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Atherton (pop. 20,300) is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wiganmarker, in Greater Manchestermarker, England, historically a part of Lancashiremarker. It is east of Wiganmarker, north-northeast of Leighmarker, and southwest of Boltonmarker. For about 300 years from the 1600s Atherton was referred to as Chowbent, which was frequently shortened to Bent, the town's old nickname.

Along with neighbouring Shakerleymarker, Atherton has been associated with coal mining and nail manufacture since the 14th century, encouraged by its outcrops of coal. At the beginning of the 20th century the town was described as "the centre of a district of collieries, cotton mills, and iron-works, which cover the surface of the country with their inartistic buildings and surroundings, and are linked together by the equally unlovely dwellings of the people". Atherton's last deep coal mine closed in 1966, and the last working cotton mills closed in 1999. Today the town is the third largest retail centre in the Borough of Wigan; almost 20% of those employed in the area work in the wholesale and retail trade, although there is still some significant manufacturing industry in the town.

Evidence has been discovered of a Roman road passing through the area, on the ancient route between Coccium (Wigan) and Mamuciummarker (Manchester). Following the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England, Atherton, which is built on and around seven brooks, became part of the manor of Warrington until the Norman conquest, when it became a township or vill in the ancient parish of Leigh. Since 1974 the town has been part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, a local government district of the Metropolitan County of Greater Manchestermarker.



Atherton has been recorded as Aderton in 1212 and 1242, and Atherton in 1259.There are differing opinions as to the derivation of the name. One is the farmstead or village of a man named Aethelhere, Old English personal name and the suffix tun, meaning an enclosure, farmstead or manor estate; another is adre, Saxon for little brook with the suffix tun. Either is possible as Atherton is bounded by brooks to the west and south, and crossed by several others. The western boundary is Hindsford Brook, originally named Goderic Brook after a Saxon saint.

The Chow – also recorded as Chew, Cholle, and Chowl – family were tenants of the Athertons living at the valley by Chanters Brook. This part of the township became known as Chow's Bent but the meaning of Bent has been lost, perhaps a bend or slope. It was first referred to in the 14th century as Chollebynt or Shollebent. Chowbent, or even Bent, was the name given to the built-up part of Atherton from the mid-1600s for at least 300 years. As the population grew, the resulting town was called Atherton, although the names Chowbent or Bent are still sometimes used by locals.

Early history

Evidence of a Roman road and Bronze Age settlement have been found in the Atherton area. The Roman road between Manchester and Wigan is shown quite prominently on the 1849 6” OS mapmarker crossing Miller's Lane at 90 degrees about half way down. The site of Gadbury Brickworks at the Gibfield Colliery site has also been excavated, and evidence of Roman and possibly earlier settlements found.


The manor of Atherton was held by the Atherton family from the de Botelers, whose chief manor was at Warringtonmarker. William and Nicholas Atherton fought at the Battle of Agincourtmarker in 1415.The manor house, Atherton Hall, was situated towards the south of the ancient township. Saxton's map shows that there was a medieval deer park here in the time of Elizabeth I.
This portion of Atherton was incorporated into Leighmarker in 1894. The Atherton family had a long association with the township until the death of Richard Atherton in 1726 when the estate passed to the Powys family by marriage. "Mad" Richard Atherton, the last direct male descendant of the Athertons, died in 1726 aged 26. He is remembered for two events; his expulsion of the congregation from the first Chowbent Chapel in 1721, and his rebuilding of Atherton Hall on a very grand scale, to designs by architect William Wakefield. Work started in 1723 and was not finished until 1743. The carriage drive from the hall led over Lion's Bridge down a straight avenue to the gates which faced Leigh Church, where the Atherton's had a chapel. Thomas Powys, son of Henrietta Maria Atherton and Thomas Powys, was ennobled by Pitt in 1797, taking the title of Baron Lilford. He died in 1800. Atherton Hall was demolished in 1824, when Lord Lilford found its upkeep too expensive. After Atherton was incorporated into the borough of Leigh in the 1890s, parts of the Hall's grounds became one of Leigh's public parks.

Two battles

The area was divided in its allegiance during the English Civil War, in 1642 men of Chowbent were on their way to Leigh Church when word came that James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby's troops were marching through Leigh probably on route for Manchester. The men of Chowbent armed themselves and drove the Earl's men back to Lowton Common, killing some, wounding others and taking prisoner about 200 men: "... we are all upon our guard, and the Naylors of Chowbent, instead of making Nayles, have busied themselves making Bills and Battle Axes." (Civil War tracts of Lancashire, Chetham Society Series, vol II).

