Chorley is a market town in Lancashire, in North West England. It is the largest settlement in the Borough of Chorley. Chorley is located north of Wigan south west of Blackburn, north west of Bolton south of Preston and north west of Manchester. As in much of Lancashire, the town's wealth came principally from the cotton industry, however it was a major market town due to its central location to four Lancashire towns. As recently as the 1970s the skyline was dominated by numerous factory chimneys, but most are now demolished: remnants of the industrial past include Morrison's chimney and a few other mill buildings, and the streets of terraced houses for mill workers. Chorley is known as the home of the Chorley cake.
The name Chorley comes from two Anglo-Saxon words, Ceorl and ley, probably meaning "the peasants' clearing". Ley (also leah or leigh) is a common element of place-name, meaning a clearing in a woodland. Ceorl refers to a person of status similar to a freeman or a yeoman.
There was no known occupation in Chorley until the Middle Ages, though archaeological evidence has shown that the area around the town has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age. There are various remains of prehistoric occupation on the nearby Anglezarke Moor, including the Round Loaf tumulus which is believed to date from 3500 BC. A pottery burial urn from this period was discovered in 1963 on land next to Astley Hall Farm and later excavation in the 1970s revealed another burial urn and four cremation pits dating from the Bronze Age.
During the Roman era a Roman road ran near Chorley between Wigan and Walton-le-Dale. It is believed that Romans settled at Brindle to the north of the town, as Roman remains were discovered there in the late 1950s. Hoards dating from the Roman period have also been found at nearby at Whittle-le-Woods and Heapey.
Chorley first appears in historical records in the mid-13th century as part of the portion of the Croston Lordship acquired by William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, around 1250. The Earl established Chorley as a small borough comprising a two row settlement arranged along what later became Market Street. It appears that the borough was short-lived as it does not appear in a report of a commission on the Leyland Hundred in 1341.
The manorial history of Chorley is complex as the manor had no single lord throughout most of this period as it had been split into moieties and was managed by several different families. This led to Chorley having several manorial halls, which in this period included Chorley Hall, built in the 14th century by the de Chorley family, and Lower Chorley Hall, which was owned by the Gillibrand family from 1583 (later rebuilt in the 19th century as Gillibrand Hall). It is believe the borough of Chorley was not a success in this period because of the lack of manorial leadership and the dispersed nature of the small population.
St Laurence's Church is the oldest remaining building in Chorley and first appears in historical records when it was dedicated in 1362, though it is believed there was already an earlier Anglo-Saxon chapel on the site which was a daughter foundation of Croston Parish Church. It is believed that the church is named after Saint Laurence, an Irish Saint who died in Normandy in the 12th century, whose bones were interred in the church in 15th century by a local noble named Sir Rowland Standish (a relation of Myles Standish) who had fought at the Agincourt. The bones went missing in the Reformation under the rule of King Henry VIII.
19th, 20th to 21st centuries
Chorley, like most Lancashire towns, gained its wealth from the industrial revolution of the 19th century which was also responsible for the town's growth. Chorley was a vital cotton town with many mills littering the skyline. Today only three mills still remain working.
Also Chorley in its location on the edge of Lancashire Coalfield was vital in coal mining. Several pits existed in Duxbury Woods, the Gillibrand area and more numerously in Coppull. Chisnall Hall Colliery at Coppull was considered the biggest Lancashire pit outside of Wigan and one of many located in the Chorley suburb. The last pit in the area to close was the Ellerbeck Colliery in 1987 which was located south of Chorley, between Coppull and Adlington.
The town played an important role during the Second World War, when it was home to the Royal Ordnance Factory, a large munitions manufacturer in the village of Euxton about from the town centre. A smaller factory was also built near the Blackburn-Wigan railway line in Heapey.
In the 1970s Chorley was designated as part of Central Lancashire new town, together with Preston and Leyland. The original aim of this project was to combine the three settlements into a single city with a population of around half a million. Although this never came to pass, and the project has since been abandoned, Chorley benefited from the urban renewal commonly associated with new towns. Examples include a bypass of the town centre, and the Market Walk shopping centre.