Forty-two years ago, as a teenage college student studying for my A Level examinations, I was shown two short histories of the college; one written in 1885 and the other in 1909.
1) A short History of the Wigan Mining and Technical College founded in 1858 and published by the 'Observer Office', Wigan in 1885, and
2) History of the Mining and Technical School, Wigan by C.M. Percy, M.E., F.G.S. Principal published at the Office of the Science and Art of Mining, Wigan in 1909.
This inspired me to write another short history of the Wigan and District Mining and Technical College bringing it up to date - just in time for its 1965 College Open Day.
In those far off days the history had to be written on a typewriter and the finished pages duplicated by roneo stencil run off by hand. Not surprisingly, very few copies were ever produced. As it turned out, more people wanted a copy than originally anticipated, and a second but still small print run followed a few months later.
The only logic in ending the history in 1965 was the fact that I was daft enough to write it in that year. Surprising as it may seem, a number of requests to read this short history have recently been made, but no copies could be found bar the one I had in my own filing cabinet.
Here is a reprint of that 1965 short history with some additions. The history has been extended to 1975 which coincided with a change of Principal after 25 years, and Local Government reorganisation, which brought further change to the college governance. A number of photographs have also been included here - photographs not possible to include before the age of home publishing.
Dr. Stephen J Craig Smith (2018)
The Original Idea
The College at Wigan started in the 1850s, some forty years before most other technical colleges. It is not surprising that this College was one of the first because in those early days few mining districts in England were of greater importance that that surrounding Wigan.
Its origin was suggested by Mr Edward Cardwell, later to become Lord Cardwell (a prominent mine owner) to the co-trustees of the Wigan Blue Coat School in 1857. These co-trustees had talks with the Directors of the Wigan Mechanics Institution which resulted in a visit to Wigan on 27th October 1857 of Dr, later Sir Lyon Playfair and Captain Fowke of the Science and Art Department of South Kensington; this was in the days before a Ministry of Education.
On the 27th of October that year a public meeting was held between the co-trustees of the Wigan Blue Coat National School and the delegation from South Kensington. Lord Derby and Dr Playfair delivered addresses, and Mr Henry Woods M.P. for the Borough of Wigan presided over the meeting.
This meeting resulted in Dr Playfair, on 6th November 1857 appointing Mr, later Dr Birkenhead as Headmaster; but the inauguration however was deferred to enable Mr Birkenhead to complete his studies. In 1858 Mr Maskell William Peace was appointed Honorary Secretary and the Rev, later Canon T. E. Fergie B.D. was appointed Chairman. "One room of moderate dimensions was obtained at the Public Hall" and on 2nd August 1858 the Inaugural Lecture was delivered by Mr Birkenhead; the chair was taken by Mr William Peace. It was on that day weekly classes were opened under Mr Birkenhead, and fifty students enrolled. The first examination by the Science and Art Department was held in June 1859 - seven candidates in mining, six in geology, and three in chemistry took the exams.
The first serious setback came on 2nd October 1867 on the death of Dr Birkenhead. Certain people of the town wished to close the College because of disappointing support, but because Dr. Birkenhead had done so much for the organisation, the Committee was unwilling to close it down.
The school reopened under the joint direction of Mr C. M. Percy, M.I.Mech.E., F.G.S. and Mr Ralph Betley, F.G.S. The former had for a number of years been a regular student at the school. Classes reopened in January 1868 with many more students. Since that time, except for the war years and during trade depressions, the number of students has steadily increased.
These early classes proved inconvenient because of the number of public entertainments held in the building, so a new start was made in the Commercial Hall. From here the College led a nomadic existence wandering from the Conservative Working Men’s Club to the Town Hall, to the old Grammar School, and to the Hope Street School. After a few years of this wandering from place to place the Committee decided that the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School ought to have a permanent building of its own.
A building Committee was formed in 1875 under the guidance of Mr Alfred Hewlett of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company, one of the largest industrial concerns in the United Kingdom, employing over 10,000 people. Mr Maskell William Peace was appointed Honorary Secretary. A public meeting was held to consider and support the scheme in the Council Chamber, Wigan on Friday 24th December 1875 at 2-00pm. "It was proposed to extend, with the latest improvements in models, diagrams, specimens, fossils and chemical apparatus the teaching of mining, geology, mechanics, machine construction and drawing, steam, chemistry, and other kindred sciences, in the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School by establishing in Wigan suitable buildings (including a laboratory and museum) for the permanent occupation of the classes connected with the School, and for pupils studying Art and Design." Large sums of money were spontaneously promised, land was purchased and Mr William Fawcett M.A. of Cambridge, brother of the Postmaster General, prepared designs which were approved by the Science and Art Department.
Unfortunately, this was followed by a second disaster. There was a coal depression at this time so the Committee decided it was useless to ask for donations and must await better times.
Nevertheless, the School continued to grow, and during the summer vacation of 1882, the Committee decided to use a plot of land bought in the heart of the town opposite the Free Public Library. £2,000 was spent on a temporary building known as the ‘Old Tin Tabernacle', which was ready for use in 1883. It consisted of one large lecture hall for 100 students drawing or 400 students meeting, one smaller lecture hall for 100 students, one chemical laboratory, two lecturers’ rooms, one cloakroom, one model room and two front entrances each with a porch. There were the usual lavatory arrangements, and all the rooms were heated with hot water."
The Old Tin Tabernacle on Library Street
Classes included under the Science and Art Department were mining, geology, the steam engine, chemistry (theory and laboratory practice), magnetism and electricity, acoustics and applied mechanics. The cost for each student was ten shillings per year and the London Authorities held examinations in May.
The Mine Managers Certificate could also be taken at the School for a fee of two guineas. From here students became Inspectors of Mines, holding valuable engineering appointments all over the world.
In 1884-5 the advancing standard of examinations forced the Committee to provide a laboratory for 24 students and other facilities costing over £700; 250 students were now registered. All this time the School was maintained by voluntary subscriptions, and in 1887 Mr John Henry Johnson of the Abram Coal Company donated £5,000.
