Wigan Dock

Extract from Derek Winstanley and Wigan Arch Soc’s paper on Wigan Pier (March 2015)

We do not have a map of the Douglas Navigation in Wigan in the 1700s. However, information can be gleaned about the navigation from historical sources. Whitaker (1755, 37, 44-45) states that c.1735, when the navigation was being constructed, substantial evidence of a major battle between Britons and Saxons was discovered. Whitaker states that the battle was probably fought in the marshy Parson’s Meadow on the south side of the River Douglas. A large number of horse and human bones, spurs and an amazing quantity of horse shoes (some 500-600 lbs in weight) were discovered, “All along the course of the channel from the termination of the Dock to the point of Pool-bridge, for forty or fifty roods [~250-300 yards] in length and seven or eight yards in breadth…” According to Whitaker, the legendary King Arthur was victorious in this battle; others believe it could have been a Norman or Civil War battle. Irrespective of the battle, questions arise as to the location of the dock and Pool Bridge.

The 1802 map shows two canalized channels, or cuts, branching northwards off the River Douglas between two potteries, one owned by Mr. Leigh. The description of a channel for some 40-50 roods from the dock is consistent with the length of both channels shown on the 1802 map. These two canalized channels are not shown on the 1832 Boundary Commission Map, so they must have been filled before surveying was conducted. The 1802 map shows some five buildings at the terminal point of these two canalized sections, so it is reasonable to interpret that these buildings and canalized channels formed the end section of the Douglas Navigation and the site of Wigan Dock.The question arises, why was the canal basin built in this location as a better site might have been on the north side of the main road (thus avoiding a bridge and a tricky left hand bend). Mike Clarke, a canal expert, believes it to be a modified older terminal basin built for the navigation. This seems unlikely as the water levels are to great, the canal being much higher.  It is possible that, at the time of the canals construction, there was an existing extensive ditch created from clay extraction for the potteries. It would simply be allowed to fill with water (a supply is shown going through Mr Bolton’s Iron Foundry on the east side).

We find no evidence of a terminal basin for the navigation on the site of the canal basin. However there is evidence of terminal dock area at the end of the two cuts shown on the 1802 map. Our interpretation is that the two north-to-south canalized channels, or cuts, shown on the 1802 map, together with the buildings at the northern end represented the terminal dock area for the Douglas Navigation in Wigan.

It seems reasonable to assume that when the canalized sections of the abandoned Douglas Navigation were filled, the colliery railway line was constructed down to the canal along the filled-in west cut of the canalized Douglas Navigation.  The railway is shown clearly on the 1849 OS map and the east filled-in canalized section of the navigation terminal appears as a narrow road.