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Medieval Wigan

Medieval Cross next to Parish ChurchSettlement in the Wigan area in Anglo-Saxon times is difficult to assess. David Mills, in his excellent book, “The Place Names of Lancashire”, suggests that the first Germanic incursions were from the north by the Northumbrians. The Mercians arrived later from the south.

The expulsion of the Scandinavians from Ireland in 902 led to resettlement in several mainland areas, including the west Lancashire plain. This is evidenced in place-names such as Skelmersdale and Burscough. Scholes, which is now part of  Wigan is thought to have derived its name from the old Scandinavian word “skali” meaning hut.   Four street names in the town centre (Millgate, Hallgate, Standishgate and Wallgate) are also indicative of Scandinavian influence – “gata” is Old Norse for street.

All_Saints.jpg (68456 bytes)Wigan is not mentioned by name in the Domesday Book. In 1086 the town was part of the barony of "Neweton" (Newton-le-Willows) and it is thought that the phrase "the church of that manor", is a probable reference to Wigan parish church. Click here for more details.

In 1246 Wigan achieved borough status by a charter of Henry III and was equal in standing to Liverpool, Preston and Lancaster. 

Bell founding and pewter making were in evidence in the late medieval period.

One of the few medieval remains in Wigan is Mab's Cross which stands in Wigan Lane.    It is associated with Lady Mabel Bradshaw. A legend states that she remarried as her husband, Sir William Bradshaw, had failed to return from a crusade. On his eventually reappearance, Sir William killed the usurper.  Mabel did penance for her unwitting bigamy by walking, once a week, barefoot and barelegged from her home at Haigh to the cross in Wigan which now bears her name. To read this Legend click here.

The truth, however, is somewhat different.  William Bradshaw was not a hero of the crusades - there were none at that time. He was, in fact, a violent, unsavoury character who disappeared in 1315 after being declared an outlaw, following his participation in a rebellion against the Earl of Lancaster. He returned to Haigh in about 1322 but was killed in a fight in 1333. To read "Mab's Cross Legend and Reality" by  Bob Blakeman  click here.

More details of goings-on at this time can be found in a Newsletter article (No.3) by Adrian Morris about Medieval Abram.

In 1984 excavations in the Wiend area of Wigan revealed a medieval well (see Newsletter No.33).

In 2003 the the University of Manchester's Archaeology Unit discovered a large Medival settlement when excavating the site at Gadbury Fold on the outskirts of Atherton (see Newsletter No.66).

In 2005, a dig in the Millgate area by Oxford Archaeology North revealed 13th century medieval pits with pottery (see Newsletter No.84).