Nuneaton is most famous for its associations with the 19th century author George Eliot, who was born on a farm on the Arbury Estate just outside Nuneaton in 1819 and lived in the town for much of her early life. In her novel Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Milby" is the thinly disguised market town of Nuneaton.
The Nuneaton Built-up area is a conurbation based around Nuneaton and several surrounding villages, including Hartshill and Bulkington, and had a population of 92,968 according to the 2011 census. This is significantly down on the 2001 census population of 132,236 the decrease occurring mainly because Hinckley no longer forms part of the built-up area.
A Vision of Britain through Time provides the following description of Nuneaton from John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles of 1887:
Nuneaton's name came from a 12th-century Benedictine nunnery (parts of which still survive) around which much of the town grew. Prior to this it was a settlement known as 'Etone', which translates literally as 'water-town'. Nuneaton was listed in the Domesday Book as a small hamlet. A market was established in 1233 (and is still held today). The first recorded use of the modern name was in 1247 when a document recorded it as 'Nonne Eton'. The Nunnery fell into disrepair after 1539 (with Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries). King Edward VI School was established by a royal charter in 1552. From 1944 it became a grammar school for boys and, although it was locally known as KEGS, it never included the word "grammar" in its name. In 1974 it became a sixth form college. Other grammar schools in Nuneaton during the 1944 to 1974 period were Nuneaton High School for Girls and Manor Park. Additionally Nicholas Chamberlaine School in Bedworth was an early comprehensive school that had a grammar school stream.
Nuneaton grew gradually from the 17th century onwards, due to its position at the centre of the Warwickshire coalfields. At the time of the first national census in 1801 Nuneaton was already one of the largest towns in Warwickshire, with a population of 5,000. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, Nuneaton developed a large textile industry. Other industries which developed in the town included brick and tile making and brewing. By 1901 the population of Nuneaton had grown to 25,000.
Due largely to munitions factories located in Nuneaton, the town suffered heavy bombing damage during World War II. The heaviest bombing raid on Nuneaton took place on 17 May 1941, when 100 people were killed, 380 houses were destroyed, and over 10,000 damaged, a few smaller raids took place on the town, most notably on 25 June 1942. As a result of the bombing, much of the town centre was rebuilt in the post-war years.