Orwell's experience of Wigan coloured by stay at uncleanly tripe shop

Our top columnist Geoffrey Shryhane looks back at the visit of George Orwell to our town...

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 11:37 am
The street where Orwell had his lodgings
The street where Orwell had his lodgings

It is, to all intents and purposes, a very ordinary photo of a very ordinary Wigan street. In fact, the black and white snap contains the very stuff of history.

Darlington Street was a mere hop, step and a jump from the town centre. Ever thriving with a host of different shops, and its own Post Office, the street has important historical value because George Orwell lodged there in the winter of 1936.

He stayed for three weeks at No22 – a shop that is evident in the photo, Norcliffe’s Corsets. Of course, when George stayed there it was a terrible tripe shop where, locals said, black beetles crawled all over the offal in the damp cellar.

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The writer with a nip in his pen and a terribly bad chest that would eventually kill him, had much to say about No22. And he even opens the world-famous Road to Wigan Pier book describing the rooms and the conditions.

Who can forget his note that even at lunchtime, the chamber pots had not been emptied? In fact, it could have been that George missed the delights of 22 Darlington Street altogether.

Local mining official Gerry Kennon, from Rose Avenue, Beech Hill, initially found him lodging on near-by Warrington Lane. But history records that the writer was searching for a place to stay where the conditions were “at their worst”. Hence No22, the back windows of which overlooked the gas works.

So back to the photo.

You’ll see Norcliffe’s Corsets of course. And the ever amazing Kay’s Surplus store occupying three frontages. And Bill Taylor’s art and picture framing shop sitting comfortably in the middle.

All gone. Long ago. And now even the gasometers are biting the dust. They might have already gone. But all for the better I’m sure.