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High Court will ruling brings brass bands to Wigan park

Military bands will play in a Wigan park again after a legal ruling freed up funding bequeathed by a WWII pilot.

William Higham left £2m to Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT) in a homemade will in 2008 on condition it brought brass back to Mesnes Park.

However, vague wording meant the will had to be clarified in the High Court.

Judge Mr Justice Mann, who said homemade wills were "a bad idea", ruled that the money was to be used to bring bands to play in the park's bandstand.

Mr Higham flew Sunderland and Lancaster bombers in WWII before taking on his parents' successful floristry business in Wigan.

He retired to Cornwall and died childless at the age of 91 in 2008, leaving behind a £7m fortune, which included several paintings by childhood friend and celebrated artist James Lawrence Isherwood.

He had made a will himself, splitting his assets between his family and WLCT, which would receive his donation on condition that it be used to ensure that military bands play in Mesnes Park as they had in his childhood.

However, the wording in Mr Higham's will was vague, leading to negotiations between Mr Higham's family, who had no objection to the former florist's wishes, and the WLCT.

After the talks broke down, lawyers for both sides put a set of rules on how the donation would be spent before the High Court.

In ruling, Mr Justice Mann recognised the validity of Mr Higham's gift, but criticised the multi-millionaire's decision to write his will himself.

"The will was homemade, without the assistance of solicitors; the result demonstrates what a bad idea it is for a layman to do that, and has led to the expenditure of considerable costs," he said.

Image caption The bandstand at Mesnes Park has undergone renovation and will host the bands

Following the decision, Mr Higham's nephew, John Higham, said that his uncle would have been pleased with the result.

"Billy and his five brothers, all of whom served in the war and all of whom came back, grew up in a house next to the park, and it was a big thing back then to go and hear the bands on Sundays," he said.

"He bemoaned the fact that bands had been stopped by the council due to the expense, and he always said 'I'm going to put the bands back in Wigan'.

"I'm very pleased that we have agreed terms that will see big bands from around the country come to the park, as well as giving opportunities to local bands to play there.

"I hope we can arrange for a Lancaster bomber to come flying over, in memory of Billy."

WLCT's Stuart Murray said the money could not have come at a better time as the renovation work on the park's bandstand was nearing completion.

"The work is substantially finished now, so come next Spring, it will be finished and Mesnes Park will look like it used to look in its heyday," he said.

"From next year, we intend to put on some big events featuring military bands, something that we haven't seen for years actually."

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