Today I went back to the town where I was born and lived until the age of 25. My formative years were spent growing up on a new “council estate” when it was the aspiration of most working class people to have a “council house.”
Leigh developed as the coal and textile industries in Lancashire grew and during the 50s and 60s there were numerous textile mills, coal pits, engineering companies and other companies that grew out of the industrial revolution.
Leigh was a small town of about 50,000 people with a strong sense of identity and this was reflected by the local rugby league team known as the “cherry and whites” but more affectionately known to the hard-core supporters as “the comics” because you were always guaranteed a laugh when they played.
Over the years the team had just one or two successes, most notably winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1971 on the day my cousin got married and I was his best man (thanks for that John!) thus missing most of the match on the TV.
The main street in Leigh was called Bradshawgate and was the home to menswear shops, a large department store, jewellers, ladies wear and record shops catering to the rising aspirations of both young and not so young. There was also a very well known cake shop named Waterfields which was quite upmarket and you were considered “posh” if you bought your cakes from there.
Some years ago when local government was reorganised Leigh was placed under the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan and since that time very little investment has been made in the town, the local A&E department at the hospital was shut and most funds were diverted to Wigan to spend on “local projects.” To my mothers dying day she loathed and detested the fact that Leigh was subsumed within Wigan and that Leigh was left to fend for itself.
Well, today I walked through the centre of Leigh and was shocked at what I saw. Boarded up shops, numerous pound shops, betting offices, money lenders and scruffy little corner shops. All the pubs have closed, there is no cinema and I have no idea what people do for entertainment.
Many of the people I encountered were poorly dressed which may simply be a reflection of the economic reality and lack of jobs. The one saving grace from today was that Waterfields (opened in 1926) is still open and apparently thriving, and good for them.
But my overall reaction was one of sadness and disappointment that my hometown had deteriorated to such an extent. OK it was never going to be a tourist destination but the locals were very proud of their town and be called “Leythers”