidence of prehistoric activity in the area, especially pre-Iron Age; however, Celtic names in the area around Wigan – such as Bryn, Makerfield, and Ince – indicate that the Celtic people of Britain were active in the area in the Iron Age. The first people believed to have settled in the Wigan area were the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe who controlled most of northern Britain.
In the 1st century, the area was conquered by the Romans. The late 2nd-century Antonine Itinerary mentions a Roman settlement called Coccium from the Roman fort at Manchester (Mamucium) and from the fort at Ribchester (Bremetennacum). Although the distances are slightly out, it has been assumed that Coccium is Roman Wigan. Possible derivations of Coccium include from the Latin coccum, meaning "scarlet in colour, scarlet cloth", or from cocus, meaning "cook". Over the years chance finds (coins and pottery) provided clear indications that a Roman settlement existed at Wigan, although its size and status remained unknown. However in 2005 investigations ahead of the Grand Arcade development, and later in 2008 the Joint Service Centre development, have proved that, without doubt, Wigan was a significant Roman site in the late first and second centuries AD. The excavated remains of ditches at Ship Yard (off Millgate) were consistent with use by the Roman military and possibly formed part of the defences for a fort or a temporary camp. More remarkable remains were excavated to the south, in the area of McEwen’s Yard (opposite the baths), where the foundations of a large and very important building were discovered, together with many other Roman features. It was demonstrated to be 36m long by 18m wide and had been constructed in stone with a tiled roof. It contained nine or ten rooms, including three with hypocausts (under-floor heating). It also had a colonnaded portico on the northern side, which presumably formed the main entrance. The ground-plan of this structure, and the presence of the hypocaust, leaves little doubt that this was a bath-house. A timber building excavated at the Joint Service Centre (top of the Wiend) has been interpreted as a barrack block. This suggests a Roman fort occupied the crest of the hill, taking advantage of the strategic position overlooking the River Douglas. It is clear from the evidence gained from these excavations that Wigan was an important Roman settlement, and was almost certainly the place referred to as Coccium in the Antonine Itinerary.
In the Anglo-Saxon period, the area was probably under the control of the Northumbrians and later the Mercians. In the early 10th century there was an influx of Scandinavians expelled from Ireland. This can be seen in place names such as Scholes – now a part of Wigan – which derives from the Scandinavian skali meaning "hut". Further evidence comes from some street names in Wigan which have Scandinavian origins.
Although Wigan is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, possibly because it was included in the Neweton barony (now Newton-le-Willows), it is thought that the mention of a church in the manor of Neweton is Wigan Parish Church. The rectors of the parish church were lords of the manor of Wigan, a sub-manor of Neweton, until the 19th century. Wigan was incorporated as a borough in 1246 following the issue of a charter by King Henry III to John Maunsell, the local church rector and lord of the manor. The borough was later granted another charter in 1257–1258, allowing the lord of the manor to hold a market on every Monday and two annual fairs. The town is recorded on the earliest surviving map of Britain, the Gough Map made around 1360 which highlights its position on the main western north-south highway with distance markers to Preston and Warrington.
Edward II visited Wigan in 1323 in an effort to stabilise the region which had been the source of the Banastre Rebellion in 1315. Edward stayed in nearby Upholland Priory and held court in the town over a period of several days. During the medieval period Wigan expanded and prospered and in 1536, antiquarian John Leland described the town, saying "Wigan paved; as big as Warrington and better builded. There is one parish church amid the town. Some merchants, some artificers, some farmers".
In the English Civil War, most people in the town were Royalists and James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, who was a prominent and influential Royalist in the civil war, made Wigan his headquarters, his forces successfully captured Preston but failed in assaults on Manchester and Lancaster and two attempts to capture Bolton. Abandoning attempts to secure Lancashire he then took his forces to the Isle of Man to secure his holdings there. The Earl of Derby was absent when Wigan fell, despite fortifications built around the town, Wigan was captured by Parliamentarian forces on 1 April 1643, the takeover was complete in two hours and the town was pillaged before the defences were broken down and the Parliamentarians retreated. In 1648, Royalist forces under James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, occupied Wigan after they had been defeated by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Preston. The soldiers looted the town as they retreated to Warrington, and afterwards it experienced pestilence. Cromwell himself described Wigan as "a great and poor town, and very malignant".
The Battle of Wigan Lane was fought on 25 August 1651 during the Third English Civil War, between 1,500 Royalists under the command of the James Stanley, Earl of Derby marching to join the King at Worcester and 3,000 of the New Model Army under the command of Colonel Robert Lilburne hunting them. Robert Lilburne arrived at Wigan to find the Royalists in the process of leaving to march towards Manchester but with his force consisting mostly of cavalry recognised it would be dangerous to engage in the narrow lanes and decided to wait for his foot to arrive and flank the town. The Royalists seeing an opportunity to engage the divided force turned around to engage but Lilburne decided to hold his ground deploying cavalry on Wigan Lane and infantry in the hedgerows to the sides, The Royalists made several charges but after two hours were unable to break the Parliamentarian line and were forced to flee after being overwhelmed by superior numbers. Although Stanley was injured he managed to find refuge in the town. David Craine states, "those who did not fall in the fighting [were] hunted to their death through the countryside". A monument on Wigan Lane marks the place where Sir Thomas Tyldesley a Major General commanding the Royalist troops fell, it was erected 28 years after the battle in 1679 by Alexander Rigby, Tyldsley's standard bearer.
Wigan was described by Celia Fiennes, a traveller, in 1698 as "a pretty market town built of stone and brick". In 1720, the moot hall was rebuilt, funded by the member of the borough. It was used as the town hall and the earliest reference to it dates from the 15th century. Prior to its final destruction in 1869, the hall was rebuilt in 1829. Wigan's status as a centre for coal production, engineering and textiles in the 18th century led to the Douglas Navigation in the 1740s, the canalisation of part of the River Douglas, and later the diversion of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which originally was to serve the town on a spur transporting cloth and food grown on the West Lancashire Plain to the Port of Liverpool at the request of the mill owners but after construction restarted in the 1790s with coal becoming much more important during the intervening years as a valuable commodity it became the primary route and a hub for transport of coal from the Lancashire coal pits to Liverpool and Leeds. As a mill town, Wigan was an important centre of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, but it was not until the 1800s that cotton factories began to spread into the town. This was due to a dearth of fast-flowing streams and rivers in the area, but by 1818 there were eight cotton mills in the Wallgate part of Wigan. In 1818 William Woods introduced the first power looms to the Wigan cotton mills. These mills swiftly became infamous for their dangerous and unbearable conditions, low pay and use of child labour. As well as being a mill town, Wigan was also an important centre for coal production. It was recorded that in 1854 there were 54 collieries in and around the town, about a sixth of all collieries in Lancashire.
In the 1830s Wigan became one of the first towns in Britain to be served by a railway; the line had connections to Preston and the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. Wigan began to dominate as a cotton town in the late 19th century, and this lasted until the mid-20th century. In 1911 the town was described as an "industrial town ... occupying the greater part of the township, whilst its collieries, factories ... fill the atmosphere with smoke". After the Second World War there was a boom followed by a slump from which Wigan's textile industry did not recover. While the town's cotton and coal industries declined in the 20th century, the engineering industry did not go into recession. The last working cotton mill, May Mill, closed in 1980.
In 1937, Wigan was prominently featured in George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier which dealt, in large part, with the living conditions of England's working poor. Some have embraced the Orwellian link, as it has provided the area with a modest tourist base over the years. Others regard this connection as disappointing, considering it an insinuation that Wigan is no better now than it was at the time of Orwell's writing.