Wigan Warriors' second home was the Cricket Ground, situated on Prescott Street, to the west of the town centre and north of Wigan Pier and canal. Let's start by looking at how the ground became known with a bit of history. Cricket. Cricket had been enjoyed in Wigan since 1848 with Mr. Walter Mayhew, the Mayor of Wigan (in 1876) stating that his father brought cricket to the town from down south. With a ground at Mesnes being played upon since 1860, the cricketers had to leave Mesnes (for a non-Wiganer it is pronounced "may-ns") in July 1873 as Wigan Corporation (the council) decided to build a road through it. The club had to "Look for fresh fields and pastures new". Various sites were examined, but it was not until the following December that arrangements were made with the Earl of Derby for the occupation of the field upon which Prescott Street lay.
In 1874, the expenses for the club totalled £360 whilst erecting fencing and getting the ground in order. 1875, and the want of a pavilion grew more needy for the men in white. Not enough was raised via subscriptions so the committee asked for money again and about £70 was promised towards the erection of a pavilion. £170 it cost to build as soon as monies were raised.
The Cricketers introduced quite a successful Athletic Festival at the ground to help the balance sheet look a bit healthier. In the summer of 1876, permission had been granted to the Wigan District Football Club to practice and play matches on the cricket ground. This is where come in. The Football Club was to play no rent, but all the gate money was to be taken by the Cricket Club. It was a risky experiment, that of using rugby football to generate income for cricket. Since leaving their old ground at Mesnes, the cricketers spent around £700 since 1874. They needed cash.
You may recall, the Cricket club supplied the football club with players at this time so it all overlapped.
The first game at Prescott Street was played against, fittingly, St. Helens on November 25, 1876. Wigan won quite easily by 2 goals, 5 tries and 5 minor points vs St Helens' single goal. The weather was awful which kept many spectators away. Only eleven players from St Helens appeared also. Two weeks later against a team from Bolton, several hundred spectators assembled on the ground to see another Wigan win. And so it went on. Wigan eventually disbanded due to numerous reasons at the start of the 1877-78 season and Prescott Street became sole purpose once more.
When the Wigan Wasps were formed in 1879, the club reverted back to Upper Dicconson Street until 1886. However, at the start of the 1881-82 season, Wigan opened their season by playing Aspull and Widnes on the cricket ground. As Wigan grew, so did their attendances. Folly Field was simply just that, a field. Of course, the Wigan club had put together seating, a grand stand and turnstiles for example but it was not suitable any longer. In 1886, Wigan moved permanently back to Prescott Street.
14th May, 1886, Wigan held their Annual General Meeting at the Legs of Man Hotel in Wigan. It was here that it was officially stated that they had come to terms with the Cricket Club for the use of their ground, which was then undergoing extensive alterations and improvements to be ready for September 18th, when Wigan were scheduled to host Wakefield Trinity. The Rugby club had the promise of the cricket ground as long as the cricket club retain possession of the new portion, and have the use of the pavilion, refreshment tent, grand stand etc.
The two maps above show the ground at Prescott Street, or Frog Lane as it was sometimes referred to as. In the first full season in 1886 (and I suppose the earlier seasons before they disbanded), the pitch ran east to west so that the touchline was running alongside the pavilion. For the 1887-88 season, the two clubs agreed to switch the pitch around as the rugby boots played havoc with the pretty green of the cricketing pitch. Naturally, Wigan then had a "Railway End" and "Canal End" (ie Pilkington defending the Canal goal").
A funny story was told in the local paper whereby a train was leaving the L&Y Railway Station (Wallgate) heading towards Southport. Two farmers were on board, quite elderly. When the steam engine passed the grund (on the left), one remarked "What does W.R.F.C. stand for?" which was painted in large letters on the back of a stand. I have tried to find the article but I will, I am sure, come across it again but one farmer replied that it stood for something concerning farmers! I know, it's not a fun paragraph but one day I will find it!
If we skip forward to today, whilst we are here, the second map is Prescott Street today. You can still see the grass bankings that once lined the cricket boundary running alongside Prescott Street. Now it is an industrial estate and not great to look at, although there is a blue plaque to mark the occasion of Wigan's first Northern Union match against Broughton Rangers from September 1895.
Some of the greatest matches seen at Prescott Street came against Swinton. On numerous occasions the crowd topped 10,000+ and was easily the best supported sports match in the country during the weekend it was played on, including Association Football matches.
When Wigan were at the height of their powers during this period, a
match between these two sides took place on 11th April, 1891. Such was the enthusiasm to watch the game, well over 12,000 spectators crammed into the cricket ground to witness the tussle. It was the largest gate ever seen at the ground (although some reports of 14,000+ against Aspull in 1888 may dispute this. That's all good and proper, well done Wigan. But here is the story. The game against The Lions was seen by the club as being a big gate. The Wigan club did not anticipate just how many people marched down Frog lane that afternoon. The gate staff and preparations were on a scale to cope well enough for five to six thousand people.