In 1888 County Councils came into existence, and in 1889 the duty of providing technical education was placed upon them. In 1890 large sums of money were voted by Parliament, so for the very first-time money was supplied to the School from the State. The Wigan Mining and Technical School Committee, the County Borough Council of Wigan, and the Lancashire County Council joined hands, and the School Committee was composed of one third of its members from each.
The Royal Commission on Secondary Education reported on this joint arrangement in its report as follows: - "We know of but one instance of a complete combination of a County Borough and an adjoining administrative county for the promotion of technical instruction. The Borough of Wigan has agreed with the Lancashire County Council to devote all its share of the Local Taxation Grant to a long-established Mining and Technical School available for the adjoining portion of the county. In return, Wigan not only obtains a contribution from the county fund for its Mining and Technical School, but also the benefit of county scholarships and exhibitions."
The Wigan Mining and Technical School Committee gave the use of its property, and John Henry Johnson's endowment and annual subscriptions. Wigan County Borough Council gave the whole amount it received yearly under the Local Taxation (Custom and Excise) Act of 1896 and the Lancashire County Council gave a minimum yearly amount of £500. This joint management came into operation in September 1893 with 350 students in its care. It was under this new Committee that the name "The Wigan and District Mining and Technical School" evolved.
By 1897 there were many more students because of the introduction of compulsory education. It was therefore obvious that new accommodation had to be found, and on Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 an appeal for funds was made. This occurred a quarter of a century after the original idea was thought of, and by now £40,000 by voluntary subscription was required to build and equip suitable accommodation. Some towns used monies received from local taxation, but this would have diminished slightly funds for maintenance in future years.
A site of over 3,000 square yards costing £10,000 was secured in the best part of town within easy reach of all the railway stations, and subscriptions ranging from £5,000 to 6d were received. A list of the more important subscribers is presented below: -
Wigan Coal and Iron Company
Sir Francis S. Powell, Bart, M.P.
Thomas and James Fairhurst
J. B. Almond
Messrs Hayes Abram
William Johnson Hall Garth
W. J. Lamb
James Carlton Eckersley
Humphrey J. Wolmesley
Osbeck & Co
In addition to his subscription, Mr Alfred Hewlett furnished the Board Room, provided the stained-glass windows in the Assembly Hall, and in many other ways contributed to the equipment of the building.
A competition was held for the best design of the new College building and there were seven entries. The Building Committee, with Mr Henry Hartley F.F.R.I.B.A. of Liverpool as advisor, chose the winner, - a design by Messrs. Briggs and Wolstenholme F.F.R.I.B.A. of Liverpool and Blackburn. In January 1900 the building contract was given to Messrs Joshua Henshaw and Sons of Liverpool.
The building of one million cubic feet in size, had a Commemoration Tablet placed on 11th July 1900 by the Countess of Crawford.
Plan of land acquired for the new College building
Two years later the building was completed but not yet opened. On the 15th 16th 17th and 18th October 1902, a 'Bazaar and Exhibition' was held in the new building to raise funds.
On Monday 12th January 1903 the new building was officially opened by the Countess of Crawford and the name 'College' was substituted for 'School'. The Ceremony was arranged for 7-00pm so that prizes could be distributed after the opening.
An awning was erected at the main entrance in Library Street decorated with electric lamp bulbs supplied by Wigan Corporation. The countess, after being met by Mr Hewlett and others, was handed a gold key with which she opened the main gate to the College.
After the opening, the building was used for college purposes. For the first time in the College's history, it had a large spacious building of its own that could accommodate the ever-increasing number of students. The original 1903 College building can be seen on the following page.
By 1905 the College had been housed in the new building for over a year and at the Speech Day for that year E. L. Morant, Esq. C.B. said "We are all right in Wigan. We have got this splendid building which is as good a thing as there is in England of its kind".
For the next five years little was documented because College affairs ran smoothly and increasing numbers of students could be accommodated in the new building. One event that deserves note however, is the founding of a 'Day Preparatory Trades Technical School' which began on 17th September 1906. This College department was very successful and ran uninterrupted for the next forty years.
1910 - 1920
The College continued to expand during this decade albeit seriously hindered by the Great War from 1914 to 1918.
The first addition made to the College premises came in 1911 with the setting up of a laboratory made necessary because of increased demand for this branch of education. Mr T. A. Walker gave his expert advice on the selection and purchase of the engineering equipment required. This, with many other improvements, was made possible because of increasing grants received from the Board of Education.
During this decade the number of student-hours was exceptional; in 1921 1,552 students (875 of whom were evening students) had an average attendance of 121 student-hours. A report by the Board of Education stated: - "The average of 120 hours now reached is very high for schools of this type and is exceeded by very few institutions".
A second series of part-time day classes was opened in 1912 for mining and engineering apprentices. This came about because of the very great success of the first set of part-time day classes, started in 1906-7.
All this expansion took place before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Within the first six months of war some 130 enrolled students had enlisted, so a loss of student numbers was inevitable. On the other hand, however, the war was responsible for new activities in at least two areas: -
The Ministry of Munitions had undertaken to bear the out-of-pocket expenses incurred in connection with this work, including the cost of adapting the machinery of the engineering workshops for shell turning. The Ministry later expressed its satisfaction with the results thus obtained.
102 students enrolled on courses for typewriting, arithmetic, bookkeeping and office work. This department also enjoyed great success with all students gaining employment at the termination of their courses.
In 1917 a Junior Commercial School was introduced. Meanwhile, the Day Trades School which started in 1906, continued to prosper thanks to the County Borough of Wigan Education Committee, the Trustees of the Willis and Diggles Charity, and of Wigan Consolidated Charities which all gave generously to a scheme of scholarships. It was at this time that the Board of Trade noted its recognition of the School as a Junior Technical School.
The educational work of the College was summarised in a statement made by the Principal which was as follows: - "in spite of the large and increasing number of students who are away on war service, the total result of College activities showed a steady increase".
