Royal Arcade, Wigan


The Royal Arcade in Wigan has a big sign saying it is Wigan’s oldest arcade, but actually although it might look older than the nearby Makinson Arcade, it really opened 28 years later, in 1927.

Its narrow walkway and the bend in the arcade, along with its mock-Tudor frontage give it real vintage feel, and it certainly fits the bill for An Arcades Project, but it is actually nearer art deco in period than Victorian.

It was quiet on the Sunday morning we visited, with only the sweet shop and a café open, but the occupancy rate is good, and it is quite probably a busy shopping arcade during the week and on Saturdays.

The arcade is home to a nice range of independent businesses of the types quite common in workaday arcades like this one: barbers, women’s clothing, haberdashery, jewellery, newsagents, bakery, cake shop, women’s hair and nails, and that 21st century phenomenon, e-cigarettes. There is also a podiatrist.

It’s the black and white tiled flooring that draws the eye into this arcade as much as the usual glass ceiling, perhaps because of the very narrowness of the arcade, where you almost feel you could reach out and touch the old shopfronts on both sides if you stretched your arms out.

There are photos of old Wigan that line the walls above each shop front, many of old factory or mill workers on a break. Sadly, none shows the actual arcade from older times, though again, the signage lays claim not only to this being ‘Wigan’s Oldest Arcade,’ but that it was built in 1899, rather than 1927 (however, even if that is true – and I’d love to see some primary source proof of that – 1899 is still a year later than the opening date of neighbour Makinson Arcade; and some in Wigan would like to see the now derelict Grimes Arcade – opened 1870 – refurbished and re-used, which would make it the oldest arcade in Wigan: looking at the state of it today, though, that could be some time away, but An Arcades Project will watch that space…).

Ah well, the Royal Arcade Wigan LOOKS older; it even has mock-Tudor frontage, which is very attractive but certainly not mediaeval. It’s a lovely arcade, though, and I must make a point of visiting again to see how busy it is on a working day.

My favourite shop today

I shall have to reserve judgement on this for another visit, as on the Sunday most of the shops were shut. We bought something from the little sweet shop, but I’d like to poke my head round the door of some of the other businesses in this arcade.

My pick of the arcade’s past

In 1928, May Rose had to appear in court on a charge of fortune-telling at No 1 in the arcade. The police sent someone in under cover to have their palm read, and caught May red-handed. The police woman was told there would be a little trouble over money matters, but that a tall young man would see her right. The tenancy agreement specifically allowed May Rose to act as a palmist, and she advertised in the local newspaper, but the court made her promise not to continue her practice, and let her off on payment of costs.

During WW2, when clothes could only legally be bought with ration books, a ladies’ outfitters in the arcade was fined £75 for supplying clothes on ration vouchers that had not yet reached the validity date. His defence was that his work was of ‘national importance…’

Stories in this section sourced from The British Library Board and 1) LIverpool Echo, 11 October 1928, Reach PLC; 2) Liverpool Echo, 21 December 1942, Reach PLC.

This arcade in films or books

I’ve yet to see any. If you see any, drop us a line via the message box below so we can include them.

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you see the Royal Arcade, Wigan in any film or book?

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

Is there a website for this arcade?

I didn’t find any website or active social media feed for this arcade. Again, if you know of one, let me know via the boxes below.

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