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No.78 November 2004

Monthly Newsletter

End of the Road for Wigan’s Pier

Rodney Hill, Director of the Leisure and Culture Trust, has revealed that The Wigan Pier complex (The Way We Were Heritage Centre) is to end as we currently know it. The plan is for closure in 2007 as part of a 40m project that will also sweep away other recreational facilities including Opie's Museum of Memories, Wigan International Pool and the relocation of Wigan’s library (yet again). The idea is for the Pier to be transformed into a cultural quarter complete with 500-seat concert hall, apartments, bars, hotel and restaurants. As I understand it, the present complex, although winning national awards and government charter marks year after year, has just not been attracting enough people. What is disturbing however is the comments of the Leisure Chief who has said that “The Way We Were depicts life in Wigan in 1900. It is now 2004. That is why we are putting the focus on relevant industries and new jobs.”. In Wigan as a whole there is precious little to remind us of our rich heritage. By removing the Pier complex, Wigan may be in danger of becoming just another bland over-developed, former industrial town with out-of-town retail parks identical to the many others in the area. If you have any thoughts on the matter please let me know at our next meeting.

Dog Kennel mystery solved?

Mark Fletcher, our last month’s speaker, may have the answer to last month’s mystery feature. He suggests that it is likely to be the site of a small gasholder used to supply the Hall with lighting before being connected to the municipal supply. Gas for lighting was invented at the turn of the 18th century by William Murdoch who developed a method of extracting it from coal using an iron retort. By the mid 1900’s gas was being used to light streets and factories up and down the country.
This seems a very plausible explanation - but is it correct? There are no records of gas ever being used at the Hall before the Wigan Corporation connected a supply in the later 19th century - even then it was only used for cooking. In his book ‘Life and Times at Haigh Hall’, Donald Anderson describes in some detail the use of candles, oil, naptha (distilled from coal), paraffin and eventually electricity for lighting in the Hall throughout the 19th century - but no gas. He also comments on the fact that, although many country houses had their own small gasworks, Haigh Hall was without one, despite having a ready supply of the best quality coal in Britain (Cannel) on site.

Ram Pump search

Ram Pump.jpg (34243 bytes)Tom mentioned at last months’ meeting that Sharon Saunders from the Parks and Gardens department has asked us to search for their lost Ram Pump using our geophysics equipment. The Pump, which was installed in the 19th century, was used to run the waterfall feature in Wigan’s Mesnes Park. It stopped working many many years ago and its location has now been lost. However the Parks department would now like to restore this feature hopefully using the same pump. The Ram Pump is a unique device in that it can raise water using just the power from the water flowing in a river or stream. It has no mechanical working parts therefore requires very little maintenance; in fact the suppliers Green and Carter, who still make them, give them a lifetime guarantee. It is difficult to imagine how you can make water flow up hill in this way but this device uses the kinetic energy of the water to pressurise a smaller continuous supply up to heights of 60 meters and more.
Tom and I have reconnoitred the site and with the help of our resistivity meter we believe we should be able to locate its position.

Mesnes Park.JPG (69715 bytes)


Next Meeting

Wednesday 3rd November at the Baden Powel Centre (Scout HQ) in Greenough Street, starting at 7.30 pm as usual. This month Dr Mike Nevell from Manchester University will be reporting on the excavations carried out last year on the Gadbury Fold site on the outskirts of Atherton. This unsuspected medieval site lies on the line of the Roman Road from Manchester to Wigan, but what made the site extra special was the discovery of a Pre-historic ditch complete with flint scraper (see Newsletter 66).
Hope to see you there. B.A.