26 June 2014

The Road to Wigan Pier

There is no pier in land-locked Wigan. At the heart of what was once mining country, Wigan was renowned for its industrial ugliness. The town's coal-loading staithe, upon the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, where tubs of coal were unloaded into barges, was known jocularly as Wigan Pier. 

The jetty is understood to have been demolished in 1929, before George Orwell's arrival, but the ironic name had already caught on. A reconstructed tippler (top) demonstrates how the coal tubs were emptied straight into the waiting barges. On the opposite side of the canal stands Gibson's cotton warehouse, built in 1777, and converted in 1984 into The Orwell pub.

Facing this across the canal is Trencherfield Mill, a cotton spinning mill, built with an iron and steel frame in 1907 for William Woods & Sons Ltd, the second mill on the site. This became part of Courtaulds in 1964.

The Grade II-listed building has been converted into offices and apartments, largely empty, but such that many architectural details have been preserved (above).

Wigan Dry Dock is believed to date from c.1888, constructed as part of the adjacent boatyard, and still in use. The canopy is likely of the mid-twentieth century.

Close to Wigan Pier, alongside the River Douglas, are Eckersley's Western Mills. There are three mills here, designed by A.H. Stott for Farington, Eckersley & Co., and built between 1884 and 1900. Eckersley was at the time the largest ring spinner in Britain.

Much of the complex of spinning blocks, engine houses and their chimneys, winding rooms, weaving sheds and warehouses is derelict, although home to a roller rink and kart circuit.

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