Wigan Pier is the name given today to the area around the canal at the bottom of the Wigan flight of locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It is a popular location for visitors and the local community in Wigan, Greater Manchester, England, situated just a few hundred yards south-west of the town centre. The original "pier" at Wigan was a coal loading staithe, probably a wooden jetty, where wagons from a nearby colliery were unloaded into waiting barges on the canal.
The original wooden pier is believed to have been demolished in 1929, with the iron from the tippler being sold as scrap. The name Wigan Pier was possibly invented by and was brought to popular attention by George Formby, Sr. in the Music Halls of the early twentieth century and later by George Formby, Jr. who incorporated it into his songs. Someone looking out of an excursion train to Southport in the fog and seeing a coal gantry asked "Where are we" and was told "Wigan Pier".
The tippler became the favoured location when people subsequently wanted to see it. There are references to it in songs such as On the Wigan Boat Express. In 1937, Wigan was featured in the title of George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, which dealt, in large part, with the living conditions of England's working poor. In response to a critic, Orwell insisted "He liked Wigan very much — the people, not the scenery. Indeed, he has only one fault to find with it, and that is in respect of the celebrated Wigan Pier, which he had set his heart on seeing.
Alas! Wigan Pier had been demolished, and even the spot where it used to stand is no longer certain." Some have embraced the Orwellian link, as it has provided the area with a modest tourist base over the years. "It seems funny to celebrate Orwell for highlighting all our bad points, but Wigan wouldn't be anywhere near as famous without him," says the Wigan Pier Experience's manager, Carole Tyldesley. "In the end George Orwell has proved to be a strong marketing tool." Others regard this connection as disappointing, considering it an insinuation that Wigan is no better now than it was at the time of Orwell's writing.