Leigh, the decline and fall of an industrial town (thanks to Wigan MBC)

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”

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4 Responses to Leigh, the decline and fall of an industrial town (thanks to Wigan MBC)

  1. Bex says:

    Came across your blog whilst looking for some thing else Leigh related, as much as I agree with you the town centre could have a few more upmarket shops, you are wrong about no pubs or cinema, there is a multi screen cinema almost physically in the town centre (just over the road from the main shopping centre which I see you didn’t mention, which has plenty of nice shops I can think of only one empty unit atm, and this hasn’t change much since you posted this in April) and all the town centre pubs are open, the bus station is currently receiving a large investment to coincide with a new guided bus way due to open next year providing a direct link to Manchester, plus plenty of progress is being made with the almost in the town centre retail park with more shops being built to bring yet more names to the area. It could be better, no doubt, however plans are being discussed to revamp the town centre/outdoor market area, so investment is being made. However nothing will ever improve how leythers dress 😉
    It’s not all bad, honest!


    • kindadukish says:

      Thanks for updating me on the “developments” taking place in Leigh, it is good to hear that this is happening to my home town (I am an ex Higher Folder). I visit very infrequently these days (since my mother died) but when I was doing some research about the ROF Risley and took the opportunity to visit the library and took a walk up Bradshawgate and this is what formed the impression I wrote about. I left Leigh in 1973 so have been away a long time and despite living in Yorkshire since 1978 still feel a strong connection with my Lancashire roots. As regards “dress”…….we certainly dressed fashionably when we went to Wigan casino during the late 60s. Thanks for your interest.


  2. Carol Harris says:

    I was born in Leigh in 1944. I grew up in this industrial town with several large (seemingly huge) working mills, many( more than ten) coal mines and a variety of other engineering companies. There was no unemployment, quite the opposite. Working people had a choice of jobs. The town centre was smart with a variety of shops many of which would be considered posh. I remember Lord Street in particular. Transport links were excellent. It was extremely easy to travel to Manchester, Wigan, Bolton and Warrington by bus. Especially exciting was to go to Bolton by trolley bus or to Manchester by bus or train.
    I was lucky enough, as a 9 year old to pass the 11 plus exam and despite my protestations I entered Leigh Girls Grammar School at the age of 10. When I was 17, I went to Manchester University and never again lived in Leigh on a permanent basis. I am very sad to see that Leigh is now such a sad town. I remember 30 years ago, my parents expressing concern that Wigan had taken bureaucratic control over Leigh, ironic given the rivalry between the two Rugby League teams. Most Leigh folk were very upset about this loss of control and probably still are.
    Now, at the age of 74, I find myself dwelling on my childhood memories of growing up in Leigh most of which are very happy. On the rare occasions when I return I don’t recognise the place. How sad.


    • kindadukish says:

      Thank you for your response to my blog and your reminiscences about the grand old town of Leigh. I too, left Leigh many years ago (1973) and only returned to visit my mother until her death nearly 20 years ago. I have made occasional visits to the old place but was very depressed at what I saw, a town in economic decline. Like you, my mother was outraged at how Leigh was subsumed by Wigan MBC and the last straw was the closing of A&E at Leigh Infirmary.


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