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Original Wigan Pier

The story goes that in 1891 an excursion train to Southport got delayed on the outskirts of Wigan not long after leaving Wallgate Station.  At that time a long wooden gantry or trestle carried a mineral line from Lamb and Moore's Newtown Colliery on Scot Lane, to their Meadows Colliery in Frog Lane (where the Council refuse centre is now).  This gantry was quite a structure as it had to span the Douglas valley crossing the river, the canal and the main rail line to Southport.  As the delayed train waited for the signals to change one of the travellers remarked "where the b... hell are we?" and the reply became the basis for the immortal joke about the Wigan's Pier.  George Formby Senior perpetuated the joke around the turn of the century in the music halls in Wigan adding that when he passed the Pier he noticed the tide was in (referring to the constant flooding in the low-lying area). George died in December 1920 and, with the demise of the collieries in the area, the gantry had long passed out of existence.  Therefore when people looked for the Pier, the tippler for coal wagons at the canal terminus became the chosen object of the joke.  This too was demolished when it became redundant in 1929.  So when George Orwell, of "Road to Wigan Pier" fame, came to publish his book seven years later, he had to admit no such pier existed.  Since then, of course, a replica tippler has been erected on the site of the old one and the whole area has become today's attractive cultural centre. But how many people realise its true origin? 

Article by Bill Aldridge