By the end of 1917 there were 1,202 students, and 15 full-time and 29 part-time members of staff. Towards the end of the war, the War Office requested the College to conduct some full-time courses for the training of men of the Royal Flying Corps as air mechanics.
1918 saw the end of the war and the number of students increased rapidly because of ex-servicemen who now required training for new skills and jobs. Under a scheme sponsored by the Ministry of Pensions, classes started for the training of discharged disabled soldiers and sailors. A motor mechanics and driving course of six months duration, and a clock repairing course, were set up specifically for discharged servicemen.
Peace time saw other great changes. For the first time a complete three-year course in the Day Trades (Junior Technical School) was in operation and the birth of a Students' Association also occurred in this year. A Past and Present Mining Students' Association was formed with some 380 past and present students of the College who all paid a small membership subscription.
The greatly increased number of students made existing accommodation wholly inadequate and in February 1919 an appeal for funds was signed by Mr A. M. Lamb and Mr T. G. Gee (who had succeeded Mr Hewlett) as Chairman. The proceeds from these funds enabled a one storey temporary annex to be erected immediately behind the main building facing Mill Gate. This served as an overflow to the main building from 1921 to 1929.
This annex consisted of eight rooms which were incorporated into the ground floor of the main building. The extension was designed to provide much needed additional laboratory accommodation for mining and other classes, but in its early years - pending the means to secure the required equipment - this temporary annex was merely used for additional classrooms.
The beginning of this period saw a slight decline in the number of students because many ex-servicemen had completed their two and three-year courses. The hourly average student attendance of 154 hours however was still very high, making a total of 200,000 student hours. 31 full time members and 41 part time members of staff were working for the College at the beginning of this period.
In 1921 the Wigan Association of Cotton Employers requested the College to reopen classes in cotton technology after a twelve-year period of dormancy. This was made possible by the decline in the number of ex-servicemen. Also, in this year the Miners Welfare Fund provisionally allocated the sum of £20,000 for further building, and £5,000 for equipping the College.
This was followed by a period of hard times for the College because of the slump in industry and the loss of the Principal who went to London for other employment. The College was open to the public during an Open Week beginning on 20th September 1924 partly to prove that hard times had not affected the good work of the College.
Good news came in 1926 when the Miners Welfare Committee decided to increase the provisional grant of £25,000 to £37,000 'to enable the Governors to erect and equip a four storied extension to the whole of the building'. Plans were prepared in collaboration with the Architects, Messrs Briggs and Thornley, F.F.R.I.B.A. of Liverpool to provide in the extension, space for the Mining Department, a College Library, extensions to the Departments of Physics and Engineering, together with additional classroom accommodation. These plans were approved by the Board of Education in June.
Also in 1926, the College Students Association continued to play an important part in the progress of the College. Although severely handicapped through a lack of adequate playing fields, the Association was strong and vigorous.
Towards the latter end of the session, accommodation occupied by the Art Department was extended for the provision of an Art Metal Workshop, thus helping to relieve congestion caused by a considerably increased demand for instruction in artistic crafts.
The temporary annex was demolished towards the end of 1926 and a contract for the building extension was given to Messrs John Johnson and Sons of Caroline Street, Wigan. Because of the temporary loss of the annex, commercial classes were held in the Girls High School.
The geological collection was enhanced by the generous gift of a valuable collection of minerals and geological specimens by J. Spencer of Ulverston (late of Accrington). Student recreational evenings started in this year which proved most successful. This led to the Principal being asked to read a paper on the subject of 'School life in an Evening Technical Institute' at the summer meeting of the Association of Technical Institutes held in Cardiff.
I928 saw a significant increase in students, especially in the disciplines of art, building, and commerce, further exasperating the urgent need for more teaching space. The Formal Opening of the college extension on 13th June by the Rt. Hon. Viscount Crawford G.C.S.I., G.C.M.C., C.B.E., came none too soon.
The extension formed an integral part of the original building with four floors, A, B, C, and D, A being the lower ground floor, B being the ground floor, C being the first floor and D being the second floor.
After the opening of the extension three things were undertaken to the building complex:
The original building was redecorated, and new electric lighting was installed. During a storm in November 1928 the flagstaff on the college roof was blown down, fortunately doing no serious damage. This was replaced and brought to a close a major building program.
As can be seen from the above photograph the original building of 1903 (left of the photograph) and the extension of 1928 (right of the photograph) are different but not so significantly different as to spoil the look of the completed whole.
A gift to the College in this year which deserves special mention was a working model of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company's locomotive 'Prince' made in 1873 by Mr Thomas Brack. This model, housed in the College Board Room for many years, was presented to the College by Mr Woodward of Horwich to whom the Governors thanks were later conveyed.
The College still had no athletic ground of its own so as a temporary measure in 1928 the Westwood Athletic Ground was rented. Although in a bad state of repair as far as drainage and fencing were concerned, the College benefitted greatly from this facility. The tenure for this facility lasted until 31st August 1936.
The College continued to expand and for the first time a full time Librarian was appointed to sort out and classify all the books in the possession of the College. The Librarian took up duty on 21st October 1929.
Even accounting for the new extension, continued expansion of courses and student numbers still remained a problem, so an application was made to the Wigan Education Committee to use extra rooms in nearby schools. The Commerce Department was later allocated six rooms at Warrington Lane Junior School.
For the first time the College was given a song by the Principal which is as follows: -
Long ago, ere we who sing had voice or song to give,
Were men who dreamed and walked again and made their dreams to live,
Their faith was strong, they marched along, they laboured not in vain,
For in our College and in us their dreams come true again,
Then forward! Range forward! out of darkness into light.
Now here today we stand and sing, and mingle in our song,
The dreams we dream of realms to conquer when we pass along,
We leave these halls, the curtain falls on College days and we,
Go forth to praise our Founders by the maids and men we be,
Then forward! Range forward! Out of darkness into light.
The years slip by, and soon our song from other lips must raise,
The widening world before us too soon behind us lies,
Oh maids and men, press forward then, strive we though all our days,
To live our dreams in truth and joy, and so our College praise,
Then forward! Range forward! Out of darkness into light.
