Linguist’s ode to hometown

Billinge author Richard D. Lewis with his book The Road From Wigan Pier. His new work Robert Lewis and his son Jake will be launched at the book cycles in Beech Hill and Orrell
Billinge author Richard D. Lewis with his book The Road From Wigan Pier. His new work Robert Lewis and his son Jake will be launched at the book cycles in Beech Hill and Orrell

a world-renowned linguist will return to his hometown to launch his latest book chronicling the extraordinary lives of his ancestors.

Billinge-born writer Richard D. Lewis, whose work has included being a personal tutor to a Japanese empress and writing When Cultures Collide, an important book on cross-cultural studies, will launch Robert Lewis and his son Jake with events at the Beech Hill and Orrell book cycles.

The work tells the story of Mr Lewis’s great-grandfather, who was a notable campaigner for Welsh miners’ rights in the 1800s, and his grandfather, who worked in the pits for an astounding 65 years.

Mr Lewis, who has previously written about his home borough in The Billingers and The Road From Wigan Pier, tells the dramatic story of how Robert was forced out of his native Wales after publicly criticising numerous powerful business leaders and politicians and settled with his family in Wigan.

Mr Lewis, who now lives in Hampshire, said: “My great-grandfather became a miners’ leaders at a very young age. He was pushed out of Wales by the establishment and came to Wigan to work in Ince.

“He was one of the founders of the Miners’ Association, which can be regarded as the world’s first trade union.

“He had three sons and one of them, Jake, broke all records for producing tubs down the mines. He worked from the age of nine until he retired at 74 spending 65 years underground, which I don’t think many of us could handle now.”

Mr Lewis began writing the book based on the personal reminiscences of his grandfather, who told him stories about the mines when he was young.

He also travelled to Mold in North Wales to visit archives and read newspaper accounts of Robert’s most significant speeches and famous events such as the Mold Riot.

He says the initial idea to pen the book came when he was visited by representatives from the Labour Party who wanted to know more about Robert’s political activity, but also wanted to pay tribute to the miners whose toil made Wigan the coal capital of the world and powered the might of the British Empire.

He said: “My grandfather told me quite a bit about Robert. He said he could be very gentle with his family but was a real firebrand when he spoke in public.

“It was an epoch-making time when Wigan was the centre of the world for coal with more than 100 mines in the district. The miners were a huge part of that but they never really shared in the profits and I think they deserve a lot of credit.

“Robert was one of those who started the battle for workers’ rights which eventually came more than 50 years later, and as I’m his relation I felt it incumbent upon me to write the story.”

Mr Lewis was invited to launch Robert Lewis and his son Jake at the Wigan book cycles by Joe Taylor, the secretary of the local branch of the Environment and Heritage Network, after they had previously worked together on a DVD about the Wigan dialect.

Mr Taylor said: “I think it’s a wonderful book, both historically and the emotional content of it. I’ve known Richard for a while as I’m from the same village and he’s also very supportive of our group.”

Richard D. Lewis will launch Robert Lewis and his son Jake on Tuesday July 22 at Beech Hill Book Cycle at 3pm and Orrell Book Cycle at 7pm.