The parish of Wigan comprised the townships of Wigan, Pemberton, Billinge Chapel End, Billinge Higher End, Winstanley, Orrell, Upholland, Dalton, Ince, Hindley, Abram, Haigh and Aspull.
In 1563 it was one of the most populous parishes in the county with 808 households, although converting number of households to size of population is notoriously problematic.
The parish was home to Upholland Priory. It had a poor reputation and was not a wealthy foundation, so it was dissolved in 1536 with the poorer monasteries as its annual income was below £100.
It is understood that there was a church there before the Norman Conquest, but the building has subsequently been reconstructed at various times. In 1620 extensive rebuilding of the chancel, nave and chantry chapels was carried out, but much of this work was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century and none of the medieval fittings remain. The tower, however, is thought to date from the thirteenth century although that, too, has undergone later alterations.
Ownership of the advowson was disputed for several centuries but by 1446 it was settled with the Langton family. However, by the sixteenth century they often sold the right of next presentation and by the end of the century the family had sold their rights in the parish entirely.
In the sixteenth century the tithes, or parts of them, were generally farmed out, so that the rectors did not receive all the income from the parish but even so it was a relatively wealthy living and in the first part of the sixteenth century it was held for brief periods by a succession of absentee pluralists who left the running of the parish to curates. These pluralist rectors included Thomas Stanley, bishop of Sodor and Man, a relative of the earls of Derby. He also held two other parishes as well as the bishopric.
In 1571 Edward Fleetwood was appointed to the parish by the Queen. He held the parish until his death in 1604 and was an assiduous, resident rector, introducing a monthly communion service, for example. However, he was a religious radical and was censured for not wearing a surplice.
Unusually, the rectors were effectively lords of the manor of Wigan with quite extensive secular legal powers.
In common with many areas of south Lancashire, coal mining and the textile industry flourished with other industry in the parish from the late eighteenth century and agriculture became less important. Wigan is now part of the Greater Manchester conurbation.
George T. O. Bridgeman, The history of the church and manor of Wigan in the County of Lancaster, Part 1, Chetham Society, new series, 15 (1888).
Alan Dyer and D. M. Palliser (eds), The Diocesan Population Returns for 1563 and 1603 (Oxford, 2005).
Victoria County History online: