Wigan and Leigh Archives Online

1900-1901, Thomas Fyans, Mayor Wigan County Borough

Thomas Fyans JP – Mayor of Wigan 1900-1901

First Roman Catholic Mayor of Wigan since the Reformation

Controversy over Mayor’s State Visit to Church

By Peter Walker

Thomas Fyans was born in the city of Gloucester in around 1847, son of Richard and Jane Fyans, a Tallow Chandler. By 1861 the family had moved to Manchester and shortly after that Thomas joined the army where he served for fourteen years, mostly overseas. In 1876 he married Mary Cecilia Heardman, a native of Liverpool, at Lucknow in Bengal province of India.

Writing at Dinapore, India, in 1879, Lieutenant Adjutant R. D. Buckley, of the Gloucester Regiment, stated “I have known Sergeant Instructor of Musketry Fyans for ten years as a steady, honest, sober and thoroughly trustworthy non-commissioned officer. He had raised the shooting of the 65th Regiment to a very, very high figure of merit, until it nearly heads the list in India. He is well educated, and holds the appointment of canteen writer. Refusing a first-rate staff appointment, he retires into civilian life with the best wishes of all the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 65th Regiment and I sincerely wish him every prosperity”


Returning home to Manchester he took a job as district inspector of Insurance Agents before moving to Wigan in 1882 were he took the position of Superintendent of the Royal London Friendly Society, a post he would hold until his death in 1912.

He took an active interest in public affairs and in 1894 he was elected as a Liberal Councillor for Swinley Ward and in 1897 as representative for St Andrew’s Ward. He was vice-chairman of the Electric Light and Tramways Committee and soon proved his value in public service in the Council chamber.

In 1900 he was appointed a magistrate along with Mr G Rushton provision merchant. A fellow J. P., Mr J M Lister, speaking after Thomas’ death in 1912, said that “he had a very large heart and had always given a helping hand in every good object. He was a very liberal minded man”

In 1906 the Lichfield Mercury reported that Wigan Magistrate Thomas Fyans had undertaken to give a boy a flogging every day for a week, the boys had been sentenced to the cells for theft.


In November 1900 the Liberal members of the Town Council offered the office of Mayor to their leader, Mr. James Wilson, for the coming year but when he declined for professional reasons Thomas Fyans was offered the Mayoral Office for 1900/01.

This appointment was not without its critics because Councillor Fyans was a devout Roman Catholic, a member of St Mary’s Church in Standishgate and the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of Mayor since the Reformation. The usual custom was for the newly elected Mayor to attend divine service at Wigan Parish Church on the Sunday following his appointment. This was a state occasion with the Mayor and Corporation walking in procession from the Town Hall to take their seats in the specially designated Mayor’s Gallery.

The protestant members of the Council were “vehemently opposed” to the new Mayor’s statement that he intended to make a state visit to his own church of St Mary. He suggested that his deputy would attend the service at All Saints Wigan Parish Church.

This did not suit the Conservative members of the Council who passed a resolution stating that “they cannot see their way to accompany the Deputy Mayor to church in state on November 11”. On the Sunday morning the Conservatives, with one exception, attended the Parish Church and occupied the Mayor’s gallery. The exception being Alderman Millington, also a Roman Catholic who, with the non-conformist Liberal members, the Police, Wigan Volunteers and many of Councillor Fyan’s friends and family, accompanied him in the state procession to St Mary’s Church.

On New Year’s Day 1901, a date that the Lancashire Evening Post regarded as the start of the 20th Century, the paper carried a number of messages from prominent north countrymen including the Mayor of Wigan, Councillor Thomas Fyans. His message was for “More sobriety, greater respect for the marriage vows, obedience to parents and superiors, less human reasoning, more conscience, slower and honester [sic] money making, abolition of sweating”

In April 1901 the Mayor opened the new Electricity works in Wigan and was presented with a silver key to the doors.

He was known for his liberal minded attitude, and enjoyed a large measure of public confidence and popularity. He had a strong sense of duty, always being indefatigable in Council especially were measures affecting the welfare of the community were concerned. Guided by a conscientious regard for the ratepayers and advancement of the town.

In later elections he failed to win a seat and eventually moved to Southport although he retained his interest in Wigan politics and continued to work for the Royal London Friendly Society. In 1907 he was presented with an illuminated address and some silver in recognition of twenty five years’ service.

Following an operation in 1910 he never completely recovered his previous good health and passed away in February 1912 aged 64 years, leaving his widow, two sons and a daughter, another daughter having died in infancy. He was interred at Wrightington following a funeral service at St Mary’s Church. His widow died in 1930.


  • WE 8 Feb 1912 – Local Cuttings Book 11 p113/114
  • Lichfield Mercury 16 March 1906_BL_0000379_19060316_041 (British Library on Findymypast.co.uk)
  • Lancashire Evening Post 01 November 1900_BL_0000711_19001101_118 (British Library at Findymypast.co.uk)
  • Lancashire Evening Post 12 November 1900_BL_0000711_19001112_107 (British Library at Findymypast.co.uk)
  • Lancashire Evening Post 01 January 1901_BL_0000711_19010101_053 107 (British Library at Findymypast.co.uk)
  • Wigan Observer 15 Sept 1900 P5h