62, King Street, Wigan
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At Risk: No
The first inception of a hall took place in 1838 when a number of noble-hearted men, having entirely for their outcome the social and intellectual elevation of the masses, formed themselves into society, Wigan Institution for the Diffusion and Knowledge.
Education at that time was very much on a perfunctory and casual basis, being entirely dependent on the voluntary actions of the various denominations or private individuals. In 1851, the first meeting was held with Nathaniel Eckersley in the chair, for the purpose of establishing the Hall.
In 1853 the Public Hall was opened with the Mechanics Institute one of the first tenants. The Hall was used for an array of functions, lectures and meetings.
A great resource for additional information dealing with architecture and the building:-
Link to Wigan Cricket Club Naval Bazaar 1901 - View
One of the uses of the Public Hall is described by Edwin Waugh in his writings "Home-Life of the Lancashire Factory Folk during the Cotten Famine". The following is an extract from the chapters, "Among the Wigan Operatives" written in 1862.
At ten, I met the gentleman who had kindly offered to guide me for the day; and we set off together. There are three excellent rooms engaged by the good people of Wigan for the employment and teaching of the young women thrown out of work at the cotton mills. The most central of the three is the lecture theatre of the Mechanics' Institution. This room was the first place we visited. Ten o'clock is the time appointed for the young women to assemble. It was a few minutes past ten when we got to the place, and there were some twenty of the girls waiting about the door. They were barred out, on account of being behind time.
The lasses seemed very anxious to get in; but they were kept there a few minutes till the kind old superintendent, Mr Fisher, made his appearance. After giving the foolish virgins a gentle lecture upon the value of punctuality, he admitted them to the room. Inside, there were about three hundred and fifty girls mustered that morning. They are required to attend four hours a day on four days of the week, and they are paid 9d. a day for their attendance. They are divided into classes, each class being watched over by some lady of the committee.
Part of the time each day is set apart for reading and writing; the rest of the day is devoted to knitting and plain sewing. The business of each day begins with the reading of the rules, after which, the names are called over. A girl in a white pinafore, upon the platform, was calling over the names when we entered. I never saw a more comely, clean, and orderly assembly anywhere. I never saw more modest demeanour, nor a greater proportion of healthy, intelligent faces in any company of equal numbers.
I lingered a little while in the work-room, at the Mechanics' Institution, interested in the scene. A stout young woman came in at a side door, and hurried up to the centre of the room with a great roll of coarse gray cloth, and linen check, to be cut up for the stitchers. One or two of the classes were busy with books and slates; the remainder of the girls were sewing and knitting; and the ladies of the committee were moving about, each in quiet superintendence of her own class. The room was comfortably full, even on the platform; but there was very little noise, and no disorder at all. I say again that I never saw a more comely, clean, and well conducted assembly than this of three hundred and fifty factory lasses. I was told, however, that even these girls show a kind of pride of caste amongst one another. The human heart is much the same in all conditions of life. I did not stay long enough to be able to say more about this place; but one of the most active and intelligent ladies connected with the management said to me afterwards, "Your wealthy manufacturers and merchants must leave a great deal of common stuff lying in their warehouses, and perhaps not very saleable just now, which would be much more valuable to us here than ever it will be to them. Do you think they would like to give us a little of it if we were to ask them nicely?" I said I thought there were many of them who would do so; and I think I said right.
After a little talk with the benevolent old superintendent, whose heart, I am sure, is devoted to the business for the sake of the good it will do, and the evil it will prevent.
The full version of "Amongst the Wigan Operatives" is available to read on our sister website:-
Part of the King Street "Lost Buildings" project - Link