Flat caps and pies, whippets and an elusive pier – this is Wigan, of course. George Orwell’s infamous book, ‘the road to Wigan Pier,’ was first published in 1937 and covered what life was like for those living in the industrial towns of the north of England during that period. Wigan has, ever since, been seen as the quintessential ‘Northern’ town in the general British consciousness – two-up two-down red brick terraced houses, Pidgeon fanciers and mushy peas. Life has moved on, as it has everywhere, but the stereotypes still stick. Indeed, even those that know Wigan better would tend not to associate the town with Grade II listed Tudor manor halls. Winstanley Hall, though, is one such manor hall.
Winstanley Hall lies in the rural suburb of Winstanely, about three miles outside the centre of Wigan. Shrouded in trees, there isn’t a single vantage point form where it can be seen from a distance. It remains, therefore, hidden; not only is its history unknown to most locals, but its very existence.
The hall was built in the 1560’s for the prestigious Winstanley family. The family had owned the land since as early as the 13th century, and had previously been responsible for the construction of the moat on the site. But despite the Winstanley family commissioning the construction of the manor hall, the family only lived in and owned the hall for a little more than 30 years. In 1596 they sold the property to the London banker James Bankes.
The Bankes family, having purchased the hall, retained ownership of it right up until the 21st century, when it was eventually sold off to a private construction firm at auction. During the 400 year period which the hall was owned by the Bankes family, several extra blocks were added at the rear of the property – Jacobean style wings serving as companions to the original Tudor building.
Winstanley Hall is today owned by Dobcrest Homes, a locally based and slightly offbeat construction firm. What they plan to do with the manor hall is unclear. Wigan council have previously rejected planning permission for converting the hall into apartments, so that looks to be an unlikely prospect. And it isn’t immediately obvious what other profitable function the hall could be utilised to serve. Due to severe disrepair, any reconstruction work is likely to costs millions of pounds. Due to its protection status, Winstanley Hall cannot be torn down, at least not by human endeavour. But nature is slowly taking its toll; the internal ceilings have in places collapsed, and some of the external walls are being held up timber frames. It may not be wrecking balls that eventually demolish the hall, but wind, rain and scandalous negligence.