Close to kick off a great rush was made. The gates gave way slowly before the pressing mass and the people rolled onto the ground in their hundreds. The match reporter "Crossbar" thought it would be foolish to think that people had in their minds of seeing the game having not paying. Simply, it would be impossible to collect any monies given the swell. This was a great financial loss to Wigan and more so when the entrances to the reserved portions of the ground were swept on one side, and the excited people had quickly picked out favourable spots from which to view the game without producing the necessary coin.
The top of the covered stand was "thronged with enthusiasts", whose ardour, however, considerably cooled when it was rumoured that the erection was not able to bear the strain, and was in fact giving way! People jumped off the stand to escape the impending catastrophe, but fortunately no accident occurred. For what it's worth, Wigan lost. The ref wasn't too favourable to us.
At long last, in 1890 with a match against Tyldesley, the ground got a new telegraph-board scoreboard that could be up to date with rugby scoring, after having used the cricket type scoreboard. The problem was that when Jack Anderton registered a minor point, it became quickly apparent that there was no space on the board to display the point! Embarrassed but they sorted it out. The good thing though with the new technology was that telegraphs could be sent direct into the ground. During the first round of the West Lancashire Cup, a telegram got sent to the new technology at Wigan from Widnes where arch-rivals Aspull were playing. The news was that the score close to full time stood Widnes 1 try and 1 minor to Aspull, nil. There were cheers in the stadium at the news from far away.
On the 22nd April, 1893, the ground caught fire! During that afternoon Wigan had entertained Runcorn (winning 2 tries to 1 try if you're keeping tabs). All was well. At around quarter to seven that evening, Mr. John Ballard was proceeding to the rope-walk at the bottom of Miry Lane (the rope walk was on the western edge of the ground). For reference, a 'rope walk' was a long open-aired pathway that, well, made rope, but because of the nature of the business, it was common for them to catch fire due to igniting hemp dust. Mr. Ballard noticed that a portion of the Wigan grand stand at the ground was on fire, and there was a breeze blowing it. It was a dangerous situation as the flames could have easily spread and engulf the rest of the grand stand and the rope walk. Ballard got a ladder and scaled the boards lining the enclosure, and with the help of a boy he procured water from a well and put the fire out. It was only after some boards had been pulled out and doused in water that the fire was extinguished.
Once the old guard of Jim Slevin, Jack Anderton, Billy Atkinson and company retired and moved on, and the Northern Union became established, Wigan were quite a poor team leading up to the turn of the century. Crowds and enthusiasm declined but of course, Wigan kept going.
The ever declining form, and the fact Wigan missed out on a newly formed Northern League in 1901, meant something had to change. There had been reports of damage being done and timber being carried away as theft. At the Annual General Meeting of 1901, George Taylor (Chairman) was asked about how the club was situated in regards with the ground. He said that the Wigan club had an offer of a new ground. Mr. Taylor stated that despite the offer of a new ground, the Wigan Club were okay to try and stay at Frog Lane/Prescott Street for a further twelve months.
That assumption didn't last long as on Tuesday 25th June, 1901, this advert appeared out of the blue in The Wigan Observer. The Wigan Rugby Football Club were selling up their assets and secured the use of the Springfield Park ground for the forthcoming 1901/02 season. After auction, the club received £31.15s.10d, with the grandstand alone getting £15.10s.0d. Ironically, a syndicate from Wigan United FC bought the grandstand from Prescott Street and built it back up at Springfield Park! With money in their pockets, the Wigan club start the 1901/02 season up the road at Springfield Park which was to be their only season at the ground.
Grandstand that was at Prescott St, re-assembled at Springfield Park
Prescott Street. I have no images to show of Prescott Street. The official Wigan Warriors website currently has a picture of Bull Hey cricket ground in Wigan (I have emailed them that it can be misleading). I hope that one day an image surfaces as it is a Holy Grail item.
If the grandstand was sold in the auction mentioned and re-assembled at Springfield, then these images (of Springfield Park 1904) can suggest that it was pride of place at the cricket ground off Frog lane.
Up until now not much is known about Prescott Street. Believe it or not more than 400 matches were played there. If you look for information about it you will get back that it hosted the touring New Zealand Maoris in 1888, and that's about it. I hope a bit of justice has been done. Many a great battle was fought off Frog Lane in the big games against Aspull, Swinton and Tyldesley, to name a few. It sits in between Folly Field and Central Park (if we ignore Springfield Parks stop-gap) so may not command such romanticism that we associate with today with Central Park especially. The Ground did its job but once the Cricket Club moved to Bull Hey in 1898 it all became pretty tired.
Once we got to Central Park,well, that's a different story!