It's last orders at the Orwell

One of Wigan's most iconic pubs has shut - the Orwell at Wigan Pier served its last pint at the weekend.

The highest profile pub so far to be hit by the double whammy of the credit crunch and high beer prices which licensees say are squeezing the trade.

The crisis has already seen the borough's branch of the UK Independence Party launch a Save Our Pubs campaign with series of public meetings.

And the leader of the opposition on Wigan Metro, Coun Mike Winstanley, has successfully proposed a council motion demanding the Chancellor slash beer tax to help pubs weather the storm.

Shocked regulars heard on Friday that The Orwell had unspecified operational problems and couldn't continue.

They organised a hasty and emotion-packed farewell on Sunday. Orwell owner for the past quarter of a century Robin Harston, 71, and his wife Wendy, have been unavailable for comment since news about the pub's future started to circulate.

The former military man, whose pub collected a huge amount of real ale awards during his tenure, was one of Wigan's longest serving landlords.

A stunningly converted three-storey grain warehouse, The Orwell was seen as a key feature of Wigan Pier when it was opened by The Queen as a national tourist attraction in 1985.

But the venue has increasingly struggled since the re-designation of the Pier and particularly, the closure of The Way We Were Museum last summer.

Mr Harston had told regulars that he was hoping to have picked up vital trade when the proposed hotel on the Trencherfield site opened.

But that project remains locked in a development dispute with town hall planners over its potential height and the effect that could have on views of one of Wigan's most famous vistas.

The pub is also home to a large group of Latics fans who ritual is to gather there before home games. Many have enjoyed the custom since the JJB Stadium opened a decade ago.

Orwell regular and Latics devotee Mark Perry from Standish, said: "This will leave a huge hole in the lives of many people, not least Latics fans. It's difficult to imagine match day without meeting up with your mates in The Orwell first for a few drinks.

"Robin and Wendy are also such a big, big part of it all. There's no doubt that the pub has been quieter lately, particularly outside football days. But this has all been very sudden and the regulars are quite shocked by it.

"People aren't daft and they too can see the number of closed and boarded up pubs around Wigan, but nobody believed that The Orwell would be following them, particularly because it has always done well with the food side and never just had to depend on beer sales alone.

"The party on Sunday went well and there were plenty of people who turned up along with many former regulars who haven't been seen for a long long time, who had heard about it on the grapevine.

"But we are all in the dark about when or whether the pub will open again. Because of its fantastic position you wonder if it is now going to end up being converted to apartments."

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