Leigh (Greater Manchester)

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For other places with the same name, see Leigh
Arms of Leigh Borough Council
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Arms of Leigh Borough Council

Leigh is a town located north of the East Lancashire Road between Manchester and Liverpool in the United Kingdom. It is the second-largest town in metropolitan borough of Wigan and is about ten miles SE of Wigan itself.

Leigh comes from the word lea meaning meadow.

Contents

Local government

In 1875 Leigh Local Board of Health was established, comprising in area the areas of the former Bedford, Pennington and Westleigh Local Boards of Health; and a Poor Law Union (administering the Workhouse). In 1894 the area of the Local Board, together with part of Atherton township, became Leigh Urban District. In 1899 the Urban District became a Municipal Borough. In 1974 the Borough became part of Wigan Metropolitan Borough.

A rural district council named Leigh, which included Astley, Culcheth, Kenyon, Lowton parishes, was dissolved in 1933

History

Early history

In the 12th century the town was made up of six townships, including Chowbent, Lowton and Pennington, where the weekly markets were held; a cattle fair was held twice-yearly.

During the Civil War a battle was fought in 1642, when the Cavaliers were put to rout.

Before the industrial revolution Leigh was famed for its dairy industry and production of Lancashire cheese - reputed to be the best toasting cheese in the world. The marooned pirate Ben Gunn, a character in the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, craved Leigh Toaster during his three- year exile.

Textile industry

In the eighteenth century Leigh had a thriving domestic textile industry, mostly by hand-loom weavers in their own homes, but with one or two factories also. It is a tradition in the town that a local man, Thomas Highs, was the inventor of a spinning jenny and the water-frame in the 1760s, the latter invention being pirated by Richard Arkwright, who subsequently made a fortune from the patent royalties. The link is commemorated in the town's Spinning Gate Shopping Centre and the town centre bypass known as Spinning Jenny Way.

Later more factories opened, so that by the latter part of the 19th century there were at least a dozen mills in the town. Silk and rope-making were also among local industries.

Coal mining

In the second half of the 19th century coal began to be an important industry when the coal reserves at Wigan were being worked out; and coal mining became the largest user of labour after the textile industry in Leigh. The entire Lancashire coalfield is now closed.

Other industry

The tractor factory of David Brown Limited was located here.

Communications

Canals

The Bridgewater Canal was extended from Worsley to the middle of Leigh in 1795, and in 1819 a branch was cut from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Wigan to meet the Bridgewater at Leigh Bridge, giving access from Leigh to all parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Railways

Leigh was the southern terminus of the first railway to be opened in Lancashire: the Bolton and Leigh Railway (7.5 miles: 12km) opened for freight on August 1st 1828. George Stephenson carried out the survey for the line. On June 13th 1831 passenger services begun. The first locomotive on the line was called The Lancashire Witch: an 0-4-0 locomotive. Later the line was extended southwards to Pennington: the town station was at West Leigh. The line was closed to passenger traffic on 29th March 1954, and later closed completely.

The second railway to serve the town was on a branch line from the Manchester - Eccles - Wigan line. It joined the earlier railway at Pennington: there was a station, originally named Leigh and Bedford to serve the town. It was closed in 1969, leaving the town without a railway.

There were also many freight-only lines crisscrossing the town. With the closure of collieries these were no longer required; and a map of today shows that the nearest railway line, and station is at Atherton, three miles to the north.

The large bus station is now the town's main public transport link to the rest of the world.

Other facts

Leigh's famous residents have included author James Hilton, composer Peter Maxwell Davies, singer Georgie Fame, newspaper columnist Lynda Lee Potter and the 70s punk band The Buzzcocks.

Leigh has a professional rugby league team - Leigh Centurions - whose main claim to fame is beating Leeds 24-7 in the 1971 Challenge Cup.

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