Digger Festival organisers and artists celebrate George Orwell

The exhibition inspired by George Orwells work
The exhibition inspired by George Orwells work

The organisers of Wigan Diggers Festival are backing the upcoming George Orwell celebration, saying the radical thinker their event remembers inspired the author.

The group which puts on the day-long festival dedicated to the life and ideas of Gerrard Winstanley in Wigan town centre each year has thrown its support behind next month’s events to mark the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier.

We celebrate the ideas and values of Gerrard Winstanley with an annual festival and the committee are pleased to sponsor and support events taking place to recognise Orwell’s contribution to Wigan’s socialist past

Festival spokesman

The weekend, organised by The Orwell Society in partnership with Sunshine House, Wigan Council and numerous arts organisations, has proved controversial with some residents saying the town should not celebrate a writer who did not represent the town or its people fairly and greatly harmed its image.

However the Diggers organisers, who have organised an art exhibition in the Grand Arcade in the run-up to the event and are also hosting the social night in Scholes kicking the anniversary off, are in no doubt it is right for Wigan to host the Orwell weekend.

Indeed, they say the head of the 17th century Diggers movement who was originally from the borough was an important figure in the author’s thinking.

A festival spokesman said: “When he visited Wigan and other northern towns Orwell was horrified to find that the people who produced the wealth, that allowed people of his class to enjoy a comfortable life, were themselves enduring slum housing, poverty wages and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

“He was impressed, however, by the resilience shown by the people of Wigan, who through their institutions such as the miners’ federations, co-operative societies and guilds, trade councils, the Labour Party and the many-layered and infinitely-resourceful grass-roots female communities.

“Wiganers refused to accept their poor way of life, and like the 17th century Wiganer Gerrard Winstanley, leader of the Digger movement, fought back and agitated for improvements to their living conditions.

“Orwell acknowledged the influence Winstanley had on his own political education, referencing him several times in his essays, and there are echoes of the betrayal of the Diggers in the 17th century by Cromwell’s parliament in Orwell’s book Animal Farm.

“We celebrate the ideas and values of Gerrard Winstanley with an annual festival and the committee are pleased to sponsor and support events taking place to recognise Orwell’s contribution to Wigan’s socialist past.”

Wigan Diggers Festival committee members Janet Phillips, Steve Dawber and Paul Hilton have joined forces with local artists and authors Leslie Williams, Malcolm Jones, Cyril Fitton and Janet Gilford to form the Road from Wigan Pier group.

The organisation has arranged the exhibition of art pieces inspired by Orwell’s life and work, on display in the shopping centre

The 80th anniversary celebration takes place between Friday, March 10, and Sunday, March 12, with events at Sunshine House, the Museum of Wigan Life, the Mill at the Pier and The Old Courts.

For more information, visit www.orwellsociety.com.