Anger as derelict but historic Wigan Pier mill buildings are torn down

More than a century of important and irreplaceable Wigan heritage has been reduced to rubble.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 10:11 am
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 10:12 am

Demolition machines have been tearing down neglected buildings on the Grade II listed Eckersley Mills site near Wigan Pier after the borough council was forced to order landlords to make them safe because they had fallen into such a dangerous state of disrepair.

A local historian today called the measures “cultural vandalism” and called for town hall intervention to prevent more treasures being lost.

Dating back to the turn of the last century, the huge cotton mill complex has managed to be both an impressive landmark and depressing eyesore for decades.

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Only rubble remains of the 121-year-old boiler house
Only rubble remains of the 121-year-old boiler house

Some of it is home to a mixture of tenant companies, but the majority has become so dilapidated to be uninhabitable.

Only a few weeks ago did the local authority approve a new Historic Environment Strategy aimed at preserving special places around the borough, not least by working in cooperation with private owners in the hope of preserving and even regenerating those which have been going to seed.

But a recent inspection of part of Eckersley Mills concluded that there was a serious danger of collapse and so the town hall ordered owner, Manchester-based Maryland Securities, to raze them.

In a strongly worded statement, Rebecca Heron, director of economy and skills, said: “On April 30, Wigan Council served notice under Section 78 of the Building Act 1984 to the owner of a building that forms part of the listed Eckersley Mills complex to the south west of Wigan town centre.

Parts of the mills site have become dangerously unstable

“The Section 78 requires property investment company Maryland Securities, which owns the complex, to immediately take action to address the dangers presented by the 1900 building which has fallen into severe disrepair as a result of long-term neglect.

“It is deeply regrettable that the building has fallen into this condition and that the owners have not done more to fulfil their obligation to preserve a valuable heritage asset.

“The council wishes to ensure that no further deterioration of the remaining buildings at Eckersley Mills takes place, and will be reviewing the range of powers that it has available to protect these important elements of Wigan’s heritage.

“If any businesses at the Eckersley Mills complex are affected by the works, they can contact the council for advice and support on [email protected]”

A giant magnet picks up girders from the demolished premises

The Wigan Observer rang Maryland Securities director Jacob Jebreel on Friday for a comment about developments at the site to be told that he was currently in a meeting but that he would ring back.

No call was forthcoming though and on phoning the company again on Monday morning, the Wigan Observer was told that Mr Jebreel was not going to be in work that day or the next and there was no-one else at the business who could speak on matters concerning Eckersley Mills.

In a 2008 interview Mr Jebreel said: “Everybody recognises that Eckersley’s magnificent buildings, including spinning mills, weaving sheds and engine houses are of enormous importance.”

But there has been little sign of anything being done to preserve the premises during the intervening years.

Eckersley Mills in far better condition back in the 1980s. A picture taken by Dave Lewis, then an employee at Dorma Sheets

And on viewing pictures of the demolition work, local historian Brian Elsey said: “This is nothing short of cultural vandalism.

“Seeing these historic buildings being torn down because they haven’t been properly looked after is a crying shame.

“We have lost too many important buildings due to neglect already: the old town hall and 118 Standishgate for instance and the Pagefield Mill overlooking Mesnes Park is in a terrible state due to vandals too.

“Nothing is being done with these buildings. I really do think the authorities should be able to intervene and get private owners to preserve listed premises, not have to wait until they are so bad that they have to be pulled down.

“Clearly a vast amount of money needs to be spent on Eckersley Mills just to preserve the rest let alone regenerate it, but the longer they leave it the worse and more expensive it will get.

“There has to be a mixed use solution to re-using these precious treasures.

Eckersley Mills looms in the 1980s. Picture by Dave Lewis

“There is more funding available that way. A part residential, part leisure and part commercial development would be good.”

The premises ceased to function as a cotton mill in 1972 and have been in the ownership of Maryland Securities for decades now.

Directors have previously tabled ambitious plans for the site, one of which some 15 years ago, intended to use the buildings for apartments, businesses, a hotel, restaurants and even have a marina created in the middle by creating a branch off the nearby canal.

But they came to nothing.

Last autumn a lot of trees were cleared from the front of the buildings on Swan Meadow Road which Maryland described as “improvement works” and a new parking area has been formed as a result.

But little work appears to have been carried out on the premises themselves for a long time. Scaffolding has been holding up a perimeter wall on Pottery Terrace for several years now too. And in 2006 a roof on Mill number two collapsed.

A trustee of Wigan Building Preservation Trust said he feared that the demolition work at the site might not be done and criticised the council for not intervening much sooner.

Andy Lomax said he had visited the Eckersley Mills compound and could see that the place is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

He added: “I have pictures of the site in the 1980s (see above) taken by Dave Lewis, a then employee of Dorma Sheets, and it looks to be in pretty good nick so the place has gone drastically downhill in a relatively short period of time.

“It’s all very well Wigan Council issuing a Section 78 notice now but why weren’t they doing this 20 years ago?

“When that roof collapsed back in 2006 that should have been a signal for urgent action but nothing happened.

“Now the demolition crews have been, The Mill Two boiler house and chimney have gone and so has Engine House Two.

“I want to know what happens next because these engine houses were incorporated into the main mill buildings, so when you take one down it leaves a great gaping hole in the side.

“Sadly I don’t think this is the last we will see of the demolition work.

“Many parts of the complex have fallen into a pretty poor state.

“I know some people will say ‘well, they’re old buildings, they may as well fall down or be pulled down.’

“But there are others like me who say that these are precious historical assets which, if looked after, can be useful too. Old buildings need looking after - in fact so do new ones!

“I appreciate that it would take a colossal amount of work to bring this place back to life but if Maryland Securities can’t afford to do anything with it, they should sell it on.

“The council should have compulsorily purchased the whole place years ago and I think that might still be the best option now.

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