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Wigan. It is not the most inspiring place is it. Images of cloth caps, cobbles, clogs and cotton mills spring t mind. The other major thing about Wigan is that although t is miles away from the coast it has it's pier featured in the title of the George Orwell classic ? The Road To Wigan Pier? an also in a number of old music hall jokes. It also inspired the building of the first heritage centre in Britain, in the early 1980s, the Wigan Pier Experience. What is the Wigan Pier Experience? The Wigan pier experience as mentioned was the first heritage centre in the country. It was built as a community initiative to bring tourism to an economically depressed community using the reputation of the pier as a starting point. The pier which was a coal loading device by the canal side had long since disappeared but was resurrected for the heritage centre. The heritage centre itself revolves around the town of Wigan at the end of the Victorian era in 1900. Recently there was the Opie museum of memories opened as a new attraction on the site to extend its product life span and bring in repeat visitors. If you want more details to the background of this attraction and an interesting perspective on it read Robert Hewison?s The Heritage Industry. It was because of his critique of Wigan Pier that I visited as part of my heritage studies course in November 2002. How to get there? I travelled by train but the website says it is easy to get to from all major roads. I found once in Wigan the signs were confusing and it was hard to find the attraction. Once there it was even harder to find the main entrance and found myself waiting in the wrong place. The Attraction The first and main part of the attraction we visited was the Way We Were exhibition. It starts off in Blackpool on a bank holiday weekend with all the thrills of an old fashioned day at the breach. Including pictures of donkeys, saucy postcards and Wha
t The Butler Saw machines. This is evidently social history territory and those with mangle fatigue should not even enter! Back in Wigan there is the typical mocked up house with the outside toilet and the rag rugs and all the trappings of the ?Good old days? you see in every open air museum, heritage centre and museum. There is an interesting exhibition explaining the situation Wigan was in the late Victorian era. I thought that was useful as it put the whole attraction into context. It also has a street of different shops and market stalls all recreated and a school room. Wigan Pier was also the first attraction to have a troupe of in-house professional actors and actresses to provide Living History characters. There are number of different sketches developed and rotated each day. We saw the courting couple performance in the market square. It was actually really good and brought the attraction to life. They also included the audience. To this day our tutor is known as Mrs Waggstaff after her cameo in the performance! The School Room The school room is also another piece of living history. It is brilliantly done and well researched The setting is superb with slates and loads of maps with lots of pink on them The schoolroom has one of their actors taking the part of he strict teacher. It reminded me a lot of the reality TV program on at the moment That Will Teach Them. In our Visitor studies course we had a guest speaker from Wigan Pier who was an ex student on the course who did her dissertation on people?s attitudes to Victorian school room. Apparently children ran out because the teacher was so scary and they advise that young children do not go in there. The lesson is great with lining up sprightly, no talking and a lesson on the three c?s of Lancashire (Cotton, coal and canals). Anyone wearing rings was called a Jezebel even the lads. Unfortunately the atmosphere was ruined for us and the school party that was in on the same session
as u s by another group of adults with leaning disabilities. I felt they did not quite understand the situation and ruined he atmosphere slightly as the actress did not do the full routine with them I fully understood this but in a way I wish I had been in another session to get the full effect of the school room. Opie?s Museum Of Memories. This was the highlight of Wigan Pier for me. According to the website it won the best tourist attrition in the North West in 1999 and rightly so. It was fantastic. It is a history of consumables that spans the whole of the twentieth century from the 1900s to the 1990s Robert Opie is a collector of packaging from everyday objects such as cornflakes, toys, washing powder and chocolate. Its format is chronological. Firstly there is an introductory exhibition about memories in general and then it is through the 1900s. There are set pieces in the museum. We had great fun trying on the weird and wonderful 60s costumes in the 60s boutique. The first decades were a bit stale for us as we did not have connections with them but once we got to the 1950s there were memories of stuff our parent had mentioned n and for some of the older members of the groups from the 60s the memories were first hand. I really enjoyed the 1970s and 1980s as they were the decades I grew up in and took great delight in seeing all the fads and fashions of the time. It is an excellent museum as all generations can discuss what they had a child. There was a list of what happened in each year and what products were first introduced which also started discussions amongst our group. Finally there were the living history performances which again gave the attraction an extra dimension. The performance we saw and took part in was a meeting of the entertainments staff of a holiday camp. I feel this would be meaningless to children brought up on Majorcan beach holidays and trips to Disneyland. I have only been to a holiday camp once and I was two a
t the tim e but I do remember avidly watching the antics of Gladys and Peggy, Spike and Ted in Hi De Hi so memories of this cam flooding back to me in this routine. I did feel the humour was nudge nudge wink wink and a bit saucy for young children but ideal for those who do know the humour of Hi de hi and the holiday camps. Art the end of the Opeis museum there was a shop full of nostalgic items such as black jacks, candy cans and mini Bagpusses to remind ourselves even further of our personal pasts. The shop maybe slightly tacky but it is what we want in a museum shop. Wigan Pier also boasts a power hall with working cotton spinning machines. However I did not visit this as I had been to Quarry Bank Mill recently and have been to New Lanark quite a few times and one cotton spinning machine is the same as any other. There were also canal boat rides but since the weather was horrible and rainy we did not bother with these either Café There was a café that we ate at. It had a range of food at a not bad price. The place mats were cool and featured toys from the past if I remember rightly. Opening times, prices and all the other boring stuff The Wigan Pier Experience is open all year round except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. (The Wigan Pier Experience is closed on Fridays, except on Good Friday). Monday to Thursday 10.00am - 5.00pm Saturday and Sunday 11.00am - 5.00pm There are a range of different tickets depending on what you want to see. I am impressed that there is a resident?s price for those that live in Wigan and also a special season ticket, although I can not see anybody wanting to go and see Wigan Pier that much the attraction though at £7.85 for an adult and £6.25 for a concession is still rather pricy. Luckily there is a site saver family ticket that costs £22.75. There are also concessions for groups. A full list of prices can be found on the website at htt
p://www.wlct.or g/Tourism/Wiganpier/sevents.htm Wigan Pier is a great place for a day trip. It may not appeal to the very young or those not into social history but for everyone else there should be something for everyone even if it is only or the Opie Museum of Memories. It is initially expensive to get in but there is a whole day?s worth of entertainment waiting for you.