James Wood was minister of the Old Bent Chapel. In 1715, during the Jacobite Uprising the supporters of the Old Pretender were marching on Preston. General Charles Wills sent a letter to Minister Wood of Chowbent asking him to raise a force to be at Cuerden Greenmarker on the following day, 12 November. Minister Wood led a force of Chowbent men who were given the job of guarding the bridge over the River Ribble at Walton and a ford at Penworthammarker, which they defended successfully. The Highlanders were routed and for his efforts Parson Wood was given £100 annuity by Parliament. James Wood was given the title "The General" by his Chowbent congregation.

Industrial history

Atherton, along with neighbouring Shakerleymarker, was long associated with coal mining and nail manufacture. Alexander Naylor was taxed on his goods in 1332, showing the industry was present for at least 600 years, encouraged by the proximity of outcrops of coal. Iron was brought from Derbyshire, Yorkshire and even Spain. A variety of nails were made, lath nails, slate nails, thatching nails and sparrowbills. The nail smithies also manufactured ploughs and scythes; their products were taken by pack horse to be sold in Manchester, Denbigh, Clitheroe, and Kendal. The nail industry in Atherton developed into the making of nuts and bolts. Thomas Blakemore was the first in 1843 by 1853 there were eight makers of nuts and bolts in the town including James Prestwick and Robert Parker. Some of the manufacturers of nuts and bolts also made spindles and flyers for spinning machinery. Collier Brook Bolt Works on Bag Lane dating from 1856 survives and is a Grade II listed building.

Coal had been mined for several hundred years previously in numerous shallow shafts and adits, but took on greater importance when in 1776 Robert Vernon Atherton leased the Atherton coal rights to Thomas Guest from Leigh and John Fletcher from Bolton. In 1845 the era of deep mining arrived in Atherton with the sinking of Fletcher's Lover's Lane pit at Howe Bridge, which closed in 1898. The Crombouke Day-Eye, a drift mine accessing the shallow Brassy and Crombouke Mines, opened in 1870 and closed in 1907. (A coal seam was referred to as a "mine" in this part of Lancashire.) By the early 1870s Howe Bridge Colliery, the biggest of the three Howe Bridge pits was sunk to the Black & White, or Seven Foot Mine. This pit lasted until 1959. Gibfield Colliery, situated alongside the Bolton and Leigh Railway, was working in 1829, coal was mined from the Trencherbone Mine. Forty years later a shaft was sunk to Arley Mine. The pit closed in 1963. In September 1913 the first pit head baths in the country were opened at Gibfield. Chanters Colliery was in Hindsford, where shafts were sunk to the Trencherbone Mine in 1854. In the late 1890s shafts were deepened to to reach the Arley Mine. Atherton had its share of mining disasters, on 11 February 1850 five men died in a gas explosion caused by a lighted candle at Gibfield Pit and on 28 March 1872 twenty-seven men died at Lovers Lane Colliery after a firedamp explosion caused by blown-out shot.More recently on 6 March 1957 eight men died at Chanters Colliery after an explosion of gas.However with the closure of Chanters in 1966, the era of deep coal mining in Atherton came to an end.In 1908, the Lancashire and Cheshire Coal Owners Association opened a Mines Rescue Station in Howe Bridge.

Ena Mill in 2000
The cotton mills grew out of a cottage spinning and weaving industry that was widespread across the district. As industrialisation gathered pace, local weavers felt threatened by the advent of powered looms, and in April 1812 a mob smashed the machines and burnt down a new factory in neighbouring Westhoughton. For this, the Luddites, three men and a boy of 14, were tried at Lancaster Assizes and hanged. Fustian was woven and after 1827 silk also was brought from Manchester. In 1938 James Burton owned cotton mills on both sides of the Hindsford Brook including Lodge Mill Hindsford. Dan Lane Spinning and Doubling Mills were built in the 1840s and work lasted until the 1950s. Howe Bridge Spinning Mills, the largest complex in Atherton was started in 1868 and the last mill built in 1919. It closed as a textile factory in early 1999. The mills built in the 20th century were Laburnum Mills, built in 1905 and closed in 1999, and the Ena Mill of 1908 which also closed in 1999. The Ena Mill is a Grade II listed building, now converted for other uses.


