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28 The Billinge split... With Local Elections imminent, David Sudworth discovers the story behind Billinge’s split It’s possibly one of the most bizarre Parliamentary speeches ever committed to Hansard. But just before 9pm on July 6, 1972, MP Gordon Oakes stood up in the House of Commons and gave his reasoning as to why part of Billinge was soon to join Rainford and Haydock in the new county of Merseyside. “They are all Lancashire towns, based on heavy industry, glass making, formerly on coal mining. The people there speak with a clear and distinct Lancashire
29 accent. The people there, for example, watch Rugby League, not Liverpool or Everton. The people in those areas eat tripe and onions, not Scouse.” Oakes’ speech may have seemed, in the context of local government reorganisation, a bit bizarre. But in fact, he was arguing that although there was nothing wrong with those places joining together, he did have grave reservations about them becoming part of a greater Merseyside area. He explained: “They talk differently, work at different occupations. The problem is of urban renewal. That type of problem is totally different from the problems of Huyton, Kirkby, Halewood and Whiston, which are new, expanding towns, where they have basically “Totally different to the problems of Huyton” light industry and support Liverpool or Everton with equal vociferousness, while poor little Huyton can hardly get a team going at all. Sport is important in the constitution of an area, just as important as the problems of youth facilities, schools, social services, and things of that kind.” Within two years, the deed had been done. Part of Billinge, along with Rainford, Haydock, Crank, Moss Bank, Kings Moss and other areas, had become part of a new St Helens borough within the County of Merseyside. Despite it being 44 years since the changes, they still rankle, especially in Billinge where some feel the village was unnecessarily divided. Many of those blame Edward Heath’s Government, who were in power at the time. However, a dig into the archives reveals that in fact Billinge’s administrative divorce from Wigan predated the local government changes of 1974 by over 100 years. Billinge as a whole was part of the Deanery of Wigan up until February 2, 1837, when the Wigan Poor Law Union came into force. The law divided Billinge into two different townships; Chapel End and Higher End. By the end of that century, Billinge Urban District Council had been formed. In 1927, it joined Winstanley township to become Billinge & Winstanley Urban District Council. It’s important to stress though that, at this point, they were not ‘part’ of Wigan - Billinge & Winstanley UDC was an authority in its own right. Fast-forward to 1974 and townships up and down the country were allocated into different ‘new’ areas. Some of the original suggestions survived; some fell by the wayside (there was talk at one point of Ashton being part of St Helens). Billinge & Winstanley Council’s final meeting in 1974 However, scanning the newspaper coverage at the time, there’s very little in the way of any concerns about loss of civic identity. Indeed, local MP Michael McGuire said in a Parliamentary debate that he’d had no complaints about the situation from constituents.
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