Wigan was settled by Celtic warriors prior to the Romans, who built a fort in the area, known as Coccium. In the Middle Ages, Wigan was a part of the Barony of Makerfield, receiving its Royal Charter in 1246 from King Henry III. Though Wigan's main industry was, of course, coal mining, the cotton industry became an important part of the town's economy. Cotton came late to Wigan, from the 19th century onwards (Wigan lacked water power to drive mills prior to the advent of steam engines), but the town made up for its late start by adopting new textile technologies traditional cotton towns had not adopted with such vigour, being well served by both rail and canal. Following local government re-organisation in 1974, Wigan became a metropolitan borough, incorporating the surrounding smaller settlements of Abram, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Aspull, Astley, Atherton, Billinge, Golborne, Haigh, Hindley, Ince, Lowton, Orrell, Shevington, Standish, Tyldesley and Winstanley.
"If you pass down to Wigan from your airy [Billinge] beacon height, you will go through a pleasant undulating land, with here a clump of trees or a green knoll and there the uplifted framework and revolving headstock pulleys of a colliery shaft. Strangely intermixed are these contrasts of natural beauty and the works of men which tend to its destruction. It was at the beginning of the fourteenth century, we are told, that the people of Wigan discovered that this coal lay hidden beneath the surface of their land. It was a valuable find as affording them new fuel, but became infinitely more valuable when its use was called for in the production of steam. You have ample evidence of this prosperous activity as you pass by mills, collieries, workshops, forges, foundries, and other habitations of labour and make your way through the main street by a gentle incline, traversed by steam tram cars, and so find yourself eventually in the market place given up entirely to shops."
~ John Mortimer, "Industrial Lancashire: Some Manufacturing Towns and Their Surroundings", (1897).
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