Atherton forms an electoral ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wiganmarker. The ward elects three councillors to the 75-member metropolitan borough council, Wigan's local authority. As of 2009, two ward councillors of Atherton are Independents and one is a member of the Labour Party.Historically, Atherton formed part of the hundred of West Derbymarker, a judicial division of southwest Lancashire. Atherton was one of the six townships or vills that made up the ancient parish of Leigh. The townships existed before the parish. The manor of Atherton was held by the Atherton family from the de Botelers, whose chief manor was at Warringtonmarker.

Under the terms of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 the townships formed part of the Leigh Poor Law Union which was established on 26 January 1837 comprising an area covering the whole of the ancient parish of Leigh and part of Winwick. There were workhouses in existence in Pennington, Culcheth, Tyldesley, Lowton and Hag Fold in Atherton but a central workhouse at Atherleigh replaced these in the 1850s. In 1863 the Local Government Act 1858 was adopted for the township of Atherton, meaning it was governed by a local board of health, a type of regulatory body responsible for standards of hygiene and sanitation in the township. In 1894 part of the township was added to Leigh Urban District; the remainder became Atherton Urban District. The urban district was abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, when the area became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, a local government district of the metropolitan county of Greater Manchestermarker.

Atherton's MP is Barbara Keeley who won the parliamentary seat for Worsleymarker at the 2005 General Election.Following a review of parliamentary representation in Greater Manchester, the Boundary Commissionrecommended that Atherton should be part of the Bolton West constituency at the next general election.


At (53.5231°, -2.4955°), and northwest of central London, Atherton is situated east of Wigan and west-northwest of the city of Manchester, at the eastern end of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan.

Atherton, which includes the neighbourhoods of Hindsford to the southeast, Howe Bridge in the southwest, and Hag Fold in the north, is generally low lying. The soil is clay overlying coal measures in much of the township. The southwest of the town is above sea level, rising to in the north. Atherton is built around seven brooks: the Shakerley Brook forms the western boundary with Tyldesley; Chanters Brook flowing through the area known as "The Valley"; Knight's Brook (Bag Lane); Colliers Brook; Small Brook, the boundary with Westleigh; Westhoughton Brook, the boundary with Daisy Hill; and Red Waters Brook.

Atherton's climate is generally temperate, like the rest of Greater Manchester. The mean highest and lowest temperatures ( and ) are slightly above the national average, while the annual rainfall ( ) and average hours of sunshine (1394.5 hours) are respectively above and below the national averages.

The town is situated on the old High Road, now the A579 from Bolton to Leigh. The A577 runs from the town to Tyldesley in one direction and to Wigan in the other.


Atherton Compared
2001 Census Atherton Wigan MBmarker GM Urban Areamarker England
Total population 20,302 301,415 2,240,230 49,138,831
White 98.5% 98.7% 90.3% 90.9%
Asian 0.5% 0.4% 6.2% 4.6%
Black 0.2% 0.2% 1.3% 2.3%
Source: Office for National Statistics
At the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics, the Urban Subdivision of Atherton was part of the Greater Manchester Urban Areamarker and had a total resident population of 20,302, of which 9,908 (48.8%) were male and 10,394 (51.2%) were female, living in 8,745 households. The settlement occupied , compared with in the 1991 census. Its population density was 47.32 people per hectare compared with an average of 40.20 across the Greater Manchester Urban Area. The median age of the population was 40, compared with 36 within the Greater Manchester Urban Area and 37 across England and Wales.

The majority of the population of Atherton were born in England (96.29%); 1.56% were born elsewhere within the United Kingdom, 0.89% within the rest of the European Union, and 1.26% elsewhere in the world.

Data on religious beliefs across the town in the 2001 census show that 86.6% declared themselves to be Christian, 7.2% said they held no religion, and 0.3% reported themselves as Hindu.

Population change

Population growth in Atherton from 1777–2001
Year 1777 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891
Population 2,200 3,249 3,894 4,145 4,181 4,475 4,659 5,907 7,531 12,602 15,833
Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1939 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 16,211 18,982 19,856 19,989 20,098 20,596 19,756 no data 22,032 21,696 20,302
Parish 1777–1861
 Township 1871–1891   Urban District 1901–1961   Urban Subdivision 1981–2001 


The northern part of Atherton is within the Boltonmarker Travel to Work Area, whilst the southern part is within the Manchestermarker TTWA. The entire town is within the Manchester Larger Urban Zone.