1929 was an important year for the Students Association. A new constitution was approved by the Governors and brought into force on 1st March 1930. The first Council Meeting under this constitution was held on the 25th March.
This decade started with student numbers decreasing yearly, but with the looming threat of another European war, student numbers rapidly increased once more. As in the First World War, people had to fill jobs left vacant by servicemen, and the College once again diversified its course portfolio and continued to expand.
The thirties began with an increase in the number of books in the College Library and a full time Superintendant for the College Refectory was appointed in November 1930. It is interesting to note that on two days per week the College lunch for the Junior School students cost 5d per head. Early in this session new caps, blazers and ties were designed and subsequently introduced with great success for the Junior Schools.
In the following year, as a consequence of the passing by Parliament of the 'National Economy Act' (1931), salaries of all teaching staff of the College, full time and part time, were reduced by ten per cent as from October 1931.
The initial reduction in the number of students in these years was caused for two reasons:-
In spite of this reduction in student numbers however, the College buildings were still inadequate, but it was not until 1936 that a Building Committee was established.
Although the College could not expand its building space at this time it did continue to improve its amenities. Among numerous changes and improvements were the relighting and redecoration of the Assembly Hall; improvements in kitchen equipment, additions of various rare rocks and minerals kindly presented to the College by Mr Joseph Hall, and many more books were acquired for the library. Mr A. M. Russell kindly donated 258 volumes to the library in 1933 and Mr G. H. Winstanley gave 40 volumes in 1934.
The College Students Association Magazine 'Ray' was sold at 2d per copy in 1934; before this it was given free to all members of the Association. Their constitution, brought into force in 1930, had a minor revision made to it after it had proved to be fairly successful for four years.
Throughout this decade the students had a 'rag' procession from the station to the College to escort the invited guest who came to present the prizes. These activities were always orderly and great fun was had by all, but unfortunately, like so many things they were not resumed after World War 2.
One of the momentous occasions of this decade occurred on Friday, 23rd November 1934. On this Founders Day it was publically announced that an old student Mr George Alfred Christopher had presented to the College a free gift of eleven acres of freehold land at Standish Lower Ground for conversion into college playing fields. At the same time another old student, and present Governor of the College, Mr Arthur Moore Lamb D.L., J.P. promised £500 towards the cost of a sports ground pavilion. The Chairman of the Governing Body Mr Joseph Thomas Gee J.P. also gave £100 to the same cause.
The formal conveyance of the land to the College took place on 20th December 1934 but the contract for development (draining, levelling and fencing etc) was only signed on 4th June 1935. Work started on the grounds on 24th June by Messrs Bradshaw Bros. of Leicester, but the grounds were not completed for handover by the contractors until June 1936. Meanwhile temporary grounds had to be rented in Orrell and tennis courts rented from Wigan Corporation in Mesnes Park.
In 1935 the College decided that it should have its own expert advisor on such questions as health etc. as might arise; so the Governors decided to invite Dr W. E. Cooke M.D., F.R.C.P. to become 'College Honorary Medical Advisor'. Unfortunately, Dr Cooke could not serve the College very long and had to resign on medical grounds, but he retained the title until he died a few years later.
1936 was also a landmark in the history of the library because in this year, for the first-time staff and students were allowed to borrow books to take home for reading. Before this, books could only be used within the library itself.
In July 1936 a special Building Committee was established to investigate the possibility of a further College extension. The Governing Body of the College, the Lancashire Education Committee and the Wigan Education Committee were represented on this committee. Because of the impending likelihood of war however, it was not for another twenty years that a building extension was finally opened.
A Board of Studies was also established in 1936. It consisted of the Principal (Chairman), the eight Heads of Department and the Registrar (Secretary). It was set up to settle internal running problems of the College and it was still functioning successfully many decades later.
On Saturday, 8th May 1936 the new College Athletic Ground at Standish Lower Ground was finally brought into use after an informal opening ceremony. A groundsman was employed to look after the fields, but a pavilion had not yet been erected because of lack of funds. In order to use the grounds, temporary accommodation was made available in a nearby converted farm building.
In 1937-8 the Athletic Grounds were used during the winter season, for the first time bringing the grounds into use for a full twelve months. The College also bought two more fields making the grounds 27 acres in total and named them 'Christopher Park' in memory of a generous benefactor. In the spring of 1938 tennis courts were laid out in the park.
In October 1938 the Board of Studies held an emergency meeting for air-raid precautions, allocating various duties to different members of staff. A new office was built for the Principal behind the main stairway thereby making greater room for office workers.
An important date for the College in 1939 was 22nd May when the first sod was cut at Christopher Park for the construction of the new sports pavilion. Unfortunately, completion of the building was slow because the outbreak of war commenced just six months after construction started.
At this time, concrete posts were erected by the voluntary effort of staff and students, across the open sports ground to stop the possibility of enemy aircraft landing. Another change due to the war was the ploughing up of some of the ground for the growing of potatoes and corn to support the war effort.
The continuous expansion of the Junior Schools forced the College to reduce the number of elementary school boy entrants in 1939 because of limited accommodation. Wigan Education Committee took over part of this work and moved the students to a new centre thereby leaving the College to continue with more advanced work.
In May 1939 the 27th Earl, Lord Crawford was given the honorary office of 'Visitor to the College'. On his death the following year the office was given to his son the 28th Earl. Dr Alex Matheson was made 'Honorary Medical Advisor' to replace the late Dr Cooke.
War broke out two days before the beginning of the last academic session of this decade (September 3rd) so the number of students suddenly decreased, but on the other hand some refugee students attend courses at the College until they were interned.
The War Years
The war years were busy but lacked any major historical events. At the beginning of the war student numbers decreased and only in 1943 did they start to increase again.
The Sports Pavilion at Christopher Park was finally declared open (more than two years after the first sod was cut) by the 'Visitor to the College' the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres on 21st June 1941. This marked a great leap forward in the history of college sports.
