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Wigan Borough's History Unveiled
Thursday 1st April, 2010

Wigan Borough's History Unveiled
The outside of the newly restored Museum of Wigan Life

THE Museum of Wigan Life will open to the public on Friday 9 April following a £1.9m restoration project.

Wigan rugby league legend Billy Boston and Wigan Casino founder Russ Winstanley will be guests of honour on the day.

Last year Billy was voted the borough’s best all time rugby player by residents in a competition.

A profile about the 75-year-old former Wigan winger, who scored a club record of 478 tries, is part of a new exhibition at the site of the former library which will pay homage to the people of Wigan, its pride and its place in history.

Champion of Northern Soul, Russ Winstanley, will also be on hand to give his seal of approval to a section of the exhibition dedicated to the 'soul all-nighters' that made Wigan the place to dance the night away in the mid 70s.

Carole Tyldesley, is head of heritage services for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT) who manage heritage services on behalf of Wigan Council.

She said: “We’re delighted Russ and Billy will be at the opening of the exhibition and marking this wonderful occasion with us.
“This exhibition will tell the story of the borough, its people, its heritage and its community pride but the restoration project as a whole is much more. It was about creating a heritage hub where present and future generations can enjoy and experience history.”

Opened in 1878 the building on Library Street is one of Wigan’s most distinguishable landmarks and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse - who also designed Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London.

It is also where George Orwell researched his significant socialist book “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

The building – both inside and out – has been brought back to life by restoration specialists Manchester based William Anelay Ltd, whose projects have included Victoria Baths and Gorton Monastery in Manchester. Bolton based Bradshaw Gass and Hope were the architects behind the scheme.

Made possible following a £500,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding from Wigan Council and Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust the £1.9m project has included external building work (particularly the windows, roof and re-pointing) and internal building work improving access with a new entrance ramp, lift and second staircase.

It also includes the refurbishment of the first floor local and family study area and the installation of a new Wigan exhibition, reception and shop on the ground floor with an area dedicated to temporary exhibitions, and the creation of a dedicated learning space and meeting room.

In addition, the project is funding new ventures in learning and outreach for heritage services and a digitization project for our photographic collection, capturing some 5,000 images and making them available to all through the internet.

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “It is fantastic to be able to share the results of this wonderful project with everyone. The new museum has a key role to play in the cultural life of the borough, giving local people the chance to explore and contribute to Wigan's fascinating story. The transformation and conservation of this landmark building will ensure that visitors will be able to enjoy and learn about the heritage of Wigan, both now and for many years to come."

A special weekend of events to mark the re-opening including tours and artifact handling has been organised. For more information visit www.wlct.org/heritage

A History of Wigan’s First Public Library

  • The Public Libraries Act of 1850 provided for the support of Public Libraries from the rates system. But the limited funding relied on private beneficies to provide the cost of building and fitting out libraries.

  • The creation of Wigan Library – now the Museum of Wigan Life – followed two major offers of funding. The first was a gift of £12,000 from Thomas Taylor, owner of Victoria Cotton Mills and the second was a further £12,000 bequeathed by Dr Joseph Winnard.
    Dr Winnard was a surgeon to the Wigan Poor Law Union and his donation was used to pay for the books.

  • The architect chosen for the design of Wigan’s first public library was Alfred Waterhouse whose notable feats included Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum, London

  • Wigan Library was built on the site of the former Wigan Grammar School in Rodney Street and opened on 7th May 1878.

  • The building reflects the romanticism of the Elizabethan Revival Style with some gothic features.

  • George Orwell visited the library in 1936 carrying out research for his book “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

  • Many exhibitions have been held in the building. In March 1878 Captain Charles Mercier put on an exhibition of his works to raise funds for the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary. In 1944 the Earl of Crawford opened the American Exhibition with a civic ceremony in the reference library.

  • In 1990, in response to increasing requirements for additional space, the library was relocated across the road to Wigan town hall.

  • In March 1992 Wigan Heritage Services opened The History Shop with the aim of holding temporary displays for travelling and in-house exhibitions, a study/research area, providing a home for the Wigan Local History collection, parish registers and census returns.

  • April 2009 – The History Shop closes for a £1.9m restoration project (see above)

  • April 2010 – Re-opens as the Museum of Wigan Life.

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