Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

GOOD news and bad news. Which do you want first?

We might as well get the bad over first.

It’s a fact that Wigan’s town centre shopping scene is not thriving as it did years ago, years when the centre was so crowded it was difficult to make walking progress. It’s old news that there are new plans for the disastrous Marketgate which, years ago, was born following extensive demolition.

In the last decade and one by one, the shops opened with optimism have put up their shutters. But have you noticed that slowly but surely, some of the big stores in the Galleries have closed their doors for the last time? Just how worrying is that?

Many other towns the size of ours have little difficulty maintaining two shopping centres. Why not Wigan, a place which years ago was popular with shoppers from other towns.

What happened?

And as for the poor old Market Hall. No comment.

Now the good news – new days lie ahead for the almost-falling-down former Victoria Hotel and the derelict former Poole’s cafe on Wallgate.

These have been the biggest blots on the Wigan landscapes for years. Now the former iconic cafe is to be turned into an American-style restaurant and the Victoria is to be turned into apartments and office accommodation.

I can only say ... Happy Days are Here Again.

MY mind goes back a long, long time and I can see the school heaters blasting out heat, but can’t recall a pupil dying through illness.

Wigan World has stumbled across a report on conditions at Ince Weselyan School in Victorian times. It paints a sad picture of ignorance, deprivation and poverty.

In those days, Wigan was certainly not a town of plenty as families struggled to exist and it is very doubtful that the pupils looked back on their school days as the happiest of their lives.

Here are some of the school log entries between 1867 and 1891:

“A scholar who was present last week died on Saturday night of scarlet fever. In all six pupils died.”

“Admitted 13 new scholars. The large number is caused by parents taking office at the Ince National School being employed as barracks for the soldiers who have come to quell the disturbances caused by the miners’ strike.”

“Too cold for the pupils to write in their copy books.”

“The difficulty the teacher has at this school are caused by the want of co-operation with some of the parents.”

“Today I found several children above Standard 1 without pencil, slate, reading book and copy book. I am aware that some of their fathers are getting good wages.”

“The Vicar called today and made a complaint about some of our boys ringing his house bell and running away. Five boys acknowledged their guilt.”

“Mrs Mason complained that William Pimblett has sometimes sent her son out for punishment because he would not bring him a toffee to school.

“Many children are now being wanted at home to fetch water as no rain has fallen here for three months.

“A black man, an emancipated slave, called at the school today and addressed the children in the playground for a new minutes .”

THEY – whoever they are – say that when the calendar trips over to March, winter is over.

I’d like to think this true but I don’t. It’s a lot of nonsense.

It would be better to say we all WISH winter had come to an end. But surely we all know the little ditty for March – “The cold winds doth blow and we shall have snow. And what will poor robin do then, poor thing? He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing, poor things.”

Just for the record, that little rhyme comes from the 16th century. There are those who believe that despite the lightening of the nights (the clocks go forward on the last Saturday of this month) March is the bitterest month of the whole year.

It has a habit of fooling us. Giving us false hope. Giving us a lovely warm day. Then slapping us in the face with freezing temperatures.

We are also tricked by seeing the first of the spring bulbs bursting into bloom. And tubs of tulips thrusting their way into slow life.

Records show that in 2013, March was the coldest since 1962, and the second coldest since 1910.

So with the arrival of March, I’d advise folks to wrap up warm and keep those home fires burning.