At the time of the 2001 Census, there were 8,755 people (43.1%) in employment who were resident within Atherton. Of these, 19.65% worked in the wholesale and retail trade, including repair of motor vehicles; 19.28% worked within manufacturing industry; and 10.27% worked within the health and social work sector. The Census recorded the economic activity of residents aged 16–74 as 36.7% in full-time employment, 11.0% in part-time employment, 6.8% self-employed, 4.0% unemployed, 1.7% students with jobs, 3.2% students without jobs, 14.6% retired, 6.5% looking after home or family, 11.8% permanently sick or disabled, and 3.8% economically inactive for other reasons. The 4.0% unemployment rate in Atherton was high compared with the national rate of 3.3%. According to the Office for National Statistics estimates, during the period between April 2001 and March 2002, the average gross income of households in Atherton was £380 per week (£19,760 per year), substantially less than the £470 per week (£24,440) for the rest of the North West. The average car ownership per household was 1.01, compared with 0.93 across the Greater Manchester Urban Area; 43.74% of households owned a single car or van, and 30.76% owned none.

Atherton, the third largest retail centre in the Wigan Borough, has a small pedestrian shopping centre. Most shops front onto Market Street and date from late Victorian times, the majority operated by small independent retailers, although there is a supermarket that brings customers into the town centre. Older, low cost, mostly terraced housing, surrounds the centre of town. Bolts and fastenings are still manufactured in Atherton by Smith Bullough, one of a few remaining bolt and nut manufacturers in the UK.As of 2009, a business park is planned for the former Gibfield Colliery site.


There are several historic buildings in and around Atherton, some, but not all, in the area referred to as Chowbent. They include the 17th-century Alder House, Chowbent Chapelmarker, St John's Church (1879), andChanters Farmhouse, all of which are listed buildings. It is thought that the name "Chanters" derives from a chantry granted by the Bishop of Lichfield in 1360 to Sir William de Atherton, Lord of the Manor. The name is also given to a bridge over the Hindsford Brook and a former colliery. The Obelisk, similar to one in Leigh, possibly built for Robert Vernon Atherton in 1781, is another Grade II listed structure by the church and former market place.

Between 1873 and 1875, mineowners Fletcher Burrows built a small model village in Howe Bridge, comprising cottages, shops, Atherton Collieries Village Club, and a bath house for their employees. This Victorian village on either side of Leigh Road, together with St Michael and All Angel's Church,is a conservation area. The Ena Mill, one of Atherton's large spinning mills, complete with chimney, still survives as a reminder of the textile industry.


The Bolton to Leigh road was made a turnpike in about 1770, when a toll gate was installed on the Atherton boundary on Bolton Road. Shakerley Lane toll road emerged near Green Hall on Bolton Road, and was built to get coal from the Shakerleymarker pits to the turnpike road.

In 1825 The Bolton and Leigh Railway received Royal Assent and the single track railway was opened in 1828 bringing the railway to the western side of the township where it was close to the coal mines at Howe Bridge and Gibfield. There was a station at Atherton Bag Lanemarker and one further south at Atherleigh This line was connected to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by the Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway in 1831. It was connected to the Tyldesley–Wigan line in 1883, and a station on that line was opened at Chowbent renamed Howe Bridge in 1901. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway's line from Manchester to Southport passes to the north of Atherton and Atherton Central Station which was opened in 1887–88 remains open.

Atherton railway station
In 1900, a Bill authorising the South Lancashire Tramways Company to construct over of tramway in southern Lancashire was given Royal Assent.However, by November 1900 the South Lancashire Electric Traction and Power Company had acquired the shares. The first section of tramway opened on 20 October 1902 between Lowtonmarker and Four Lanes Ends via Leigh and Atherton. This company got into financial difficulty and in turn became Lancashire United Tramways later Lancashire United Transport. LUT had its headquarters and a large depot in Atherton. On 16 December 1933, the last tram service ran from Leigh to Four Lane Ends. The following day trolleybuses took over.

