The land of the ‘pie-eaters’: Why is Wigan obsessed with pies?
The first seven days of March is British Pie Week; a period where this glorious pastry-and-filling is given its deserved recognition right around the country. But there’s one town in Greater Manchester where every week is Pie Week: Wigan.
The beginning of March marks British Pie Week; a time of year where the glorious pastry-and-filling dish enjoys renewed recognition right around the country. But there’s one town in Greater Manchester where every week is Pie Week. Wigan is known as the land of the ‘pie-eaters’ – although there’s more history behind that nickname than you might think...
On a balmy summer evening back in 2002, I was caught up in a current of Wigan rugby supporters, all gently floating in a sea of Cherry and White t-shirtstowards the JJB Stadium turnstiles.
St Helens were in town for rugby league’s flagship fixture, and the game was a near-sellout.
Wigan vs Saints invariably pulls in a massive crowd; with the two teams old enemies since time immemorial. The clubs are separated by just 9 miles and a grassy hill called the ‘Billinge Lump’; representing rival regions since the county borders were moved in 1974 (it’s now Greater Manchester v Merseyside, rather than a Lancashire derby).
The game was one of my first visits to the rugby as a young ‘un, and whilst my memories of the match itself are fuzzy, what has stuck with me ever since is the sight of Saints fans suddenly breaking out into a strange song.
I didn’t quite understand the lyrics, so I tugged on my grandad’s coat sleeve and asked him: “Why do they keep shouting ‘pie-eaters!’ at Wigan?”
The St Helenian answer to that question – and one that’s often told in nearby towns – goes something like this…
In 1926, more than one million coal miners were at loggerheads with pit owners over wages and working conditions. So, in a show of solidarity, many British workers went on strike. The protests lasted for several days, but Wigan workers were apparently among the first to return to their shifts – and in doing so were said to be ‘eating humble pie’.
They’ve been teased about it ever since. But according to Wiganers, that’s a little unfair.
Some point out that whilst Wigan workers were the first to stop striking, they were also the first to start. Others claim that townsfolk had the pie moniker long before the unrest of 1926.
But perhaps the true origins of the nickname don’t matter. Because labelling Wiganers as ‘pie-eaters’ works on an elemental level, anyway.
Idioms aside, Wigan is a place that is inescapably besotted with pies.
The town’s penchant for pastry is everywhere. I noticed it from the moment I first set foot in Wigan’s sport stadium as a kid – from the pie posters slapped across the walls of the concourse to the pastry offer announcements crackling across the PA system. An advert for ‘POOLE’S PIES!’ (a company which produced pies in Wigan for 171 years) even danced its way across the scoreboard during the game.
Poole’s has sadly folded since then. But there’s still a minimum of 20 listed pie shops operating in the Wigan region today (with dozens of local cafes and food stores serving up pies as part of their wider menus).
Since 1992, Wigan has also been the prideful host of the World Pie-Eating Championships – where contestants aim to wolf down as many of these crumbly concoctions as quickly as possible (historically held at Harry’s Bar on Wallgate).
See, in Wigan, it’s socially acceptable to tackle any type of pie, at any time of day, in almost any way.
Residents even put pies between two slices of bread for a snack; which is known as a ‘Wigan Slappy’ or ‘Wigan Kebab’ (a local delicacy with the latter name features three pies impaled on a stick).
It’s true that many Wiganers are happy to embrace their passion for pies with good humour, but some evidence suggests that pies here are no laughing matter.
Wigan journalist David Barnett – who has written multiple pieces on the topic – concludes that pies are in fact a “way of life” for denizens. During his time working at the Wigan Evening Post, a fire ripped through the town’s pie factory, and Barnett was sent to cover the story. Despite the disaster, shutting down pie production was seemingly out of the question. Instead, the company drafted in “emergency pie-makers” to work through the night and get pie deliveries out on time. The article made the front page.
Wigan’s appetite for pies has been rumbling for decades – and remains insatiable to this day.
One of the most recent examples of this fixation can be found in 2019 – when Wigan Athletic needed a new mascot for their football team. Club officials turned to local school children for inspiration – and over half of entries featured a pie in the design.
Wigan’s love affair with pies is well-entrenched and utterly unapologetic.
When one study dared to rank nine regions above Wigan on a list of the UK’s top pie-loving places, World Pie-Eating Championships organiser Tony Callaghan was aghast.
“I’m stunned. This can’t be right,” he told Wigan Today.
“The table is very misleading. Everyone knows that Wigan is the capital of the pie world and home to the World Pie-Eating Championships. It goes down in history as such.
“Even now the pie shops are open and they’ve been trading throughout the pandemic. Wiganers can’t get enough of them.”
Wigan has revelled in many other achievements outside the oven, of course.
It’s home to one of the most successful rugby league teams of all time in Wigan Warriors. It also has a plucky little football club that has repeatedly defied the odds to make sporting headlines (including a famous FA Cup triumph over Man City in 2013). The town’s name features in the title of classic Orwellian work The Road to Wigan Pier. And Wigan is also the birthplace of legendary singer-songwriter George Formby.
But every time British Pie Week rolls around, all eyes are always on the Greater Manchester town for its inextricable link with the golden brown grub.
Wiganers, meanwhile, will be scoffing down pie barms as if it were any ordinary time of year.
