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Official Opening of Museum of Wigan Life
Thursday 1st July, 2010

Official Opening of Museum of Wigan Life
Rugby legend, Billy Boston, attended the open day earlier this year to see the new museum for himself

IT’S a building steeped in history and now it’s ready for another landmark moment.

The Museum of Wigan Life will be officially opened on Thursday July 1 with a civic ceremony.

Organisers announced that more than 3,000 past pictures of Wigan and Leigh had been digitized and are now available on the internet.

Wigan’s Mayor Cllr Michael Winstanley says: "Wigan has a proud history and a rich cultural heritage and The Museum of Wigan Life is the perfect celebration of this tradition.

"It is a top-quality transformation of the former History Shop which presents our past with a distinctly modern edge. I hope many people in our borough will make the most of this fantastic facility."

The building, where George Orwell once researched his pivotal socialist work “The Road to Wigan Pier”, re-opened in April following a 12 month £1.9m restoration project.

This “hub” of heritage services now aims to be the first port of call for everyone wishing to discover their own or Wigan’s history.

Outside, the building has been re-roofed and building work has been sensitively undertaken by Manchester based restoration experts William Anelay Ltd.

Building restoration also included the revamped and improved local and family history research area and the installation of a new lift and second staircase. An exhibition also celebrates the area’s people, pride and passion.

Leader of the Council, Lord Peter Smith, says: "The Museum of Wigan Life celebrates the history of the whole of our borough and it really does offer something for everyone. A building of great historical importance to the borough has now become a major showcase for many of the things we treasure about our borough.

"However it is not about mere nostalgia for bygone times, it is about how forward thinking can bring about impressive regeneration projects that boost the profile of our borough on a regional, national and international scale."

The transformation was made possible following a £500,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and with match funding from Wigan Council and a contribution from Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust. More than 7,000 people have visited the building since it was opened to the public in April.

Sarah Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: "The opening of the Museum of Wigan Life gives everyone the chance to see and share in the success of this wonderful project. Wigan is a development priority area for HLF, and therefore we are delighted to see the museum open to the public. The transformation and conservation of this landmark building will ensure that visitors will be able to enjoy and learn about the heritage of Wigan, and we would encourage all Wigan residents to look at our website to find out more about our work in the area."

Designed by renowned architect Alfred Waterhouse and originally opened in 1879 the building on Library Street was the town’s first public library.

In 1936 George Orwell visited the building to conduct research.
Andy Wiggans is the chair of the board of trustees for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust who manage heritage services on behalf of Wigan Council. He said: “This is a very different building and town than George Orwell’s day. Visitors enjoy the wealth of resources within this building supported by the skills and expertise of the heritage team. The transformation and conservation will ensure this building is preserved for future generations.”

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 benefices 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.

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

  • July 2010 – Civic Ceremony marks official opening.

Organisers also announced that past pictures of Wigan and Leigh had been digitised and were now available on the internet at www.wlct.org/heritage

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