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Wigan’s History On Show
Tuesday 13th April, 2010

Wigan’s History On Show
Russ Winstanley, Ryan McCracken (12) and Billy Boston at the public opening.

ONE used to leave full-backs in a spin while the other is famed for spinning records.

Now they have both given their seal of approval to the new Museum of Wigan Life.

The museum, formerly the history shop on Library Street, opened 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 both gave the museum the “thumbs up” as more than 800 visitors descended on the building to mark the public opening.

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 pays homage to the people of Wigan Borough, its pride and its place in history.

Billy said: “It’s fantastic. There’s something for everyone, young and old. It’s a place Wigan can take great pride in.”

Champion of Northern Soul, Russ Winstanley, was also on hand to cast an eye over 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.

Russ added: "The restoration of the building is fantastic and the new facilities inside are equally as impressive.”

Opened in 1878 the building was Wigan’s first public library and remains one of the town’s most distinguishable landmarks. It 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 Wigan and Leigh’s 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 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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