Work begins on Wigan's Haigh Hall in multi-million pound face lift

Work is progressing on the multi-million pound facelift

Work on a highly anticipated multi-million pound facelift of Wigan’s historic Haigh Hall is now underway.

The Grade II listed building has stood empty since 2021 since the council won a High Court battle to evict the firm operating a hotel there.

It is now being given a lease of life to secure its future thanks to funding from the £20 million from the Levelling Up Fund.

This comes with a pledge of £11.5 million of match funding from Wigan Council's budget as well as a separate bid of £4 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Haigh Hall is now completely covered in scaffolding Credit: X: @HallHaigh

Haigh Hall was built in the 1800s and over the years has been a stately home, which used to have Rembrandts and Botticellis hanging on the walls.

It served as a military hospital in both world wars, and was home to one of the largest private libraries in Europe.

The owner, The Earl of Crawford found himself having financial problems and sold it to Wigan Council in 1947, including all the acres of land, for £18,000.

Haigh Hall was built in the 1800s

One of the conditions of that sale was that the "land should be for all time retained undeveloped as an open space for the public".

Earl Crawford also said: "That the Hall itself may be used for some public purpose, such as we would all agree is to the benefit of the community."

Work started in April 2023 to transform the Hall into a nationally significant arts, culture and heritage destination.

The revamp of Haigh Hall started in late April

All five levels will be opened up with plans for an underground bunker cinema, a rooftop terrace for astronomy, along with a cocktail bar on the roof, and a world class restaurant.

Creative directors Al and Al, who are in charge of the project, say it is about looking to the future and creating a new 'golden age' for the hall, and they have taken into account everyone's memories and what they want for 'their Haigh Hall'.

The pair hosted tea parties in the vestibule at the Hall in the summer of 2022 and invited people to share their ideas.

Al and Al invited people into Haigh Hall to ask for their ideas Credit: Al and Al

Al Holmes said: "We had people come to see us who got married here, who want to have their prom here, one couple came in to show us their wedding pictures from the Hall.

"It's a real privilege to work on something which is so special for so many people, and we hope it will be the Haigh Hall everyone has dreamed of."

Al says he is keen on telling the history of the Hall, and revealed a surprising fact about the cellars.

Haigh Hall used to have Rembrandts and Botticellis hanging on the walls

"The family that owned Haigh Hall had a bunker and that's where treasure was stored during the blitz," he added.

"Every museum in London closed during the Second world War. Haigh actually held Christopher Wren's original model of St Pauls which the kids used to play with like a dolls house during the war."

A permanent art gallery for Wigan artist Theodore Major is a big part of the plans.

Major was a contemporary of Lowry's and is often seen as the 20th century's forgotten master. as he refused to sell his work.

He refused to sell his work, instead letting people into his home in Appley Bridge every Sunday to look at his work for free.

Theodore Major refused to sell his work Credit: Granada TV

It is estimated he left around 3,000 paintings after his death in 1990, which his daughter Mary has agreed can go on show at Haigh Hall.

The collection is estimated to be worth £200 million.

Mary said: "When I first walked into this room, I thought 'this is a gallery' and I've got the paintings to fill it, I think it's just the place".

Scaffolding covering the grand staircase Credit: ITV News

When Mary was asked how she thought her dad would feel about his work going on display at Haigh Hall.

She said: "It's difficult, because he had a bit of a gripe against Haigh Hall as when he was an art student Rembrandt was his favourite artist, and he knew there were Rembrandts here, but he couldn't see them obviously, as it was a private home.

"He used to say 'rich people shouldn't have paintings and keep them so no-one can see them' so I think I'm doing the right thing, as everyone will be able to see them now, so I think he'd be happy. "

The Verve at Haigh Hall in 1998 Credit: X: ManchesterLemon

Haigh Hall also played host to Wigan band The Verve's legendary homecoming gig in 1998.

They were at the height of their success at the time, and the sell-out concert drew more than 30,000 fans from not just Wigan but from all over the UK.

Wigan Council has confirmed there are plans for the music to come back, and say Wigan's current biggest band, The Lathums, will be performing there.

Councillor Chris Ready said: "They've already asked. They've always wanted to play Haigh Hall, as they know what it means. They've grown up with it.

"When all this work is complete, they'll be the first band to play here".

One of the things many people remembered fondly was the land train/tractor train, which used to bring people from the Plantation Gates, through the woodland and up to the hall.

This will return, but in electric form, and has already been tried out.

Haigh Hall's new electric 'land train' on its first trial Credit: Al and Al

It is estimated the work will take a further two and a half years.