Also, in 1941 a small special store of substantial brick and reinforced concrete construction was erected on an area by the side of the College. It was to serve as a shelter for stocks of flammable or dangerous chemicals to minimise risks from them should the building be hit or set on fire during an air raid. Other wartime precautions included the employment of a night watchman who commenced his duties on 31st October, and an official fire prevention scheme was approved.
One of the fields at Christopher Park, used extensively by the Junior Schools, was requisitioned by the Ministry of Agriculture for the growing of oats and corn. Because of the inconvenience this would cause, a strip of other land less important to the College, was handed over instead.
Negotiations were carried out with Wigan Corporation in 1943-4 for a small plot of land, then being used as a car park off College Avenue, for the erection of a 'hut'. This standard Ministry of Works 'hut' was urgently required for use as a workshop. A lease was subsequently obtained on 1st August 1944 and ran until 31st December 1949. Also, during this year, the College was doing notable work training Engineering Cadets.
Peace came in 1945 but it took a long time for the College to fully remedy the serious setbacks inflicted by the war. The number of students in 1945 was 2,360 but accommodation had not kept pace with student growth. Throughout the war there was a keen progressive atmosphere and the College had done much advanced work. In fact, this period paved the way for rapid advancement in the years to come.
Post War Reconstruction (1945 - 1950)
After the war many people wanted further education and, as in the 'after years' of the First World War, students continued to increase in number. The College building, opened in 1903 even with its extension opened in 1929, could not possibly cope with the number of students and temporary extensions had to be found.
Work started on the foundations of a Ministry of Works 'hut' on 21st August 1944, but it was not until 1945 that it came into use. This hut, 72 feet in length and 25 feet in breadth, was used as a temporary science laboratory.
Number 2 Barracks Square, secured on a five-year lease in 1944, was soon followed by the securing of number 4 also on a five year lease. This space paid dividends. After decoration, the rooms were used for a plumbing workshop, an electrical installation and sheet metal workshop, a drawing office and three lecture rooms. These came into full use in 1946.
In 1945 another special Sub-Committee was set up to investigate the possibility of permanent extensions, but because of the increased activities of the College there were few meetings.
On 1st April 1945, in accordance with the Education Act of 1944, both Junior Schools became legally known as Secondary Schools. In the session 1945-6 the expansion of the Commerce Department was so great that the name was changed to the Commerce and Economics Department.
Fire watching ceased after 18th September and blackouts were taken down. The Students Association magazine 'Ray' was published in 1945, for the first time in five years, to celebrate the end of the war.
The number of students was not the only thing to increase; the expenses of the College were going up as well. The Wigan Education Department paid the College £17,961 (including £2,600 in respect of the Junior Schools) and Lancashire County Council paid £21,916 (including £6,408 for the Junior Schools) in 1945.
In May 1946 Faculty Boards were set up in
These were initially concerned only with academic issues, but they proved such a great success they also involved internal College affairs in later years. In the immediate post war years special arrangements were made to provide tuition in Physics for a number of sixth form School Certificate pupils of Wigan Girls High School. This showed the willingness of the College to help the town even when it was desperately short of accommodation itself.
On 15th November 1946 the College received a deputation from the Manchester Geological Society with a proposal that the headquarters of the Society, its library and office equipment, should be transferred to the College. A scheme was worked out under which the College Accountant would become a Joint Honorary Treasurer of the Society, the Head of the Mining Department would become a Joint Honorary Secretary, and the College Librarian would become the Honorary Librarian to the Society.
Accommodation would be provided by the College for the meetings of the Society, which would pay the College an agreed annual sum to cover such costs of the scheme as would fall on the College. The scheme was approved by both bodies and the transfer of the Society's Headquarters from Manchester to the College took place in December.
In November 1946 'Junior' was replaced by 'Secondary' for the Junior Commercial and the Junior Technical Schools. This was changed again on 1st September 1947, when the two schools joined to become the 'College Secondary School'.
In April 1947 a lease on Crompton Street was drafted and signed in July after three long years of tedious negotiations, but around Christmas Time much of this site fell down a disused mineshaft! After many legal complications, some six months later the idea of expansion on this site was abandoned. In September the College used the Drill Hall until the Wigan Education Committee took over responsibility for the non-industrial training of minors. The town authorities moved to 'The Elms' and the College vacated the Drill Hall on 25th March 1948.
The session 1947-8 was a great occasion in the history of the College. It was in this year that Armorial Bearings were granted to the College, paid for by voluntary subscription. The heraldic description of the armorial ensigns borne by the College is:-
"Sable a Sunburst proper and in chief an Open Book Or"
which in ordinary language signifies a black shield displaying in natural colours the rays of the sun issuing below a cloud surmounted by an open book in gold. The motto is:-
"Lux ex tenebris" or "Light out of darkness"
Both the armorial ensigns and the motto may be taken as having a double significance. On the one hand they may be regarded as an indication of the aims of mining which had such historic importance in connection with the College - or - on the other hand they have an obvious appropriateness to the work of the College as a seat of learning and research and as a disseminator of the arts and sciences. The appropriateness of the title of the students’ magazine 'The Ray' will be noticed.
It was most fitting that the coat of arms was given to the College on its Ninetieth Anniversary on 27th October 1947 but the ceremony to commemorate this event however was held on 7th June 1948.
By 1948 there were 3,122 students and extra accommodation had to be found. In the session 1948-9 two rooms were rented in King Street Methodist Sunday School and the lease on Barracks Square was continued for a further five years. This year saw the enrolment of a number of American Veterans of World War 2, and ironically in the same year, a number of German Prisoners of War who also used College facilities.
There had been no 'Honorary Medical Advisor' since the death of Dr Alex Matheson in 1946 so in February 1950 the position was given to Dr Carl Angior. Special note should also be given to the death of Mr Joseph Thomas Gee who died on 23rd April 1950. Mr Gee had given forty-six years of service to the College having been appointed to the Governing Body in 1904!
It was decided in 1950 that the Wigan Authorities should take over the technical side of the College Secondary School. It was considered unwise to split the school, so no more students were enrolled by the College on the commercial side after Easter 1950. This resulted in commercial side of the Secondary School being terminated in 1953.
