Your Questions Answered: Wigan Pier

COLIN WILLS: I am going to try some more of these trick questions on somebody else in another programme. And now we’ve got time for just one more question, asked by Sergeant Salt and Signalman McGrath serving in India. They say: ‘How long is the Wigan Pier and what is the Wigan Pier?’ Well, if anybody ought to know, it should be George Orwell who wrote a book called The Road to Wigan Pier. And here’s what he’s got to say on the subject.

GEORGE ORWELL: Well, I am afraid I must tell you that Wigan Pier doesn’t exist. I made a journey specially to see it in 1936, and I couldn’t find it. It did exist once, however, and to judge from the photographs it must have been about twenty feet long.

Wigan is in the middle of the mining areas, and though it’s a very pleasant place in some ways its scenery is not its strong point. The landscape is mostly slag-heaps, looking like the mountains of the moon, and mud and soot and so forth. For some reason, though it’s not worse than fifty other places, Wigan has always been picked on as a symbol of the ugliness of the industrial areas. At one time on one of the little muddy canals that run round the town, there used to be a tumble-down wooden jetty; and by way of a joke someone nicknamed this Wigan Pier. The joke caught on locally, and then the music-hall comedians get hold of it, and they are the ones who have succeeded in keeping Wigan Pier alive as a by-word, long after the place itself had been demolished.

WILLS: And so Signalman Salt and Sergeant McGrath, if you meant to floor the experts with a question about Wigan Pier, you’ll have to try again with something else! Now our time’s up for this week but we’ll be back again on the air at the same time next week to answer some more of your questions.

BBC Overseas Service broadcast with Colin Wills, 2 December 1943