By ‘eck: Wigan’s industrial heritage could be set for cosmopolitan twist with audacious city status bid

By Thomas McCooey

An audacious bid for Wigan to be granted city status has received a mixed response from locals.

The bid includes the number of councillors in Wigan being cut from 75 to 25 – one per ward – which they say would save £2m per year. 

If successful the bid, launched by Michael Moulding, deputy leader of the Community Action Party, could see Wigan receive city status as early as next year.

The e-petition reads: “Wigan’s size, ancient history, population, Lancashire roots, rugby and football are all reasons to grant city status.

“The economic benefits of city status to the Borough of Wigan from both the private sector and government are massive and would bring a sense of civic pride to its people.”

Just two weeks after Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup for the first time – the bid could further throw the historically industrial town into the spotlight.

But not everyone shares Mr Moulding’s enthusiasm for achieving a change of status for a town steeped in heritage ranging from rugby league dominance to Uncle Joe’s Mintballs. 

Wigan resident Andrew Heap said: “There is no need for Wigan to become a city. 

“Wigan is known for being a northern industrial town and I do not want that to change. 

“I feel that it could get lost in becoming too large. We don’t want to become too big for our boots!”

The town’s heritage is a source of pride for those affiliated with it. 

Negative opinions of the town have existed since George Orwell’s account of it in The Road to Wigan Pier and taunts of ‘little Wigan’ from opposing football fans are a regular fixture.

Even so, many of the 300,000 residents of one of the oldest boroughs in historic Lancashire feel sentimentally attached.

It received a Royal Charter from Henry III in 1246 but there is compelling evidence to suggest the life of Wigan started much earlier as the Roman garrison town of Coccium.

At the turn of the 20th century Wigan was an industrial powerhouse with production of coal and cotton made possible by the Leeds Liverpool canal.

Wigan went on to enjoy a love affair with Northern Soul at Wigan Casino’s infamous all-nighters in the 60s and 70s.

And Wigan’s sporting prowess is impossible to ignore – it was the first rugby league club to win a Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1929.

Wigan Warriors became the country’s most successful side, winning the cup a record 18 times and collecting 19 league championships.

The town has also provided some of the country’s top rugby union talent, with Owen Farrell and Chris Ashton featuring in England’s last Six Nations campaign.

Wigan Athletic had occupied a place in the Premier League for eight years before being relegated to the Championship last month.

Mr Heap continued: “We’re a little town and we’re proud of that. Calling ourselves a rugby city instead of a rugby town sounds wrong.”

Despite the passionate reaction, the city status bid is in its infancy.

For the e-petition to trigger a parliamentary debate 100,000 signatures are needed before 16th May 2014 and currently only 374 have felt moved enough to sign-up. 

Yet there are some who feel granting Wigan city status would be another remarkable notch on the town’s busy timeline. 

The makers of the popular iPhone and Android app iWiganese, a Wigan dialect translation tool, would love to see it happen.

Ajay Kapadia, Director of Fabric Media, said: “It would be a really important step in the history of Wigan.”

Wigan has a vast and distinctive dialect and such is the popularity of iWiganese, 30,000 people have downloaded it since 2011. 

Mr Kapadia continued: “As far as downloads go, the evidence shows it is not just Wiganers who have benefitted but people with a broader interest in local dialects. 

“Our figures show downloads have been made to devices in as far-flung places as Norway, Turkey and Taiwan.”

The app has two functions; Wiganese to English and English to Wiganese, providing a handy translation tool for visitors. 

Not as obvious a choice for an app as a train timetable or torch, Mr Kapadia offered insight into how the idea came about.

He said: “It happened by chance. We had an employee who spoke with a broad Wigan accent and we needed a translation tool so it just took off from there.”

“We are updating the app and it is due out later in the year. I can’t reveal too much but it will be a great tool for Wigan places.”

However, this addition won’t just be a guide to the old cotton mills near the town centre or the price of a pint of Wigan-brewed Silver Tally in The Anvil pub.

It may feature the town’s three country parks and Wigan also has more sites of special scientific interest than anywhere else in the region.

Perhaps the makings of a worthy city, or maybe Wiganers will show they are content with their lot. 

Only time will tell if the Community Action Party will have to eat the same humble pie Wigan’s miners did during the miners’ strike in the 1920s.

They returned to work before the strike ended, thus earning the nickname ‘pie eaters’.

Full details of the e-petition can be found here:

Picture courtesy of graham via WikiCommons, with thanks.

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