A PIECE of history at the very heart of Wigan’s identity is in danger of collapse.
Boaters have raised the alarm that the “coal tippler” at Wigan Pier is in danger of collapsing into the canal.
It was the original version of this feature on which George Formby Snr based his Pier jokes, and on which a whole legend and tourist industry was based.
Boat users blame a startling lack of maintenance to the replica structure - which was built onto the tow path of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal when the Pier became one of the biggest industrial heritage crowd-pullers in the region in the 1980s - on its current plight.
Wooden planks supporting the rails have now almost totally disintegrated or been shattered by vandalising boots.
The sad sight is particularly poignant because the tippler, which was made and donated by engineering students at Wigan and Leigh College, is positioned at the exact site of the original and so is of great historical significance.
Coal wagons from Col Blundell’s Collieries in Pemberton sent wagon loads of coal to the tippler - they were then upended by hand, depositing the black gold into the waiting barges below.
It was the structure sticking out into the canal which was coined by music hall star Formby Snr.
Commodore of Crooke Cruising Club, Malcolm Holbrook, fears the crumbling structure has “slipped under the radar” of those interested in Wigan’s proud industrial heritage because of its position on the less used section of the tow path alongside Pottery Road.
He said: “The coal tippler itself is two substantial railway lines bent upwards which was stood on a timber frame.
“This was originally four pieces of wood but today there is just a single piece still remaining underneath the tracks and even that is tipped and looks as if it is going to fall into the canal at any second while the rest have disappeared completely.
“I’m not a civil engineer but it looks to me like the canal bank end of it is virtually unsupported.
“It looks very forlorn which considering the importance of the thing it represents to Wigan is very sad indeed.
“When the Pier Museum was there and operating I have no doubt that they kept an eye on it and would have reported it to British Waterways.
“But that facility has now been closed a good few years and it looks to me that nobody has undertaken any maintenance at all, since.
“Lets hope something can be done before it is too late.”
Chairman of Wigan Civic Trust, architect Anthony Grimshaw, said that the condition of the structure hadn’t been officially bought to their attention but they would now make an inspection.
He said: “I ma very saddened to think of it being allowed to fall into this condition.
“The students who made the tippler in the 1980s did a very good job of it which, and according to the photographs from the time I have seen, a very accurate representation as well.
“The Civic Trust isn’t just about buildings but about caring for all the historically important parts of Wigan, so we will certainly be looking into the condition of this structure.”
Upkeep of the structure is the responsibility of the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways).
A spokeswoman said: “We are aware that the coal tippler structure at Wigan Pier on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is currently in need of maintenance to ensure it remains as a focal point on the canal.
“Subject to funding we’re looking to repair the structure in the future.”
The Trust said it was working with Wigan Council on a Waterspace Strategy for the area to “unlock the potential of the canal setting.”