There has been a settlement at Bolton since the Roman times; however the town did not come to prominence until the Industrial Revolution.

In 1251 the population of Bolton would have been around 500; by around 1650 it was approximately 2500, by 1801 it had risen to 29,826, in 1851 it was 86,600 and in 1881 it was 122,248. In 2013 the town of Bolton had a population of 139,403, whilst the wider metropolitan borough has a population of 262,400.

It was in 1251 that Bolton was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market in the area around Churchgate and the market remained there until the 18th century.

There is some evidence to suggest that wool manufacturing had been brought to the town by Flemish Weavers around 1335 and by the 17th century they had started to weave fustian, a rough cloth made of linen and cotton.There is a will by Adam Pendlebury of Westhoughton who died in 1608 which refers to cotton and that is a very early written reference to cotton in England.

The digging of coal was recorded in 1374.

Bolton Grammar School was founded in 1516.

The Civil War between King and Parliament was a time of great significance in the history of Bolton. The people of the town supported Parliament but most of Lancashire supported the King so an earthwork defence system was built and a possible Royalist attack awaited. The first attack came in 1643 but the Royalists were beaten off. After another unsuccessful attempt in March 1644 the royalists finally succeeded in capturing Bolton in the May of that year having killed around 1500 people in the process. The incident came to be described as "The Bolton Massacre". This later resulted in the trial and conviction of James, 7th Earl of Derby, who was beheaded in Bolton on 15th October 1651. It is claimed that he spent his last night in the Man and Scythe, a public house which still stands in Churchgate.

In 1745 following Bonnie Prince Charlie's failed attempt to gain the crown his retreating troops camped in Westhoughton on their way home.

The Industrial Revolution transformed Bolton in the 18th and 19th centuries. Richard Arkwright, [who once had a barbers shop on Churchgate], with his Water Frame patented in 1769, and local man Samuel Crompton with his Spinning Mule, invented in 1779, transformed the cotton spinning and weaving industry. Unfortunately Crompton was not able to patent his machine and died nearly penniless as a result. The early mills were situated by streams and rivers for the water power and there were many favourable sites in the Bolton area. When steam power took over it led to the construction of the familiar large multi-storey mills with associated large chimneys, some of which are still standing in Bolton today. The transition from cottage industry to the factory system was not always easy. On the 24th April 1812 a group of Luddites set fire to and destroyed Westhoughton Mill which at the time was one of the most modern factories in the country containing as it did 170 steam powered weaving looms. Three men and a 16 year old youth were hanged and nine men transported to Australia following their conviction for this act of destruction. By 1911 the textile industry in Bolton employed over 36,000 workers however the cotton industry began its terminal declined in the 1920's. The last cotton mill to be built in Bolton was the electric powered Sir John Holden's Mill on Blackburn Road which was built in 1927. The textile industry in Bolton had virtually disappeared by the end of the 20th century.

Bleaching, using chlorine, was introduced at the Halliwell Bleach Works by the Ainsworth Family in the 1790's and at one time Bolton had over 30 bleach works which had taken over the work of the self-employed bleaching crofters who had worked using the power of the sun.

Growth of the local steam powered textile industry was aided by the coal mines in and around Bolton and at various times there has been coal mining in Bradshaw, Breightmet, Darcy Lever, Deane, Doffcocker, Farnworth, Great Lever, Harwood, Little Lever, Tonge and Westhoughton. Deep coal mining ended locally in the late 20th century. The most serious coal mining disaster in the area was at the Pretoria Pit, Westhoughton on 21st December 1910 when 344 men and boys were killed in an explosion.

The other trades that flourished in Bolton in the 19th century were engineering and papermaking.

The construction of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal was completed in 1791 and connected Bolton to Manchester and the River Irwell from where it was possible to travel onto the whole of the English canal system.

The first railway company in Lancashire, The Bolton and Leigh Railway Company, was opened to goods traffic in 1828 and Great Moor Street Railway Station was opened to passengers in 1831. The railway connected Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh and thus on to the Port of Liverpool which aided the import of raw cotton from America. A railway connecting Bolton to Salford was opened in 1838 and the line was extended north to Preston in 1843 and into Manchester in 1844. Various local companies built locomotives for the railways. In 1830 "Union" was built by Rothwell Hick and Company whilst Crook and Dean built "Salamander" and "Veteran". In February 1887 Horwich Locomotive Engineering Works were opened by The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company and by 1899 they had manufactured 677 steam locomotives. The last steam locomotive to be built in the works left in May 1964, but rolling stock was repaired on the site until 1983 when the factory was closed.

For a more detailed history of Bolton and the local area see:

British History Online Click here Deane townships are on page 1, Bolton townships are on page 2

Salford Hundred Click here

Pretoria Pit Disaster Click here

Westhoughton Luddites Click here

Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal Click here

Bolton to Leigh Railway Click here

War time memories Click here

Bolton Wanderers Click here and Click here