BOLTON (Bolton-le-Moors), a municipal, county and parliamentary borough of Lancashire, England, 196 m. N.W. by N. from London and 11 m. N.W. from Manchester. Pop. (1891) 146,487; (1901) 168,215. Area, 15,279 acres. It has stations on the London & North-Western and the Lancashire & Yorkshire railways, with running powers for the Midland railway. It is divided by the Croal, a small tributary of the Irwell, into Great and Little Bolton, and as the full name implies, is surrounded by high moorland. Although of early origin, its appearance, like that of other great manufacturing towns of the vicinity, is wholly modern. It owes not a little to the attractions of its site. The only remnants of antiquity are two houses of the 16th century in Little Bolton, of which one is a specially good example of Tudor work. The site of the church of St Peter has long been occupied by a parish church (there was one in the 12th century, if not earlier), but the existing building dates only from 1870. There may also be mentioned a large number of other places of worship, a town hall with fine classical façade and tower, market hall, museums of natural history and of art and industry, an exchange, assembly rooms, and various benevolent institutions. Several free libraries are maintained. Lever’s grammar school, founded in 1641, had Robert Ainsworth, the Latin lexicographer, and John Lemprière, author of the classical dictionary, among its masters. There are municipal technical schools. A large public park, opened in 1866, was laid out as a relief work for unemployed operatives during the cotton famine of the earlier part of the decade. On the moors to the north-west, and including Rivington Pike (1192 ft.), is another public park, and there are various smaller pleasure grounds. A large number of cotton mills furnish the chief source of industry; printing, dyeing and bleaching of cotton and calico, spinning and weaving machine making, iron and steel works, and collieries in the neighbourhood, are also important. The speciality, however, is fine spinning, a process assisted by the damp climate. The parliamentary borough, created in 1832 and returning two members, falls within the Westhoughton division of the county. Before 1838, when Bolton was incorporated, the town was governed by a borough-reeve and two constables appointed at the annual court-leet. The county borough was created in 1888. The corporation consists of a mayor, 24 aldermen and 72 councillors.
The earliest form of the name is Bodleton or Botheltun, and the most important of the later forms are Bodeltown, Botheltun-le-Moors, Bowelton, Boltune, Bolton-super-Moras, Bolton-in-ye-Moors, Bolton-le-Moors. The manor was granted by William I. to Roger de Poictou, and passed through the families of Ferrers and Pilkington to the Harringtons of Hornby Castle, who lost it with their other estates for their adherence to Richard III. In 1485 Henry VII. granted it to the first earl of Derby. The manor is now held by different lords, but the earls of Derby still have a fourth part. The manor of Little Bolton seems to have been, at least from Henry III.’s reign, distinct from that of Great Bolton, and was held till the 17th century by the Botheltons or Boltons.
From early days Bolton was famous for its woollen manufactures. In Richard I.’s reign an aulneger, whose duty it was to measure and stamp all bundles of woollen goods, was appointed, and it is clear, therefore, that the place was already a centre of the woollen cloth trade. In 1337 the industry received an impulse from the settlement of a party of Flemish clothiers, and extended so greatly that when it was found necessary in 1566 to appoint by act of parliament deputies to assist the aulnegers, Bolton is named as one of the places where these deputies were to be employed. Leland in his Itinerary (1558) recorded the fact that Bolton made cottons, which were in reality woollen goods. Real cotton goods were not made in Lancashire till 1641, when Bolton is named as the chief seat of the manufacture of fustians, vermilions and dimities. After the revocation of the edict of Nantes the settlement of some French refugees further stimulated this industry. It was here that velvets were first made about 1756, by Jeremiah Clarke, and muslins and cotton quiltings in 1763. The cotton trade received an astonishing impetus from the inventions of Sir Richard Arkwright (1770), and Samuel Crompton (1780), both of whom were born in the parish. Soon after the introduction of machinery, spinning factories were erected, and the first built in Bolton is said to have been set up in 1780. The number rapidly increased, and in 1851 there were 66 cotton mills with 860,000 throstle spindles at work. The cognate industry of bleaching has been carried on since early in the 18th century, and large ironworks grew up in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1791 a canal was constructed from Manchester to Bolton, and by an act of parliament (1792) Bolton Moor was enclosed.
During the Civil War Bolton sided with the parliament, and in February 1643 and March 1644 the royalist forces assaulted the town, but were on both occasions repulsed. On the 28th of May 1644, however, it was attacked by Prince Rupert and Lord Derby, and stormed with great slaughter. On the 15th of October 1651 Lord Derby, who had been taken prisoner after the battle of Worcester, was brought here and executed the same day.
Up to the beginning of the 19th century the market day was Monday, but the customary Saturday market gradually superseded this old chartered market. In 1251 William de Ferrers obtained from the crown a charter for a weekly market and a yearly fair, but gradually this annual fair was replaced by four others chiefly for horses and cattle. The New Year and Whitsuntide Show fairs only arose during the 19th century.