Wigan was an important centre of coal mining and cotton textile production during the Industrial Revolution. Two important canal systems join there, and the main unloading point for charging coal to canal barges was known as Wigan Pier. This small jetty became known as a music hall joke. It bore no physical resemblance whatever to the seaside piers at resorts like Blackpool, Southport, Brighton etc., and in any case Wigan is approximately 25 miles inland. It became world famous after George Orwell titled a book of social commentary The Road to Wigan Pier. The book was not well received in the town, as residents felt it painted an unrepresentatively grim picture of life there, and was based on relatively little experience of the place. The Pier is today surrounded by an award winning heritage museum.
Wigan's main sports teams are Wigan Athletic (Association football) and Wigan Warriors (Rugby League). The two teams now share a single stadium, League being played in summer and soccer in the winter. Athletic are a lower division team who have had patchy success over the years. Warriors, by contrast, were for many years in the eighties and nineties undisputably the best Rugby League team in the world. Their record of league and cup titles is far greater than anything comparatively unsuccessful teams like, say, Manchester United can offer. At their peak, Wigan's rugby league team was superior not only to any club side in the world, but regularly played and beat the national teams of mighty rugby playing nations such as Australia. While still a potent force in the game, recent changes to the structure and organisation of the game have diluted their dominance.
Wigan is one of relatively few towns in the UK to have an international-standard swimming pool in the town centre. The resident swimming club, Wigan Wasps, has produced Olympic standard swimmers, including medal winner June Croft.
One of Wigan's most successful exports is "Uncle Joe's Mintballs", a kind of boiled sweet.
Wigan is geographically set almost exactly between Manchester and Liverpool, and its contribution to the music scene stood in the shadow of these two powerhouses of rock and pop for many years. Having produced George Formby Snr, and his son George Formby Jnr, the film and music hall star, the best Wigan could subsequently offer was Limahl from Kajagoogoo, indie band The Railway Children, Kate Garner from Hayzi Fantayzee and Rick Astley (arguably not actually from Wigan at all, but close). However, Wigan's musical credibility was saved by The Verve, and more recently Starsailor.
Probably Wigan's most important contribution to musical culture was as the home of Northern Soul. Wigan Casino was the location for many Northern Soul all-nighters until it was demolished after being gutted by fire in the early 1980s.