That’s what they do there. It’s a town with pie-sonality…
Yara, the family-run Syrian and Lebanese restaurant serving Manchester for fifteen years
Take a trip down to the Stockport village of Cheadle and you’ll find a surprising glut of great Middle Eastern eateries nestled on the Cheshire border.
Amongst them sits Yara, a family-run Syrian and Lebanese restaurant that’s been serving Manchester for fifteen years.
First opened in Altrincham in 2008, today it has five sites across Greater Manchester – all serving up traditional Middle Eastern favourites like succulent kebabs, crispy donut-shaped falafels, and fluffy pittas with flavourful homemade dips.
With further restaurants in Whitefield, Chorlton, Cheadle and Alderley Edge, it’s clear that people just can’t get enough – so we made the trip down to see what all the fuss is about.
Suffice it to say, after tasting their sharp and citrussy babaganoush, stuffed vine leaves, and tabbouleh – a super fresh herb and bulgur salad dominated by parsley – we fell head over heels just like the rest.
Yara is a haven for those on the hunt for some finger-licking Middle Eastern goodness, with vegetarian starters like charcoal-grilled halloumi and creamy pots of homemade hummus pooled with rich olive oil sitting alongside crunchy pastry treats.
These include chicken or cheese and spinach bourak (often referred to as Assyrian or Middle Eastern egg rolls), lahembajeen – filo pastry topped with minced lamb, pomegranate sauce, pine kernels and onions – and mossahab, a chicken-stuffed puff pastry with added onion and herbs.
As for the main attraction: the meaty charcoal grill. This, more than anything else, is what we really came down for. At Yara, tender cuts of lamb and chicken come rich with Mediterranean spices and herbs, whilst lamb kebabs come in the shish, shawarma and kafta varieties.
Oh, and to save on your next Deliveroo order from Yara make sure to use our code 5OFFATYARA when you check out.
Feature image – The Manc Eats
Where to find a great pint of Guinness in Manchester city centre
When it comes to finding good pints of Guinness, it’s fair to say that not all Manchester boozers are created equal.
Some pints are thin and watery, some have a very bitter taste, and some are missing that all-important signature creamy head. All things you want to avoid. In fact, if you go into a pub and see any of this our advice is to run.
Any bartender worth their salt will tell you that there’s a certifiable art to pouring out a proper pint of the black stuff, starting with a two-part pour – a practice considered sacrosanct for literally hundreds of years.
Your pint should be properly poured with 3/4 of it filled with old stout, rested, then topped up with new, and when the glass is emptied a white, creamy residue should remain.
These, as we know them, are the basics but serious Guinness drinkers can likely reel off a whole list of other criteria that we haven’t even touched on. For now, though, that’ll do.
Keep reading to find the best places to drink Guinness in Manchester.
Mulligans of Deansgate
Widely renowned for having the best pint of Guinness in Manchester hands down, if it’s authenticity you’re looking for then Mulligan’s is a must.
An authentic Irish bar with live music and plenty of cosy snugs to tuck yourself away in, it’s typically packed to the rafters and bartenders pride themselves on never, ever leaving a bubble in your pint.
The Bay Horse Tavern
This Northern Quarter boozer on Thomas Street is another favourite for those looking for a great pint of Guinness.
This St Patrick’s Day, lovers of the black stuff can get a pint for just £4 between 4-7pm. as well as £5 double Jameson and gnger and £2.50 Jameson all day long.
The Peveril of the Peak
A historic city centre boozer, The Peveril of the Peak is not just one of Manchester’s most beautiful but also one of its most unique public houses.
Run by one of Britain’s oldest and longest-serving landlords, come for its bold green tile-clad exterior and stained glass windows and stay for a creamy pint of Guinness.
Another great Northern Quarter boozer, this time on Oldham Street, The Castle Hotel is another spot you can completely rely on for quality Guinness. Its pours have even been accredited.
The real ale pub boasts several cosy snugs, a small beer garden out back and a gig room where you can watch local bands whilst sipping on proper pints.
The Crown & Kettle
This gorgeous Grade II-listed freehouse sits the border of Ancoats and Northern Quarter and dates all the way back to 1774.
Reopened in 2005 in cooperation with English Heritage, it has an incredibly fine and unusual ceiling and one of the best pints of Guinness in the neighbourhood.
Whilst we’re talking about Ancoats, Edinburgh Castle also deserves an honourable mention for its Guinness pour.
This lovingly refurbished Victorian boozer not only boasts Manchester’s most elite chip butty and a stunning upstairs restaurant, but is also widely considered one of the best places for a pint of Guinness in town.
O’Shea’s Irish Bar
Obviously, we have to talk about O’Shea’s. This Irish bar is widely considered a go-to fo a good pint of Guinness, with some even reporting they prefer their pints to Mulligans.
During Covid, the bar made a splash in Manchester by opening a giant outdoor Guinness garden. This year on St Patrick’s Day, it is opening from 10am for breakfast pints.
Another historic boozer reborn after two years of sitting boarded up on the busy Manchester stretch from which it takes its name.
The Deansgate is now under the ownership of Greene King and serves a cracking pint of Guinness from its ground-floor and first-floor bars alongside a menu of hearty pub grub.