The Nineteen Fifties
This decade began with 3,000 students accommodated inadequately in one building and ended with approximately twice that number of students housed in three buildings. For the first time, a reigning Sovereign visited the College and a period of expansion started at a rate never seen before in the entire history of the College. The College Centenary was also celebrated during this decade.
In spite of the reduction in student numbers following the closure of the secondary school, there was still an increased demand on college accommodation because of increased activities in other directions. At the end of 1953 when the technical side of the Junior School was moved to the Thomas Linacre School, the College still had to keep its annexes. Part of the college Playing Fields was leased to Thomas Linacre School for twenty years.
In 1951 the Lancashire Evening Post asked permission to send a representative to attend the meetings of the Governing Body. This was granted and from January of that year a press representative has attended all meetings.
To ease the accommodation problem, two floors of Haigh Hall were rented by the College from 1951, but in 1953 the arrangement was abandoned because of poor transport facilities. The lease of the College Avenue Annex was extended for a further year, but the Barracks Square Annex had to be vacated by Christmas 1954. Because of the increased pressure on the refectory service, the kitchens were transferred to the Students Common Room.
After a period of fifteen years, Founders Day was again celebrated in 1952. Unfortunately, this was the last time Founders Day was celebrated because there was no longer a hall large enough to accommodate all the students and staff.
In 1953 the Clayton Street Mining Centre was taken over and Architecture was added to the Civil Engineering and Building Department. Another addition to college work was that of Residential Courses which started for the first time in 1953-4. Since then, residential courses have increased greatly in size, number, and importance.
It was around this time that a new County College was planned to be built on the Rectory Site on Parsons Walk. This site belonged to the church and had remained undeveloped even though it was adjacent to the Market Square. The 1929 aerial photograph below shows its undeveloped state and location relative to the town - see the land behind a brick wall bottom right of the photograph.
Technical College staff were asked to supervise the equipping of this new college, but it was not long however before the reality of having two separate colleges serving the one town was recognised and would merely result in a duplication of services already provided by the existing College. The two were incorporated under a new Constitution, and as a result a Joint Committee was set up to govern the new joint College.
1954 was one of the greatest years in the history of the College because it was in this year that Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new college building named at that time the John McCurdy Hall on 21st October.
The building cost around £300,000 and a considerable sum was spent on lawns, flower beds and stands for the Royal Official Opening. After inspecting the Queens's Own Regiment, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh met a group of distinguished people of the town and county, the Governors, and the Principal. The Queen and the Duke were then shown the new building before continuing their Royal Tour of the Northwest. Later that year the Queen presented the golden key with which she had opened the building, to the College where it was hoped it would be put on display.
After the opening of John McCurdy Hall, the number of students again increased and despite the increase in college accommodation the College Avenue Annex had to be kept on and Phase II of College extensions associated with John McCurdy Hall were already in the planning stage. By now the College had 4,300 students.
As early as 1954 the Governing Body accepted that, if the College was to continue to grow, additional buildings would be necessary. After full discussion with Her Majesty's Inspectors a building program was prepared. When discussion with representatives from the Ministry of Education had taken place, proposals for the new building had been formulated in the light of the number of students then in attendance, and only limited additional provision had been made for future expansion. Given that the student expansion rate had been far higher in Wigan than the national average, the Ministry agreed to the provision for future expansion to be on a more lavish scale.
Ratification of Phase II of the building program on the John McCurdy Hall site occurred in 1956 and the appointment of Howard Lobb and Co and Grenfell Baines as consultant architect soon followed.
In 1956 the College Avenue annex was sub-divided by brick walls to make more classrooms and much renovation was done on the original College building. This was done just in time for the College Centenary in 1957. To celebrate this, the College was thrown open to the public for a week to demonstrate much of the advanced work done within its walls.
The accommodation pressure forced the College to move the Commerce Department to Rushton's Warehouse in 1957. This warehouse, known as Civic Buildings, was bought by Wigan Corporation for £60,000. After inserting partition walls on the top two floors and in the basement, the Corporation let the ground floor to the Gas Board and used part of the first floor for itself. The parts of the building, not occupied by the Gas Board or used by the council, were let on a ten-year lease to the College. This arrangement was considered as only temporary as Phase II of the new building to extend John McCurdy Hall was to start in 1959.
Negotiations and planning with the architects for the Phase II building project proceeded until 1958 when submission of tenders was possible. Contracts for Phase II were signed with Simon Carves Ltd, and work started on site on 25th March 1959. As most of the College car park on the Parsons Walk site was required for building operations additional car parking space was leased on the Market Square.
When building started on Phase II, parts of Phase I had to be demolished, so partitions were installed in the Assembly Hall in the College on Library Street to create extra classrooms. Two rooms were hired from the Court Hall and the Drill Hall for use during examinations.
At the end of this decade the College was busy equipping parts of the new building, continuing to expand its education programs, and helping local industry on research projects.
The Nineteen Sixties
Building work on the former John McCurdy Hall site dragged on until mid 1962 because of a shortage of skilled tradesmen and labour generally. Only at the beginning of Session 1962-3 did building operations finally come to an end.
Even before completion of Phase II, plans were being drawn up for the future modernisation and reorganisation of the Library Street Building - the College's home since 1903. With construction workers still on site, the Mining and Mechanical Engineering Departments moved out of the Library Street building and had partial occupation of floors 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 within the new tower block. The Phase II extensions cost over £707,000 - £440,000 on the actual buildings and £276,000 on equipment.
On Wednesday 17th October 1962 the new building complex was officially opened in the presence of a cross-section of local industrialists and public officials. The College's association with the Heinz Organisation was recognised by the head of that firm H.J. Heinz II performing the Opening Ceremony. That an American should consent to fly from the United States of America specifically for this opening function was indicative of the reputation of the College. It was on this occasion that the building name changed from the John McCurdy Hall to Parsons Walk.