Today there are public transport links by rail from Atherton and Hag Fold stations to Wiganmarker and Manchestermarker operated by Northern Rail, and by bus to Boltonmarker, Leighmarker, Wiganmarker, St Helensmarker, Manchestermarker, the Trafford Centremarker and Middlebrook Retail and Leisure Complexmarker operated by South Lancs Travel of Atherton and First Manchester.


The oldest school in Atherton was Chowbent Grammar School founded before 1654 and followed by Chowbent Chapel School in 1734. Lane Top National School opened in 1840 and Chowbent Unitarian School and Hindsford St Anne's in 1860. Howe Bridge School opened in 1869 and St Phillip's a year later. An undenominational School in Lee Street opened in 1871 followed by St George's and Sacred Heart School in Hindsford in 1873. In the 1890s, the Technical School originally opened as a school for Science and Art, followed by St Richard's in 1891, and Flapper Fold Higher Grade School in 1893. Green Hall Special School opened in 1957, and a new infant school was opened on Lodge Lane for Sacred Heart. Hesketh Fletcher Senior School opened in 1967.


St John's parish church, Atherton

There have been three chapels or churches on the site of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. A chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist at Chowbent was built in 1645 by John Atherton. It is sometimes referred to as the Old Bent Chapel. It wasn't consecrated and was used by the Presbyterians. In 1721 Richard Atherton expelled the dissenters and it was consecrated in 1723 by the Bishop of Sodor and Man. A new chapel on the site was consecrated by the bishop of Chester in 1814. The present church was consecrated in 1879. The outside of the church, designed by Austin and Paley, is Runcorn Stone, the interior, Stourton Stone with a Yorkshire stone floor. It is wide, long, and the square tower rises to . The fabric of the church has suffered from mining subsidence.

The New Bent or Chowbent Chapelmarker, the earliest Nonconformist chapel in Atherton, was built in 1721 and opened in 1722. The chapel was built by the Presbyterian congregation after they were expelled from the first chapel.

St Anne's at Hindsford was originally a brick building, formerly a barn. In 1901 a church designed by Austin and Paley was built on Tyldesley Road. It has since been converted to residential use. St Michael and All Angels at Howe Bridge was built in 1877. There are chapels of the Wesleyan, Baptist, Independent Methodist, and Primitive Methodist denominations; a Congregational church at Howe Bridge was opened in 1904. Roman Catholics celebrated mass in a loft behind the Star and Garter public house on Tyldesley Square until the Sacred Heart Catholic Church opened in Hindsford in 1869. The site was given by Lord Lilford with building materials donated by John Holland, manager of Yew Tree Colliery in Tyldesley. It served the growing Catholic population in Hindsford and Tyldesley.


Swimming baths opened in in Mayfield Street in 1902 and a swimming club was formed, the baths closed in 2005 and the Atherton & Leigh Amateur Swimming Club moved to the new Leigh Sports Villagemarker facility in 2008.

Atherton has three amateur football teams, the oldest of which is Atherton Collieries A.F.C., formed in 1916, who play in the North West Counties League.Others are Atherton Laburnum Rovers F.C., also members of the North West Counties Football League

and Atherton Town FC.


The Atherton Botanical Garden Club, which is today a social club, was formed in 1850, and organised rambles on Chat Mossmarker, lectures, and study groups for its members. A public library was opened in 1905 with an Andrew Carnegie grant. Bent Chapel already had a library in the Chowbent School, and donated 4,000 books to the new town library. Central Park, a public park, was created in 1912. Other parks were later provided in Lodge Lane, Hindsford and Devonshire Place. The Urban District Council also acquired the Howe Bridge Welfare grounds in 1963. In the early and mid-20th century Atherton had three cinemas, the Gem in Bullough St, the Savoy, and the Palace on Market Street. An amateur photographic society was formed in 1938. Formby Hall plays host to the Bent 'n' Bongs Beer Festival over the last weekend of every January.

Notable residents

There were several ministers of note of Chowbent Chapelmarker including "General" James Wood, 1672–1759, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Preston in 1715. Thomas Walker Horsfield (1792–1837) was a historian and topographer. Joseph Nightingale (1775–1824), born in Chowbent, was a prolific English writer and preacher who subsequently became a Unitarian.Eric Roberts Laithwaite (1921–1997) was an engineer, principally known for his development of the linear induction motor and Maglev rail system. Chess grandmaster, Nigel Short grew up in Atherton and attended St Philip's School.




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