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Atherton (pop. 20,300) is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, in Greater Manchester, England and historically a part of Lancashire. For about 300 years from the 17th century Atherton was referred to as Chowbent, which was frequently shortened to Bent, the town’s old nickname.
Along with neighbouring Shakerley, 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 Mamucium (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 Manchester.