Hopes are rising that a fascinating but overlooked piece of Wigan’s history which is in an awful state will get a full restoration.
The lodges at the Plantation Gates entrance to Haigh Woodland Park, opposite Wigan Infirmary, were built in the early 19th century and were once home to the keepers who worked on the estate.
However, the buildings are also in a state of severe deterioration, with a council asset register for the year 2015-16 said the lodges have a life expectancy of between 11 and 20 years.
History enthusiasts The Wigan Building Preservation Trust have spoken of the urgent need for preservation work to ensure this piece of the past does not disappear.
And several years of behind-the-scenes work since the group did a survey of the lodges in 2016 could be about to pay off, with the town hall promising to look into including the buildings in a National Heritage Lottery Fund bid currently being put together.
The Trust says action must be taken now and shared details of a building which has a rich history but which thousands of visitors to the woodland park pass by without really noticing.
Andrew Lomax from the Wigan Building Preservation Trust said: “The lodges and gates have got to be in the heritage lottery bid for the sake of posterity and getting them restored.
“What came out of our survey wasn’t good at all, it was beyond poor. Attention is required on the inside of the lodges very quickly.
“You can see free-hanging brickwork in the pictures and when that is the case you know something is going to go down.
“It’s the drains that have rotted that are killing it now, because water is just sitting inside the structure.
“These lodges have never been researched properly. When we did the survey we had to do the drawings for them. There is nothing architectural written down.
“The person who built them I think was a bit of an eccentric and a genius, who had interests in science and engineering. He just didn’t keep records.
“The estates of landed gentry always had gate houses but they were normally quite small. These are serious structures and unusual in the North West.
“Our survey revealed it will cost about £200,000 to restore the lodges so there was some discussion about it, but I think applying for funding now is a win-win situation.”
The call for heritage funding to be spent on the lodges, which were built in 1830, has been echoed by the Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access To All group currently working on public access to the hall area.
A spokesperson said: “A lot ofpeople were quite shocked when they heard the life expectancy of the lodges.
“Wigan without the gates and lodges would be like London without the Marble Arch.
“They have a really interesting history, but it’s a landmark we’ve taken for granted and assumed will always be there.
“The condition they are in now is shocking. They are literally falling apart. The inside of them has completely disappeared from ceiling to floor so at the moment they are essentially two stone shells with an arch over the top.”
It seems as though history buffs’ wishes may be answered as the council says the bid it is preparing including restoring both the plantation gates and the lodges.
Surveys are likely to take place over the coming weeks following the appointment of consultants.
The local authority hopes to speak to stakeholders next month too.
Penny McGinty, assistant director for corporate contracts and assets at the council, said: “For the last two years we have been working on ambitious plans to protect and restore our local heritage sites surrounding Haigh.
“We have already done some joint work with the Wigan Building Preservation Trust to survey the Plantation Gates lodge buildings and the archway.
“While this work progresses, we continue to monitor the condition of the structures and have carried out work to remove weeds, small trees and litter.”
Pete Burt, chief executive of Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles, added: “The plantation gates form a key element of our masterplan for Haigh and we all want to see the buildings return to their former glory.”
Mr Lomax said that during a 19th century royal visit the plantation gates and lodges would have been the first part of the Haigh estate the illustrious visitors saw as it was the most impressive way into the site, which is grade II* listed.
Residents have also been sharing fascinating bits of information about the buildings online, such as the fact they were where the plantation lodge keepers lived.
Moira Fry spoke of the lives of James and Elizabeth Higson, who were in that role between 1884 and 1909.
Intriguingly they slept on one side of the gates while the other lodge housed their kitchen and sitting room.
A Blackrod man who married an Irishwoman in 1849, the Higsons arrived in the North West to serve the Earls of Crawford at Haigh in 1864.
Mr Higson served as watchman, coachman and gardener as well as keeper of the lodge and was an employee of four generations of the Crawford family.
In more recent times the plantation gates and the lodges to either side have become known as a popular meeting point for Haigh visitors and was also where the tractor rides departed from.