My World with Geoffrey Shryhane

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

Hobbling along Crawford Street not long ago, I was suddenly and delightfully overwhelmed by the smell of mint. It could mean just one thing – they were making Uncle Joe’s mint balls at the ever unchanging Santus toffee works.

I shambled on and my mind was suddenly full of aspects of Wigan which are no longer part of our lives. We have moved on. We’ve got “a bit mod”. We discarded the old and embraced the new.

I’d dearly love to say that all this “new” has been for the better. It’s not.

It’s true the shops in the town centre present an optimistic view – everything looks to be doing quite well. Wigan appears to be alive and kicking.

But look behind the façade, and it’s a different story. The once-thriving Library Street, with its Timberlakes car show rooms, has a tired look these days. By and large the shoppers have gone.

Too many shops have closed in the Makinson Arcade. The open Market is a joke, and many are right when they hear the death knell sounding for the not-that-old Wigan Market Hall.

It didn’t help that Morrison’s store (always popular with locals) closed. Now the iconic British Home Stores has gone.

And yes, now I’m going to hark back to the good old days when Wigan was a thriving town. And it certainly was.

Old – but not that old – photos show our main shopping streets thronged with people. The arcades were ever popular and the old Market Hall and outdoor markets were vast success stories in themselves.

Tell me that we lived in different times and I’ll reply that you’re absolutely right. No Robin Park with all its parking facilities. No shopping on the internet. It’s true, it was all different.

I feel sure that the hope of lots of locals is that when the new town centre scheme takes shape, happy days may be here again. We can just hope.

Our great Billy Boston has truly become a man for all seasons.

Come winter, come summer. Come spring and autumn, his statue will look out over Wigan for centuries.

The amazing life-like effigy arrived in Wigan at dawn on Friday, was secured in place and then well and truly covered.

Saturday morning. Pouring down. But the rain did not stop several hundred Billy Boston fans crowding onto the site to see this great and historic moment.

The band played and at just after 11.20 the great man himself pulled away the flag to reveal the long-awaited statue – worth every penny of its £100,000.

The ceremony over, those soaked fans ignored the rain as they queued to be photographed with Billy in bronze.

Both Billy and wife Joan declared the statue: “Utterly amazing.” And fans were in total agreement.

People soon realised that the statue shows Billy Boston in his prime, standing proud and holding the tool of his trade – the oval ball.

The Billy statue is a dream come true not only for the rugby hero’s family but for rugby league fans the world over.

It’s mostly forgotten now but perhaps a few “My World” readers will recall an annual publication which was once a vital part of life.

It was The Wigan Almanac – a book of thousands of local facts and figures - and was published from the mid 1800s until the mid-1960s.

I came across a tattered old copy for 1960 – and thumbing through it, there was a sadness at the number of local organisations which have slipped out of existence. And it’s true – some have survived. And thrived.

Schools that have disappeared – Hindley and Abram Grammar School, Standish Boys’ School and Ashton Grammar School.

And we won’t see the likes of the Church of England Temperance Society, Wigan and District Congregational Ministers’ Fraternal, Wigan Business and Professional Women’s Club, Wigan TB After Care Committee, Workers’ Educational Association, Wigan Boot Trades Association, Royal Naval Sick Berth Association, St Margaret’s Home for Unmarried Mothers, the Prisoners’ Aid Society and many more.

For more from Geoffrey Shryhane, see My World in the Wigan Observer - out every Tuesday.