1868 - The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland
"WIGAN, a parish, post, and market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, exercising separate jurisdiction, but locally in the hundreds of West Derby and Salford, county Lancaster, 17 miles N.W. of Manchester, 30 S. of Lancaster, and 1951 N.W. of London by railway, or 199 by road. It has stations on the London and North-Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways. The parish contains, besides the borough and township of its own name, the townships of Abram, Aspull, Billinge Chapel End, Billinge Higher End, Dalton, Haigh, Hindley, Ince, Orrell, Pemberton, Up Holland, and Winstanley. It is situated on the banks of the Douglas, which rises under Rivington Pike, and was made navigable in 1719 to its junction with the Ribble, but which is now superseded by the Leeds and Liverpool canal. From the junction of three Roman roads at this point it has been supposed to occupy the site of a Roman station; but seems rather to owe its origin to a castle built during the Saxon period, and said to have been the scene of some sanguinary struggles between the Saxons and Britons. It is a borough by prescription, having been first chartered by Henry III., and sent two members to parliament twice in the reign of Edward I., but not again till that of Edward VI. In Leland's time it was "as big as Warrington, but better builded," In the Civil War it took the side of the Royalists, and was often the head-quarters of the Earl of Derby, who, in 1651, was defeated here by Colonel Lilburne. In 1745 it was visited by Prince Charles Edward the Pretender, who was sheltered in the Bishopgate house for several days, while he was endeavouring to effect his escape from the kingdom. Under the Municipal Reform Act it was divided into five wards, viz:, Scholes, St. George's, Queen-street, Swinley, and All Saints' wards-and is governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 town councillors, assisted by a recorder, coroner, town clerk, and other officers, with the style of "mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Wigan" The borough, the bounds being those of the township, returns two members to parliament. The mayor is returning officer. The population of the borough in 1851 was 31,948, and in 1861, 37,658, inhabiting 6,696 houses. The town, which stands on several acclivities, consists of the old town on the right, and of the more modern suburb of Scholes on the left bank of the Douglas, here spanned by several bridges. Both are irregularly built, the streets of the older portion being narrow and crooked, but in the modern part there are several new streets of good houses; the main street is nearly a mile and a half in length, running N. and S., from which the other streets diverge towards the E. and W. It is lighted with gas, paved, and well supplied with water. The public buildings are the townhall, in the market-place, rebuilt in 1720; the Public Hall, in King-street; Moot Hall, Corn Exchange, and Commercial Buildings, mechanics' institute and reading-rooms, library and museum, dispensary, borough gaol, a pillar to Sir J. Tyldesley, the Royalist, put up by Sheriff Rigby in 1679; theatre, union poorhouse, savings-bank, two commercial banks, corn-mills, gas-works, besides about 20 factories and spinning mills, comprising some of the largest in the kingdom. An extensive coal-field surrounds the town, yielding cannel and other coal; and the easy means of transit by water and railway give peculiar facilities for manufactures, which are carried on to a large extent. The staple productions are calicoes, fustians, and other cotton fabrics; linens, checks, cotton twist, ginghams, and tablecloths; there are besides several brass and iron foundries, iron forges, corn-mills, blacksmiths' workshops, rope-walks, and dye works. Wigan is the head of a Poor-law Union, new County Court district and superintendent registry. It. is likewise a sessions town and polling place for the county elections., In the immediate vicinity of the town are The Larches, Bellingham Lodge, and Westwood House, to which last is attached a Roman Catholic chapel, dedicated to the Sacra Coeur. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Chester, value £1,600. The parish church, dedicated to All Saints, was restored in 1860, and contains monuments to the Bradshaighs of Haigh from the reign of Edward III., and a monument to Bishop Hale, who was once rector. The other churches are St. George's, erected in 1781; St. Thomas's, St. Catherine's, and St. James's. There are besides eight churches in the parish, most of which are in the patronage of the rector, the Hon. and Rev. G. T. 0. Bridgeman, M.A., who is also rural dean. The Independents, Wesleyans, Primitive and Free Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and Christian Brethren have chapels. There are a free grammar school, founded in the reign of James I., which has an income from endowment of £250; a blue-coat school, established in 1773, but now united with the National schools; also National, British, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, ragged, and Sunday schools. The local charities produce about £1,200 per annum, including the school endowments. Market days are Monday and Friday. Fairs are held on the day before Holy Thursday, 27th June, and 28th October."