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Published on January 21st, 2017 | by John OMeara



The Wigan Pier Project: read through the details below from Claire Donnelly at The Daily Mirror, and get in touch with her via the links provided at the end of the piece if you want to share a story which links in some way to The Mirror’s focus on George Orwell’s visit to the area 80 years ago. Comparison between that time and current experiences of austerity is one of their themes – they would also be particularly interested in talking to anyone who was living in Handsworth in 1937, or who is involved in positive and creative responses to current difficulties/challenges. A quick response is important – Claire is likely to be in the area on Wednesday next week (25th Jan.).

The Wigan Pier Project

80 years after George Orwell set off on The Road to Wigan Pier, The Wigan Pier Project is recreating his journey using 21st century technology.

Throughout the anniversary year, we will bring you stories from all along the route – covering Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Barnsley, Sheffield and Wigan and the places in-between– and, most importantly, allow other people to share theirs.
In 1937, Orwell’s famous book exposed to middle class England the levels of poverty in which huge industrialised swathes of people in the north of the country were living in.
He lived above a tripe shop and in various lodgings, including hostels across the country, attempted to live on working men’s wages and heard testimonies about the Means Test. He experienced the grim conditions, poor food and back-to-back homes of miners and factory workers. He went to listen to Oswald Mosley prey upon people’s fears about immigration and lambasted bearded Communist fruit-juice drinkers.
In 2017, we will tell modern stories of working and unemployed poverty through a regular series in the Daily Mirror newspaper and also a special anniversary website. We will bring you the human stories behind the housing crisis, welfare cuts, the ‘gig economy’, the refugee crisis, and Brexit Britain, and take you behind the doors of foodbanks, homeless shelters, factories, churches, mosques, hospitals and private rented and social housing.
As well as these stories, the project will hear people from all along the route as they upload their own experiences and speak for themselves.

What is the route?
Birmingham, Stourbridge, Wolverhampton, Penkridge, Stafford, Hanley, Burslem, Eldon, Rudyard Lake, Macclesfield, Manchester, Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Middlesmoor, Barnsley, Mapplewell, Leeds.

Why doesn’t it end in Wigan?
Good question. We think Orwell just liked the sound of The Road to Wigan Pier. He later claimed he never actually managed to find it.

So where exactly is Wigan Pier?
This is what Orwell himself has to say on a BBC Overseas Service broadcast with Colin Wills, 2 December 1943….
“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….
“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.”

Who exactly was George Orwell?
Born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell took on his “good, round, English” writing name (after the River Orwell) to avoid embarrassing his well-to-do family when he had lived as a ‘tramp’ to write his previous book, Down And Out In Paris In London. After writing The Road to Wigan Pier, he went on to fight in the Spanish civil war. He returned wounded before publishing his most famous works Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. To escape his sudden fame, Orwell then moved to the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland. He died of TB in 1948 in London, aged just 46. After his first wife’s death, he married again in hospital three months before his death, to Sonia Brownell.

How was the book received at the time?
“The honest Tory must face what he tells and implies, and the honest Socialist must face him, too.” Hamish Miles, New Statesman and Nation, 1 May 1937
“I cannot remember having been so infuriated for a long time.” – Walter Greenwood, Tribune, 12 March 1937

How can I take part?
If you live in any of the places mentioned above, or that feature on our interactive map [here] and have a story to share please get in touch.

You can contact us via, tweet us at @wiganpier2017 or
write to Wigan Pier Project, Daily Mirror, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP

If I don’t live on the route can I still share my experiences?
If you don’t live on the route but would like to share experiences of living on a low income or struggling with welfare cuts, please contact where we are keen to hear your story.

Claire Donnelly Features

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