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No.206 October 2017

Monthly Newsletter

Search for a Douglas River Lock

The Douglas Navigation was constructed in 1742 - based on the River Douglas, with shallows and bends bypassed by short cuts with locks and weirs. It connected Wigan with the River Ribble allowing boats carrying 20 tons of coal to be shipped out, to be returned with stone building material and lime for farmer's fields. This continued for over 50 years, only to be abandoned when the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was completed at the end of the 18th century. River weirs where dismantled to allow for free flow and all the locks disappeared. Late last year, however, Bill Froggatt from the Canal & River Trust contacted the Society with the suggestion that one of the locks may still survive, buried under land owned by the Appley Bridge Community Association. He thought that discovering the lock's dimensions might shed light on the types of boats that used the Navigation. The land in question lies west of Appley Lane, between the river and the canal. Originally owned by the nearby 'Lino' works, this once derelict industrial land was given to the Community in the late 80's to be used for recreational purposes. For many years before that it was used as a dumping ground by the factory, but now, like many areas of the northwest, it has been transformed into pleasant woodland. Referred to as the Meadow, the Community Association maintain its paths and fencing. They are also keen to locate the lock which could provide a very interesting feature for the Meadow.

With this in mind, Bill contacted Ian Miller of the GMAAS to see if a GPS survey could pinpoint its location. In January with help from his friend Richard Ker, Ian carried out a survey using coordinates from an overlay of the 1802 map which shows the lock. Two metal spikes were inserted to indicate its likely position. It was only in August however, that we were able offer our help with a Radar survey. Volunteers organised by the nearby Fir Tree Fisheries help to clear the ground which enabled Andy Wilcock and I to carry out 3 scans, using a 2D GPR machine on loan from Sygma Solutions. The results were far from conclusive; it did however reveal the possibility of the original surface lying just 2 metres below the present level. Since then, with the help of Paul Roper from the Association, we have been able to complete a plan of the site showing the locations of the scans and the suspected line of the lock channel (see below). In the next couple of weeks a site visit is planned and a presentation to the Association. It is hoped that this will allow a bid for funding to be put forward so that a trial trench can be dug. Further progress will depend on the results of this dig.

Who Was Wigan

It is almost 20 years ago since I first reported on the possible origins of the Wigan name (Newsletter 15). Up until then there had been many attempts at explaining the meaning, but most accepted was the one proposed by Ekwall suggesting it was the shortened version of Tref Wigan, "The village or homestead of someone called Wigan". However in the 1998 Spring edition of the Lancashire History Quarterly, Dr Breeze refutes this saying that the personal name never existed, insisting that it derived from Gwigan, Welsh for village or settlement. In history the first time we hear the name Wigan itself is in 1199 when Ranulf, Treasurer of Salisbury, was cited as Rector of the Parish Church at Wigan.

However in 2007 a researcher named S Floyd came to us saying he had come across the personal name Wigan in early Cornish records. Bob Blakeman has followed up this lead and is now able to confirm that Wigan was indeed a personal name in the early 12th century. This seems to suggest the Ekwall was right after all but the question remains, who was this guy called Wigan? You can find more details of Bob's research on our website here: www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/History/WhoWasWigan.html

Next Meeting

Wednesday 4th October. - in the Standish Suite at the Brocket Arms (7.30pm as usual). John Pendlebury was an egyptologist, archaeologist and war hero. While fighting in Crete in the Second World War, he was captured by the Germans and legend has it that he was executed as a spy. He was born in London but his father was a Wiganer, the son of the owner of the famous Pendleburys department store on Standishgate. John worked for many years in Egypt at Amarna and Knossos in Crete where he enlisted when war broke out. John Johnson has been researching his fascinating life story and I'm sure his talk will be very interesting - hope to see you there. BA