powered by FreeFind





Wigan in 1843

WIGAN, a market-town and parliamentary and municipal borough in the hundred of West Derby, in the county of Lancaster, 18 miles west-north-west of Manchester, and 199 miles from London. Whitaker says that there was a castle at Wigan in the Saxon period, which became the nucleus of the town. Leland's description in the early part of the sixteenth century is as follows:- ‘Wigan, pavid, as bigge as Warrington, and better buildid. There is one paroch chirche amidde the towne ; summe marchauntes, summe artificers, summe fermers.’ Camden describes Wigan as a ‘neat and populous’ place. The inhabitants showed great devotion to the cause of Charles I ; the town was several times taken and retaken by the contending parties during that period ; and the principal actions in which the earl of Derby was engaged were fought either in the town or its vicinity.

Wigan is neither a handsome nor a very clean town. The old streets are irregularly built, but some of the new ones near the river Douglas contain many good houses. The town is well supplied with excellent water under an act obtained in 1761, and is lighted with gas by a company formed in 1823. From its situation on the Lancashire coal-field, the population of the borough has increased with the development of manufacturing industry: it was 10,989 in 1801 ; 14,060 in 1811 ; 17,716 in 1821 ; 20,774 in 1831 ; and 25,517 in 1841. The manufactures of the place comprise linens, calicoes, checks, fustians, the spinning of cotton-yarn, and other branches of the cotton manufacture, in most of which a large number of Irish are employed. In 1720 an act was obtained for making the river Douglas navigable from Wigan to the Ribble, which it enters a few miles above the wide outlet of the Ribble. The shares in this navigation were purchased by the undertakers of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, who substituted artificial cuts for the natural bed of the river. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which passes through the town,. gives it the advantage of water communication with Yorkshire and many parts of Lancashire; and, by the Lancaster branch of this canal, with Westmoreland. The Preston and Lancaster Railway, by which the chain of railway communication is extended from the southern coast of England and London to Lancaster, passes through Wigan.

Wigan has received nine royal charters, the first of which was granted by Henry III in 1246. The governing charter prior to 1835 was granted by Charles II, and under it the municipal body consisted of a mayor, recorder, twelve aldermen, and two bailiffs. Under the Municipal Reform Act the limits of the borough remain the same ; but it is divided into five wards, which collectively return ten aldermen and thirty councillors. The number of burgesses, or municipal electors, in 1837 was 1,200. The number of borough magistrates, including the mayor and ex-mayor, is fifteen. The expenditure for municipal purposes in 1840-41 was £3,185. The principal items of receipt were £141 for rents and fines ; £225 tolls and dues ; £1,439 borough and gaol rates ; £509 from the Treasury on account of prosecutions ; and the sum of £833 was advanced by the treasurer. Wigan returned two members to parliament the 23rd Edward I (1295), and again twelve years afterwards, but from that time to the sixteenth century the privilege was not exercised. Before the passing of the Reform Act the corporation had the power of admitting non-resident honorary burgesses, who had a right to vote in the election of borough members. The number of this class of burgesses in 1831 was thirty-four. The other electors were residents within the borough, paying scot and lot, and previously elected by the jury of burgesses at the annual meeting for the election of mayor : this jury had the power of admitting every male inhabitant resident in the borough of full age to a participation in the electoral privilege : but the total number of parliamentary electors in 1837 was only 89. The borough had long been notorious for its expensive parliamentary contests. The Reform Act did not alter the limits of the parliamentary borough, which, as well as the municipal borough, is identical with the township. The number of electors on the register in 1839-40 was 532.

The parish church of Wigan is a handsome structure. The living is a rectory ; gross revenue £2,823, net revenue £2,230. St. George’s church was erected in 1781 as a chapel-of-ease, and was partly endowed by a parliamentary grant : it is a perpetual curacy ; gross annual value £142, net £118. The Roman Catholics are numerous, and have two chapels, one built in 1818, at a cost of £6,000, and another in 1819. which cost £8,000. Several of the principal denominations of dissenters have each two chapels. There is a free grammar-school, founded in the reign of James I. : but by whom it was first endowed is not known : the value of the various endowments is now worth £201 a year. Under an act obtained in 1812 fifteen governors are appointed, who elect a head master and usher : the number of boys is limited to eighty. The Blue-coat School, established by voluntary subscription in 1773, for educating and clothing forty poor children, is now united with the national school, in which above three hundred children are instructed. In 1833 the number of children returned as attending the daily schools was 782 boys and 658 girls ; and at the Sunday-schools, 2,019 boys and 2,430 girls.

The town-hall was built in 1720, at the cost of the borough members. In the market-place there is a large brick edifice, 102 feet by 66. erected, in 1816, for the use of the manufacturers on market-days: it is called the Commercial Hall, but is in fact a cloth-hall. A dispensary was established in 1798, and a building was erected for the institution early in the present century. A savings’-bank was established in 1821, and in 1842 the number of depositors was 1,628. A mechanics’ institute was opened in 1825. The market-clays are Wednesday and Friday, and there are three annual fairs.

The parish of Wigan is very extensive, comprising an area of 27,610 acres, or above 43 square miles. The borough boundary contains 2,170 acres. There are besides three chapelries and eight townships, whose population, in 1841, was as follows :-


Billinge (Chapel end), population 1550, a perpetual curacy, value £235.

Hindley, population 5,459, a perpetual curacy, value £148.

Upholland, population 3,113, a perpetual curacy, value £165

The rector of Wigan is the patron of each of the above livings.

The townships are-

Abram, population 901.

Billinge (Higher end), 712

Dalton, 483

Haigh, 1,363

Ince, 2,565

Orrell, 2,478

Pemberton, 4,394

Winstanley, 681

The population of the parish (including the borough) was 25,552 in 1801 ; 31,481 in 1811 ; 38,318 in 1821 ; 44,486 in 1831 ; and 51,988 in 1841. There are several springs in the parish impregnated with sulphur, which have been useful in scorbutic complaints. At Hindley there is a well which takes fire if a lighted candle be applied to the surface. Haigh, Aspull, and Ince are famous for cannel coal. At Dalton, Haigh, Orrell, Hindley, Pemberton, and Upholland, 857 labourers were employed in coal-pits in 1831. At Upholland there was once a Benedictine priory, and the priory church is now used as the chapel-of-ease.