The Road To Wigan Pier
The English author George Orwell (1903-1950) put the industrial town of Wigan (my home town) back on the map with his 1937 novel "The Road To Wigan Pier". His lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism strikes a chord with many to this day. His works like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four lead to the popular term “Orwellian”, referring to totalitarian or authoritarian social practices. Everyday terms like Cold War, Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, Memory Hole, Newspeak, Doublethink, and Thoughtcrime come from Orwell. I’d love to read the novel he would write today!!!
Wigan contributed to the industrial might of Britain primarily through coal and cotton. “Wigan Pier” was an elevated railway line running from a nearby colliery to the canal for loading onto barges (c.1890). Outsiders though the pier might be a pleasant place to walk by the sea, but Wigan is 15 miles inland. The joke gained notoriety and attracted Orwell’s attention. Orwell was very fond of the local people, but his novel was a brutal description of an industrial town in decline, blackened by coal: “I remember a winter afternoon in the dreadful environs of Wigan. All round was the lunar landscape of slag-heaps, and to the north, through the passes, as it were, between the mountains of slag, you could see the factory chimneys sending out their plumes of smoke. The canal path was a mixture of cinders and frozen mud, criss-crossed by the imprints of innumerable clogs, and all round, as far as the slag-heaps in the distance, stretched the ‘flashes’ — pools of stagnant water that had seeped into the hollows caused by the subsidence of ancient pits. It was horribly cold. The ‘flashes’ were covered with ice the colour of raw umber, the bargemen were muffled to the eyes in sacks, the lock gates wore beards of ice. It seemed a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke,