Hot Spot: Wigan, Lancs

Orwell's pit town is still proud of its working-class heritage, but it's house prices that are luring first-time buyers, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

Come back, George Orwell, all is forgiven. After his book The Road to Wigan Pier was published by the Left Book Club in 1937, the town became synonymous with abject poverty, an association it has not yet shaken. Never mind that Orwell's focus was Lancashire and Yorkshire generally.

Come back, George Orwell, all is forgiven. After his book The Road to Wigan Pier was published by the Left Book Club in 1937, the town became synonymous with abject poverty, an association it has not yet shaken. Never mind that Orwell's focus was Lancashire and Yorkshire generally.

Refurbished and gentrified, Wigan Pier today is a major tourist attraction, an interactive experience capitalising on nostalgia for the hardships that Orwell chronicled. Thrill to "the deafening noise of the cotton spinning machines within the Machinery Hall, which acts as a reminder of the difficult conditions endured by the employees of Trencherfield Mill". Thrilling, indeed.

With lottery funding for urban regeneration and private funding for the JJB Stadium, Wigan has outpaced its reputation. Family homes routinely sell for more than £200,000; large detached houses in popular areas carry £500,000 price tags. For the best house in the best village, be prepared to pay £750,000.

"Wigan is a large town, and some bits are hot," says Hannah Gaskin of Reeds Rains. "Houses in some parts of town that have never been known as nice are selling very well, because they are starting from a low base and first-timers can afford them. Areas like Ince and Whelley have houses selling for between £70,000 and £80,000, which is £20,000 cheaper than Aspull, for example. Whelley offers a good mix of terraces, semis and detached. And there are not many investors on the scene now."

Leigh-based Simon Miller credits overspill from Didsbury and Wilmslow in South Manchester for the renewed interest. "They are more expensive, so homebuyers are looking further afield."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Technically Greater Manchester's most westerly borough, Wigan is roughly equidistant (17 miles) between Liverpool and Manchester. The M6 and M58 are nearby, and the M61 is also convenient.

Wigan Pier

Opened by the Queen in 1986, the complex includes The Way We Were heritage centre, which depicts Wigan 100 years ago. The Museum of Memories displays the 500,000 consumer items collected by social historian Robert Opie. Trencherfield Museum boasts a massive working steam engine housed in a 1907 cotton mill.

Attractions

The focal point for as many as 1,000 pit shafts a century ago, Wigan is now surrounded by golf courses and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Nearby are several country parks, including the 250-acre Haigh Hall and Pennington Flash.

Claims to fame

George Formby was born in Wigan in 1904. The war memorial at the Parish Church was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, whose design credits include the red telephone box and Liverpool Cathedral.

Prices (below £50,000)

A shop/office unit with planning permission for conversion into a residence is selling for £34,500. The sales area-cum-living room is 34' by 18', the kitchen area is 12' by 8'6", and a driveway adjacent to the property leads to off-road parking in the rear. Agent is Reeds Rains.

Prices (up to £100,000)

A period two-bed end terrace with enclosed rear yard is £67,950, and a modern two-bed end town house with garden is £75,950; both at Reeds Rains. A three-bed semi with conservatory and rear garden (with lawn, patio and raised deck) is £80,000, and a three-bed terrace is for sale at £84,950, via Halifax.

Family homes

Bigger properties include a three-bed modern semi with gardens at £127,000; a two-bed modern bungalow with detached garage and large mature rear garden for offers above £135,000; and a two-bed flat in the modern purpose-built Peartree Court in Aspull with parking at £134,950. All via Reeds Rains.

Serious money

In Crank, six miles south-west of Wigan, a Grade II-listed, six-bed detached 1732 farmhouse with two-storey annexe on more than an acre is £700,000. In Leigh, seven miles from Wigan, a five-bed, four-reception house with conservatory and detached bungalow is £750,000; both at Regan & Hallworth. Also for £750,000 is a five-bed, four-reception house with four-bed annexe on about three-fourths of an acre near Pennington Flash, at Millers. The estage agent are also selling a four-bed house with guest bungalow in the same area for £350,000.

New

Eleven of 94 units are still available at Bryant Homes' Belvedere Farm development at Hindley in Wigan; four-bed detached houses range from £162,000 to £278,000 (01942 522738).

Estate agents

Halifax, 01942 274574; Millers, 01942 606177; Reeds Rains, 01942 239021; Regan & Hallworth, 01942 205555.

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