It was at this point that the administrative organisation of the College transferred from Library Street to Parsons Walk. From the 17th October the Library Street Building, which had represented the College for many thousands of students from the turn of the century, became the annex and the accommodation previously used by ten departments was reorganised to accommodate just the School of Art and the Civil Engineering and Building Departments.
The College library moved to the new building in September 1963 and the Students’ Common Room - the last room to be vacated by the builders - was brought into use the same month.
In 1964 the Chemistry Department was given a grant of £3,000 by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research to investigate problems associated with the glass industry. The Commerce Department was rapidly expanding, particularly in the field of management, and a pioneer development attracting national press interest, was the initiation of specialist courses for shop stewards. By 1966 the department had become so large it was divided into three specialist departments: the Department of Management and Professional Studies, the Department of Commerce and Economics, and the Department of General and Social Studies.
The Industrial Training Act of 1964 made provision for the establishment of Industrial Training Boards, and in recognition of the work carried out by the College in industrial training, the College Principal was invited by the Minister of Labour to become a member of the Industrial Training Board for the Water Supply Industry.
The introduction of new courses in new fields of endeavour in the early 1960s was a good thing, because the steady decline in student numbers attending mining courses finally led to the closure of that department at the end of the 1967-8 session. The demise of this department was in no way the fault of college teaching or commitment - it merely reflected the state of the mining industry. For many years the Mining Department had ceased to be the most important branch of college activities and since the mid 1950s staff replacements were rarely made following loss by retirement or moves to other institutions.
There were a number of events leading to the department's final closure in September 1968. The industry had been steadily declining in Lancashire since the end of the Second World War, the government began a program of drastic coal reduction following release of its Marsh White Paper on Fuel (Command3438) in November 1967 and there was the added pressure from government to eliminate small teaching classes.
During the spring of 1968 the College sold most of its specialised mining equipment to the Cambourne School of Mines. The severance of mining connections with Wigan after a period of 111 years was a sad occasion but fortunately not a major disaster.
A further sad note relating to this time was the death of Miss Helen Grace Witton. Miss Witton became a student of the College in 1898 (five years before the opening of the Library Street building) before joining the teaching staff in the early decades of the twentieth century. In later years before her death, she became particularly interested in the activities of the College, taking a leading role in the Centenary Celebrations Conversazione in 1957 and being interested in the activities of the Junior Secondary Commercial School 'Old Students Association'.
Because of the rapid growth in student numbers during the 1960s the Market Square Annex, originally leased as a temporary measure, became part of the permanent scene of the College. As early as 1964 the College held discussions with the Department of Education about the possibility of a Phase III building program to make the main Parsons Walk building even larger. In 1968 the decision to proceed with Phase III was taken at a time of considerable controversy. Government educational priority at this time focused on primary and secondary education but in the end the final go ahead for Phase III was granted.
The Early Nineteen Seventies
The nineteen seventies decade started with the opening of Phase III of the Parsons Walk complex. This building program cost over £290,000 and the equipping of these buildings cost a further £237,000. These costs, together with replacement equipment and metrification needs, totalled over £657,000 bringing the Parsons Walk complex to a value in excess of £2 million.
Unlike the opening of Phase I in 1954 by Queen Elizabeth II and the opening of Phase II in 1962 by the international industrialist H. J. Heinz II there was no formal opening of Phase III in 1970.
The College's rapid growth in student numbers, staff numbers and College facilities through the 1960s and early '70s is reflected in annual College expenditure. In 1965 the annual running costs were in the order of £662,000 and by 1975 they were in excess of £1 million.
One of the greatest changes to affect the College in the 1970s (if not in its entire history) was the change in local government brought about by the Local Government Act of 1972 which significantly reformed local government in England and Wales from 1st April 1974. Wigan became a Metropolitan Borough Council within the Metropolitan County of Greater Manchester and Lancashire County Council no longer had jurisdiction over Wigan. Until 1974 both Wigan Borough Council and Lancashire County Council had joint and equal control of the College, but after that date Wigan had sole responsibility for the College. Change has never been a problem for the College - it has seen plenty of it and it will do so in the future.
1) Student Numbers 1857 to 1975
Below is a graph showing student numbers attending the College over the period 1857 to 1975.
2) Honorary Secretaries
Below is a list of Honorary Secretaries of the College from 1957 until the role was abolished in 1905.
Maskell William Peace
Sir Thomas Ratcliffe-Ellis
1857 - 1892
1892 - 1905
The post of Honorary Secretary was abolished when a Revised scheme of Government came into force in 1905
3) Chairmen of the Governing Body
Below is a list of Chairmen of the Governing Body from 1857 to 1975.
Canon Thomas Francis Fergie B.D.
Alfred Hewlett J.P., F.G.S. (12 years)
Joseph Thomas GEE J.P.(29 years)
Colonel James Scarlett Ashcroft Walker T.D., J.P., M.A.C.E., M.I Mech.E. (14 years)
County Alderman Abraham Guest J.P.
Alderman Edward Maloney J.P. (3 years)
County Alderman Leonard Ball J.P.(3 years)
Councillor Sydney Taylor (3 years)
Councillor James Hargreaves (3 years)
Councillor Ernest Cowser J.P. (3 years)
Councillor Peter Marsh (2 years)
Councillor Arnold Singer
1857 - 1897
1897 - 1909
1909 - 1938
1938 - 1952
1952 - 1957
1957 - 1960
1960 - 1963
1963 - 1966
1966 - 1969
1969 - 1972
1972 - 1974
4) Visitors to the College
Below is a list of Visitors to the College (a specific title only conferred for a short time).
The Right Hon. the 27th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres P.C., K.T., M.A., LL.D., D. Litt., F.R.S.
The Right Hon. the 28th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres F.S.A.
1939 - 1904
5) Principals of the College
Edward A. Birkenhead (10 years)
Cornelius McLoed Percy with Ralph Betley (5 years)
1857 - 1867
1867 - 1892
The title Principal was only created in 1892
Cornelius McLeod Percy, M.I.Mech.E., F.G.S. (11 years)
Thomas T Rankin C.E., B.Sc., M.I.Mech.E. (12 years)
Samuel Charles Laws M.A., M.Sc. (10 years)
Frederick James Harlow M.B.E., B.Sc., Ph.D., F. Inst P., A.R.C.Sc., D.I.C. (3 years)
James Frederick Stanley Ross M.C., B.Sc., B.Sc (Eng)., Ph.D.,A.M.Inst.C.E., M.I.Mech.E., M.I.Min.E. (22 years)
Edward Craig Smith B.Sc.(Eng)., Ph.D., C Eng., M.I.C.E., F.I.Min.E., M.I.Mech.E., M.I.Elec.E. (25 years)
Maurice Emmerson M.A., C.Eng., Dip.F.E., M.I.Mech.E.
1892 - 1903
1903 - 1915
1915 - 1925
1925 - 1928
1928 - 1950
1950 - 1975
6) Honorary Medical Advisors to the College
Dr E. E. Cooke M.D., F.R.C.P., D.P.H. (3 years)
Dr Alex Matheson M.D., Ch.B. (7 years)
Dr Carl Angior M.B., Ch.B., N.R.C.S.Eng., L.R.C.P.Lond.
Dr D. W. Johnson M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.
1935 - 1939
1939 - 1946
1950 - 1967
7) Honorary Diplomats of the College
There have been five Honorary Diplomats of the College.
The Diploma of the College has been awarded 'honoris causa' to the following:-
The Rt. Hon. the 1st Viscount Chelmsford G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., C.B.E. Viceroy of India, and Chairman of the Miners Welfare Fund. (Mining 1929)
Arthur Moore Lamb, D.L., J.P. College student and Gold Medallist, Vice-Chairman of the Governing Body and Benefactor. (Mining 1929)
George Hiram Winstanley M.Sc.Tech. College student, Gold Medallist, College lecturer, H.M. Inspector of Mines and Member of the Governing Body. (Mining 1929)
Joseph Thomas Gee J.P. Chairman of the Governing Body for 29 years and Benefactor. (General Science 1948)
James Frederick Stanley Ross M.C., B.Sc.(Eng)., Ph.D., A.M.Inst.C.E., M.I.Mech., E.M.I.Min.E. Principal of the College for 22 years and Clerk to the Governing Body for 20 years. (General Science 1949)
8) Lecturers at Wigan College who went on to be Principals of other colleges
9) The oldest known surviving College Certificate
This is the oldest known surviving College Certificate (Wigan Mining and Mechanical School) dated 31st May 1860. It was awarded to Robert Winstanley. On it can be seen the signatures of Edward Birkenhead and Maskell William Peace. Robert Winstanley's son George Hiram Winstanley was also a student of the College and then became a member of staff before becoming a Mines Inspector and awarded an Honorary Diploma in 1929. The Certificate No. 3 was presented to the College Library by George Winstanley in 1938.
10) The Stained Glass Windows in the Library Street Assembly Hall
One of the many generous gifts donated to the College by Alfred Hewlett was the stained-glass windows in the College Assembly Hall. Each window bears a statement or a quotation. Because of the height of the windows and the smallness of the lettering not all the inscriptions are readable at ground floor level. These are presented below.
1) The daughters of the year dance into light and dive into shade.
2) To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
3) The moments we forego, eternity itself cannot retrieve.
4) Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (that last infirmity of noble mind) to scorn delights and live laborious days.
5) Call it not vain - they do not err who say that when the poet dies mute, nature mourns her worshipper.
6) Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety, and life to everything.
7) There cometh no good thing apart from toil and mortals.
8) Well might the daring mariner of old dread thee, bleak sea and with trembling hands guide his frail bark to sail for those dry lands that lie in such a darkness.
9) Words are things and small drops of ink falling like dew upon a thought produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
10) Around this temple let the merchants’ law be just, his weights true, and his covenants faithful.
11) The web of our life is of a mangled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not.
12) Call it not folly, spanner like to spin the tread of present life, a way to win what? For ourselves who know not if we shall breathe out the very breath we now breathe in!
13) Work secures the rich reward of rest; we must rest to be able to work well, and work to be able to enjoy rest.
14) It is better to wear out than to rust out and there is a dust which settles on the heart as well as that which rests upon the ledge.
15) You will do the greatest service to the state if you shall raise, not the roofs of the houses, but the soul of the citizens.
16) Deep in the minds dense gloom profound, far from the sun's bright ray, under the safety lamp's pale gleam, the miner toils.
17) All honour to steam, the hand maid of science.
18) Crafty men condemn studies; simple men admire them, and wise men use them.
19) Blessings on Science! When the earth seemed old, when fate grew dotting and our reason cold, ‘twas she discovered that the world was young and taught a language to its lisping tongue.
20) As the sun colours flowers so does art colour life.
21) As music tunes the ear and colours tutor the eye, so words of taste refine the mind.
11) Photographs of the College Principals
Student at the College 1863 – 1868
Lecturer at the College 1868 – 1892
Principal of the College 1892 - 1903.
Associated with the College for 40 years.
Principal of the College 1903-1915
Resigned from the College 1915
Principal of the College 1915 - 1925
Left the College in 1925 to become Principal of Northampton Polytechnic, London
Principal of the College 1925 - 1928
Left the college in 1928 to become Principal of Chelsea Polytechnic (1928 - 1949)
Principal of the College 1928 - 1950
Principal of Stockport Technical College before coming to Wigan and retired in 1950.
Lecturer in the Engineering Department of Brighton Technical College 1937 - 1943,
Head of the Engineering Department at Wigan 1943 to 1947,
Principal of Burnley Technical College (1947 - 1950)
I wish to thank Mr K. B. Swallow, A.L.A. Chief Librarian of the College for his tireless help and encouragement, without which this publication would not have been possible.
I would also like to thank Mr C. G. Forster, B.A., F.R.G.S. Vice-Principal of the College for reading the draft to correct any factual mistakes and Dr E. Craig Smith, Principal for supplying much recent information. I am also indebted to Wigan Public Library for allowing me to examine many historical documents, and Kathryn Pass for research help.