Another chapter in Wigan’s history has come to an end after the closure of a popular hotel and function venue was announced.
The Bellingham, on Wigan Lane, has shut its doors in a move which has meant heartbreak for the team running it and the generations of visitors who made their way through its doors.
Wigan Council is in the process of buying the building but is remaining fairly tight-lipped about its plans.
However, the town hall did confirm it was speaking to partner organisations working in health about the venue.
The Wigan Observer was told that while the venue opposite the hospital was still extremely popular for functions the other aspects of the business, particularly the bar, had seen a drop in custom and were not viable going forward.
Building owner Arthur Silcock, who has been in charge of The Bellingham for almost two decades, said the venue had become a victim of changing trends and habits but it was nevertheless extremely disappointing to see it closing its doors.
Mr Silcock said: “I was approached by the council. I don’t know what it’s going to be. All I know is that it will never be a hotel or a bar ever again.
“We’re all heartbroken. We’ve enjoyed it and enjoyed the company of the people who have supported us.
“People will miss it but that’s life. The bar side has declined, as I think a lot of venues have. It’s been well supported for functions, funerals, weddings, christenings.
“This place gets into your system. This used to be my local years ago and it also used to be the place to be on Wigan Lane. It’s very sad that it has come to this.”
Mr Silcock said one of the biggest blows to the pub side of the operation came when Wigan RL moved out of Central Park and the ground was demolished and replaced by a Tesco superstore, as fans would cram into the bar on matchdays.
The team has known the end was coming for several months but said it had only now shut the doors in order to make sure every function and wedding booking was honoured and no-one lost money.
The curtain finally fell on The Bellingham last Saturday with an emotional party which included music from Wigan singer-songwriter Joe Astley.
A long list of names from the showbiz world have also graced the place over the years, with visitors including Gareth Gates, Oasis and comedian Tommy Cooper.
The team also told with relish the tale of infamous drug dealer Howard Marks, better known under the alias Mr Nice which served as the title of a book and film about his outrageous exploits, visiting The Bellingham.
Following the final gig at the weekend the place was turned into an auction house on Sunday afternoon as the majority of fixtures and fittings in the building went up for sale.
Manager Sharon Sargent said the hotel was “like Piccadilly Circus” as residents and organisations descended to snap up items including king and superking sized beds, wardrobes, bedside cupboards, commercial kitchen equipment, portable stages, banquet and buffet tables and scores of other objects.
Funeral director Brian Halliwell, who is also involved in Pemberton Old DW Wigan Brass Band, got in touch with the Wigan Observer to say he had bought one of the hotel’s quirkier items, a well-known statue of Elvis Presley.
Ms Sargent said: “We’re all going to sadly miss it. It’s the end of an era.
“There are so many pubs and bars shutting down, the national statistics are something like one every 12 hours.
“People aren’t supporting them the same and aren’t going out drinking as much.
“The business rates are also a killer but that’s a national problem, it’s not just Wigan.”
The Bellingham has established deep roots in the borough over the years, providing a venue for organisations to host events including Blessing In Disguise, the Wigan charity which helps children with life-limiting illnesses or severe disabilities and which Sharon is a direct and trustee for.
The hotel also provided a venue for staff at Wigan Infirmary on the other side of the road and their union supporters when there was a lengthy industrial dispute over the eventually-scotched creation of a subsidiary company, and has also put on many events for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust.
Mr Silcock said: “If it said Wigan on it we supported it. I’m a Wiganer and proud of it. I was born just up the road from the hotel and I’ve lived in the area for a lot of years now.”
The hotel occupies a group of former houses from the Victorian era and its website said that at the time of its closure it had five function rooms.
The Bellingham was also a wedding venue and was able to offer Wigan couples tying the knot a package for all of their special day, including a civil ceremony. The team is now busily emptying the property as it has to leave the venue by the end of this week.
That means Wiganers are being invited to the bar to raise a final glass as the price of its remaining stocks are slashed.
A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We are currently in the process of purchasing the building and working with health partners to look at its future use.”
It has previously been rumoured the hospital Trust was looking to buy the hotel but this was firmly scotched by health chiefs late last year..
Anyone interested in enquiring which items are still available for sale can ring 01942 243893 or visit www.facebook.com/TheBellinghamHotel/