Market town in Wigton parish, Cumberland ward, Cumberland. Township of Wigton combined with Woodside Quarter to form Wigton-cum-Woodside CP 1887, which was then re-divided into separate administrative units 1894, Wigton UD (from 1934 CP) forming an island ringed by Woodside CP.
township of Wigton, parts of which lay intermixed with lands in Woodside township, contained 3,141 acres [1,271 ha] before boundary changes. After 1894 Wigton UD covered 1,650 acres [668 ha]. Common moorland around Wigton, mostly in what was to become Woodside CP, enclosed 1817.
Wigton was caput of barony of Wigton, said to have been granted by lord of Allerdale in 12th century to Odard de Logis, from whom it descended to John de Wigton. After death of his daughter Margaret de Wigton 1349, barony passed to Thomas de Lucy, lord of Allerdale, and descended thereafter with barony of Allerdale and honour of Cockermouth (q.v.).
Origins and growth of the town:.
Wigton was market town but not a borough: market probably originated at early date with trading at entrance to medieval parish church: original market place probably represented by Corn Market, in front of church. Grant of market charter 1262 probably merely confirmed status quo. By early modern period, its role as market centre for rich Solway lowlands was well established. Thomas Denton’s vivid description of town in 1680s shows that specialisation in linen trade had developed as an extension of its agricultural market function: ‘The principall traffick vended in this mercate is corn & yarne, for it is a great corne countrey all round this mercate, the soyl being naturally fertill. ... Great quantities of linnen yarn are likewise sold here by the neighbouring women, who make it their sole employment to spin all the year long (harvest time onely excepted). And there are a great number of linnen weavers in the adjacent villages, as well as in this town, who buy the same & work it into webbs, and have it bleached by their wives & fitted for Roseley & Carlisle fairs’. Weekly markets held on Tuesdays with two fairs annually, on St Thomas’ day and Good Friday. By mid-19th century fairs were held 20 February (then said to be one of largest horse fairs in northern England) and 5 April (for cattle and merchandise). Post-medieval market was located in Market Place, at junction of major routes, where wooden pole served as market cross until burnt down during celebrations after battle of Trafalgar. Wigton’s rich agricultural hinterland was reflected in presence of several corn mills, of which there were four (two water mills and two wind mills) by c.1800. Early textile activity suggested by name Tenters (referring to frames on which woollen cloth was stretched). Yet Wigton does not appear to have grown wealthy by late 17th century: Denton reported that most houses were ‘walled with clay & covered with straw’. Clay Dubs, water-filled pits which survived in 1860s to north-east of town, probably represent clay digging for building purposes. Linen industry grew in 18th century to include wide range of linen products: ‘osnaburghs’, tow-cloths, coarse linen, striped checks and ginghams. Linen check manufactories established from 1748 with expansion in 1790s. Calico printing began 1790 and fustian manufacture 1795. In mid-19th century there were shirt factory, old print works (recorded by 1832; burnt down 1845), Brookside Works (‘cotton, linen and woollen’) and three dyeworks. Other industries included two tanneries, four breweries and three nail factories. Linen trade had declined by 1900, when principal industry was tanning. Shirt factory was taken over by Samuel Redmayne 1868, who established Wigton Clothing Factory, which relocated to Station Road 1875 and remained leading employer until late 20th century (factory demolished 1987). Construction of Maryport & Carlisle Railway, with station just outside town from 1845, drew Wigton’s industrial focus towards land between medieval town and railway. As well as Redmayne’s factory, Burnfoot Preserves Works (‘jam factory’), had opened by 1901. Population, which had risen from 2,450 in 1801 to peak of 4,885 in 1831, fluctuated at around 4,000 for most of later 19th and early 20th century. From 1934, Wigton’s industrial mainstay became manufacture of cellophane wrapping materials. Production of cellulose film began 1934 when British New Wrap Co. established factory on site of jam factory. New factory built 1963 and further major expansion took place in 1990s; now global head office of Innovia Films Ltd. From low point of 3,521 in 1931, Wigton’s population grew again in later 20th century, to stand at 5,360 in 2001.
Places of worship:
Medieval parish church of St Mary; rebuilt 1788. St Mary’s parish room, built 1899, later became Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Quaker meeting house built c.1705; replaced by larger building to accommodate pupils at Brookfield School 1830; closed 2010. Congregational chapel, Market Hill, built 1819; replaced by new Independent chapel, Water Street, built 1834; became United Reformed Church; closed 2009. Presbyterian chapel, Meeting House Lane, built c.1790; congregation moved to former Congregational chapel on Market Hill 1834, which became United Presbyterian church. Methodist presence in town from 1759; Wesleyan Methodist chapel, George Street, built 1828, replaced by new chapel on High Street 1883; now Wigton Methodist Church. Primitive Methodist chapel (Potter’s chapel), New Street, built 1864; amalgamated with High Street congregation 1957. Roman Catholic church of St Cuthbert, begun 1836; extended 1857, with adjacent convent of the Sisters of Mercy. Lowmoor Evangelical Church, built c.1991. Town cemetery on Station Hill, with mortuary chapels for Episcopalians and Dissenters, laid out 1856.
School, probably in parish church, recorded from 1660s. Free grammar school, Market Hill, founded 1730; replaced by Nelson School (for boys), at Floshfield, established 1896. Thomlinson Girls’ Grammar School founded 1899; combined with Nelson School to become Nelson Thomlinson Grammar School 1952. Secondary modern school built c.1952; merged with Nelson Thomlinson to become Nelson Thomlinson Comprehensive School 1969 and combined on Floshfield site 1995. National School, High Street, opened 1820; moved to former Thomlinson girls’ school site 1968; now Thomlinsion Junior School. British school (in room under Independent chapel, Water Street) by 1847. Modern infant school built on Longthwaite Road. Non-denominational school attached to Catholic mission may have existed before 1847; Roman Catholic school at St Cuthbert’s church, opened 1855; rebuilt on new site nearby 1972-4.
Place-name Spital probably records site of medieval leper hospital of St Nicholas. Widows’ Hospital, a row of almshouses by parish church, founded by John Thomlinson 1724 (date stone reads 1723); sold 1884. Parish workhouse, Old Lane, recorded 1829. Workhouse for Wigton Poor Law Union built outside town on Station Hill 1838-42; later became cottage hospital; now Wigton Community Hospital. Mechanics’ Institute reading room built 1850s (now West Green Social Club). Market Hall, used as venue for entertainments, built 1882. Swimming baths, built for town by Edwin Banks of Highmoor, 1901.