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 81,203 in 2001, whilst the wider borough has a population of 305,600. The town is the headquarters of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the top tier administrative body for Greater Manchester.
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, teams both in the top-flight national leagues of their sport.
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". Roman finds from Wigan include coins, a Mithraic temple beneath the parish church, possible evidence for the remains of a Roman fort at Ship Yard, and what is most likely a mansio – effectively a Roman hotel – with its own hypocaust and bath house. Despite evidence of Roman activity in the area, there is no conclusive evidence of Wigan being the same site as Coccium, and it has been suggested that it could be located at Standish to the north of Wigan.
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.
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, the people of the town were Royalists. James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, who was a prominent and influential Royalist, 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 Mann to secure his holdings there. The Earl of Derby was absent when the town 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.
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.