On Wednesday 20th January 1897 work began on a new sports stadium to cater for several sports in the Wigan area. The name of the new ground was to be Springfield Park. At 2.30pm on that date there was a ‘cutting of the first sod’ ceremony and this was performed by Mr Johnson, watched by anybody who had an interest in the venture, plus a large proportion of the Wigan public for whom a marquee was set up and refreshments provided.
The massive project had actually been given the go ahead following the sale of some land in Springfield for the sum of £2,760. On 12th August 1897 the Directors of the Wigan Trotting and Athletic Company, the proud, new owners, invited the local press to see the new facilities before the ground was officially opened. The opening itself was to be on 18th August 1897 and taking place on the day would be a grand athletics festival.
Mr William Timberlake and his fellow directors purchased the land on which Springfield Park was to be constructed on 28th May 1896. The first five directors of the new Wigan Trotting and Athletic Company were a cycle manufacturer, two butchers a pawnbroker and a bootmaker. These men had employed an architect called R T Johnson to design the complex. On 15th August 1896 the Wigan Observer commented, “It is proposed to prepare a 15 yard half mile trotting, running (three and a half laps to the mile) and cycling (banked and four laps to the mile) tracks. To have tennis courts and two bowling greens, to have a very complete football ground in the centre and an ornamental lake for boating.”
On Monday 8th March 1897 at a statutory meeting held in the Registered Offices of the company Mr Timberlake revealed the full extent of all the work to be undertaken. He stated that the company had gone to great lengths in giving out contracts for the laying of the grounds and tracks and that the sports complex was going to be constructed using the best materials and methods of construction known at that time. The man who was trusted to lay out the pitch, including sorting out the excavation and drainage was Mr W. Winnard. Mr Winnard was apparently given overwhelming approval and appeared to be a very competent person in whom the Directors had great faith.
At the time it was envisaged that the company’s own engineer Mr Cooper would be given the contract for the building of the cycle track and there is no known reason to suspect that he didn’t undertake the said work. Mr Timberlake also revealed that excavation work was already half completed and that the new complex would be completed by July 1987. The most pressing concern at that particular moment was where to construct the tracks, pavilion and stands and finding out the total cost of the work involved.
The Directors also confirmed that an Association Football team had been formed and that it was to play in the Lancashire League if the Football Association gave the new team the ‘go ahead’. They also conformed that the company had been granted a full licence from the Trotting Union of Great Britain and Ireland in order to provide the town with the sport of horse trotting. The track used for the horse trotting would eventually circumference the whole of Springfield Park.
Shareholders in the company were told that the Directors had also been inundated with requests from various athletics clubs for permission to use the grounds for various festivals and shows and there were even plans for Agricultural shows to be held at Springfield Park. There were also other plans afoot to raise income once the ground was completed and there was no doubt that the prestige that this development would afford to the town of Wigan would be immense. Two retiring directors, Mr W. Rigby and Mr J. Dickenson were duly re elected and a Mr S. Williams was also appointed onto the board.
The Stadium, which was completed on time, boasted four laps to the mile cycle track that was constructed from concrete and a three and a half lap to the mile running track. Around the perimeter of the whole site was the horse-trotting track. The stables in which the horses were kept were situated at the Town End of the ground, near where Second Avenue is situated today. The stadium was also to be used by the Local Constabulary for their athletics meetings and amateur rugby was also planned to be played on the site.
The photograph on the left, (taken by John Cooper in the very late 1890’s) is the first known of the original stand (on the old Pop Side) and cycle track at Springfield Park and has been used with the kind permission of Frank Orrell
The football pitch itself boasted perfect drainage and the first association football club to play on it was called Wigan County, who were in fact the fourth association football team to play in the Borough. Also in situ in the very impressive sporting complex was an ornamental lake, which was built on land behind the Shevington End of the ground and the areas between the running and cycling tracks were to be utilised by the construction of bowling greens and tennis courts. It is also prudent to point out that the entrance to the ground was situated on the land that is now St Andrews Drive and not at the opposite side of the ground where it was when the stadium closed. The total cost of the whole project was estimated at £16,000, which was a truly mammoth amount of money in those days.
The local press commented around the time of the grand opening, “For many years the lack of a good cycling and running track in the district has been seriously felt. With their sporting instincts unsatisfied, the people have gone in other directions. In the matter of athletics it may safely be said that hitherto what has been Wigan’s loss has been the gain of some other more favoured town. For a considerable time, there were rumours of a company being floated to run a first class athletics ground, but after quiet waiting on the part of the public had resulted in no definite information being acquired it was put down in many quarters as so much idle gossip”.
Prior to the opening of Springfield Park sporting facilities existed in the town at Poolstock and these were owned by an organisation called the Wigan Club. Association Football, among other sports, was played there. Tennis was a thriving sport at this time and there was a club based in Bellingham, there was also the Rowing Club with its boathouse situated on the canal bank at the Haigh Basin in Hall Lane. There was a Cycling Club based in Mesnes Park, Fox Terrier racing at the Pagefield Inn and Curling on the Martland Mill Pond. There was also a Subscription Bowling Green adjacent to Mesnes Park.
Association football was also very well established in the town and Wigan was represented by six teams in the Lancashire Alliance. These were Park Lane Wanderers, Hindley, Ashton in Makerfield, Horwich, Golborne and Adlington. In actual fact the head quarters of the LA was based in Wigan and association football had already been played in the borough since at least the 1870’s. The Wigan Cup Competition came into existence very early in the 1880’s and it was one of the oldest Cup competitions in Lancashire. Th
e very well established Wigan Association football club once competed with Preston North End for the Cup in 1885. The headquarters for the running of this tournament was also based in Wigan, so the sport itself was certainly well in the public domain when Springfield Park was built.
The present Wigan Rugby League club were playing as founder members of the Northern Union and the club was based at Prescott Street, the home of the Wigan Cricket Club. The club had been formed in 1872 and had previously played at Folly Field, which was situated where the current Upper Dicconson Street stands now. However Springfield Park was the jewel in Wigan’s crown. It was a multi-purpose sports arena that would do the town proud.
In early August 1897, the directors of The Wigan Trotting and Athletic Company invited the pressmen of the district to inspect the fine new grounds at Springfield Park. The grounds, near to completion, were due to be opened in the near future with an athletic festival. Springfield Park was first used on Wednesday, August 18th 1897, when the newly formed Wigan Athletic and Cycling Club arranged a meeting. This is the earliest recorded event at the complex.
The accompanying photographs show the cutting of the first sod at Springfield Park and an unknown cyclist with his trainer on the Springfield P[ark cycling track.
(Special thanks to Dave Roughley, This project is a combination of his work and mine.)
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