Wigan Pier

When our children were small, we used to love taking them to museums that were interactive and interesting to them. Wigan Pier was one of our favourites. It was a wonderful place teaching us about working class life in Victorian times and more recent. I loved it because it was so relevant to our own parents and grandparents. Sadly it closed in 2007, due to lack of visitors. It was housed in beautiful ex-industrial buildings on the Leeds /Liverpool Canal. It was almost all interactive, from a lively holiday scene on entry, to a school in which visitors could experience school life in bygone times. There were buttons to press, reconstructed terraced houses to go inside, and working machinery, as well as cases of clothing, such as home made dresses, servants’ uniforms and armed forces uniforms.
I was so moved by it, I wrote a poem about it, which was in my debut collection back in 1988, Dandelions for Mother’s Day, published by Stride Books. The very best thing about the museum was listening to the comments of older visitors reminiscing. I’d love to have taken my mum there. It would have jogged many memories for her.

I thought I would share the poem again, since it has not seen the light of day for many years.

The Way We Were in 1900
(Wigan Pier)

‘Roll up, roll up, all the fun of the fair!
See the fat lady, cross the gypsy’s palm!
Don’t be shy now, smile, it’s Wakes Week!
Stroll the tarted pier, just smell that air!

Round a corner there’s a grimy street,
a mine where dirt-streaked dummies toil.
At each half-hour in a two-up-two-down
an actor squares up to his ‘old man’s’ death.
“He ‘ad the black spit, so he ‘anged hissel’.”

A child clunks a dolly peg, someone mutters
“They think it’s a thing to play with.”
Off to tea and cakes in the ‘George Orwell’ rooms,
over her shoulder she adds
“It was bloody ‘ard work, luv.”

One floor down, a queue becomes Class Four
drilled into school under arches marked
“Girls, Boys.” They wriggle on benches,
stammer out Mental Arithmetic, Read Aloud.
Hands are rapped for jewellery, or dirty nails.

Now it’s handkerchief inspection! At the held
pointing cane, grandmas tremble, faces drop.
Eyeing Miss, one sneaks a Kleenex to each friend.

Everywhere, groups of them bend
permed heads, pick over half-familiar things
that gobbled up their youth.

The book was illustrated by the artist Tony Snowball, who did the colour cover and three black and white full page drawings.


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