Wigan and Leigh Archives Online

1896-1897, 1897-1898, Robert Richards, Mayor of Wigan


Mayor of Wigan Nov 1896 – Nov 1897 & 1897-1898


Robert was born in Wallgate, Wigan, on 18th December 1831, the son of a Miller, William Richards and his wife Ann. He was baptised Robert William Richards five days later at All Saints church. Sadly, when Robert was just seven years old, his mother Ann (aged 35) died of cancer, her funeral was conducted at All Saints church, 30th. July 1839.


His father William was to re-marry however this was at Upholland, on 20th October 1839, (less than three months from the date of his first wife Ann’s death) His new wife was Elizabeth Rawlinson. Robert was educated at St. Catherine’s School following which, for a while he worked in a warehouse. The family were living in Scholes at the time of the 1851 census, but by now Robert was 19 and working as a joiner’s apprentice, indentured to builder Mr. Thomas Ellis, and on 3rd May 1852, at the age of 20, he married Frances Houlton at St. Adian’s Church, Billinge.


He continued to work in the joinery / carpentry trade, and In April 1861, at the age of 30, he was based in Hill’s Yard, Wigan. His wife Frances and he now had four children, Ann, William, Ellen and Frances.


Robert had by this time become connected with the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows and held various offices in the Brotherhood, both within his own lodge and within the district, he was elected Grandmaster of the District in 1864 and later went on to serve as trustee and treasurer for many years.


Robert also became involved with the Wigan and District Licensed Victualler’s Association when it was formed in 1869. He resided at, and was by this time licensee of the Harp Inn, 133 & 135 Scholes, this had previously been the home of his maternal grandfather The family continued to grow in numbers, with the birth of a further three sons, Robert, Thomas and John Henry.


Robert was elected as the representative of the then Scholes Ward In the bye-election of 1882 and thus began his long association with the Town Council.

He was re-elected in 1885 and on 27th November 1890 was raised to the Aldermanic Bench. He served for many years as chairman of the Corporation Water Committee and was credited with a major contribution to the development of and major improvements to Wigan’s water supply.


The Harp Inn continued to be both home and business for Robert and in 1892 he joined forces with a number of other local men to establish the Palatine Mineral Water and Bottling Company Ltd. The aim of the company was to provide high quality waters at the lowest possible price.


It was on the 2nd July 1895, that Frances, Robert’s wife of 43 years, died at their home the Harp Inn, having suffered a painful illness for some 17 months.


Robert continued to serve on the Council and in November of 1896 he was elected as Mayor of Wigan, and thus became the first licensed victualler ever to fulfil the mayoral role for the County Borough of Wigan. The significance of such an event being sufficient cause for the report of his election to the role to emphasise that he was however, “in matters religious, a Churchman, and in politics a Conservative”.


Three days after his election he was presented with a valuable gold jewel by the local members of Manchester Unity of Oddfellows as a mark of their esteem.

During February of 1897, he received a presentation from the Wigan and District Licensed Victuallers Association this being in the form of a framed address and an elegant malacca walking stick. This was of course the year of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee and on 23rd June 1897 he attended Buckingham Palace and was formally presented to her. Six days after meeting Queen Victoria he was presented to and dined with, the Duke of York. Later, in September of that year, (via a communication from the Home Secretary) he became the recipient of a Queen Victoria Silver Jubilee Medal. In November of 1897 Robert had the honour of being re-elected to serve consecutively for a second year as Mayor of Wigan.


The significance of Robert’s position did not go unnoticed outside the Borough, particularly in Nonconformist churches in Liverpool where protests were being voiced in response to the similar situation of a “brewer and publican” being proposed to fulfil the post of next Lord Mayor of Liverpool.


During a sermon given in Preston on Sunday 31st. October 1897, The Rev. C.F. Alked suggested that the churches of Liverpool should boycott their proposed Lord Mayor saying that “charitable and philanthropic agencies of that city would never disgrace themselves by allowing a liquor seller to preside over their meetings”.

Rev. Alked continued his sermon, referring to a quote by Sir Randolph Churchill which had called the liquor business a devilish and destructive trade, and he continued by saying that decent people could not help but be ashamed that a man engaged in a devilish and destructive trade had been engineered into the mayoral chair, as a consequence of which Liverpool would become contemptible in the eyes of the great cities of England. He proceeded by saying;


“The second city of the empire had fallen to the level of Wigan, and like that drink cursed town had found its chief magistrate in a publican”.


Wigan’s choice of Mayor obviously did not meet everyone’s criteria.


In March 1898 Robert during his second term of office, had the honour of being presented to the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII) this was during the Prince’s visit to stay at Garswood Hall the home of the Prince’s friend Lord Gerard.


After vacating the mayoral chair; Robert remained chairman of the Water Committee, he continued his business involvement as Managing Director of the Palatine Mineral Water Company and remained resident at the Harp Inn, Scholes, until 1901, when he moved home to live at 118 Swinley Road.


At a ceremony which took place on Monday 9th November 1908, Robert was awarded Freedom of the Borough of Wigan and was presented with a casket which contained the official scroll. His involvement in Council affairs continued and on Saturday 20th January 1912 a banquet was held to honour the “father of the Borough Council” at which he was presented with a silver plate inscribed in recognition of his recent 80th birthday and his 30 years membership of the Council.



In July 1912, Robert attended a Council meeting, at which comment was made regarding his state of health; alas it was to be the last meeting he would attend for in the early morning of Thursday 8th. August 1912 Robert passed away at his home in Swinley Road.

His funeral service was held on 12th. August at Wigan Parish Church, this followed by his burial at Wigan Cemetery.




Ancestry – Baptisms All Saints, Wigan 1831

Ancestry – Wigan, England. Church of England Burials,1839

Ancestry – Wigan, England. Church of England Marriages & Banns,1839

Ancestry – 1841 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1851 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – Marriages St. Adian, Billinge 1852

Ancestry – 1861 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1871 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1881 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1891 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1901 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Ancestry – 1911 Census – Wigan, Lancashire

Wigan Observer 6th. July 1895 page 5 f.

Wigan Observer 11th. November 1896 page 8 a,b,c,d.

Wigan Observer 14th. November 1896 page 8 b.

Wigan Observer 16th. December 1896 page 8 a.

Wigan Observer 10th. February 1897 page 8 c, d.

Wigan Observer 15th. September 1897 page 5 f.

Wigan Observer 29th. October 1897 page 5 f.

Wigan Observer 29th. September 1908 page 3 f.

Wigan Observer 10th. October 1908 page 8 b.

Wigan Observer 10th. November 1908 page 2 h. & page 3 a.

Wigan Observer 14th. November 1908 page 9 d.

Wigan Observer 20th. January 1912 page 5 c, d, e, f.

Wigan Observer 10th. August 1912 page 7 f, g.

Wigan Observer 13th. August 1912 page 2 g.

Wigan Observer 7th. September 1912 page 7 g.

Wigan Examiner 3rd. February 1906 (supplement) page 1 a b.

Local Cuttings - book 1 page 66.


Vic Rawlinson