This is a study of the changes that occurred in the town of Chorley as a result of the Industrial Revolution.


Chorley is a market town in Lancashire, situated eight miles north of Wigan, eleven miles south-west of Blackburn, eleven miles north-west of Bolton, twelve miles south of Preston and twenty miles north-west of Manchester.

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The town sits on a piece of higher land at the foot of the West Pennine Moors and in the centre of the township of the same name. To the north of it are Knowley and Hartwood Green, to the north-west is Astley Hall, to the west Gillibrand Hall, to the south-west Kingsley. Chorley Moor lies to the south of the town, and contains the hamlets of Red Bank and Weld Bank to the south and the estate called Lighthurst. On the east side of the town the Blackbrook flows south to the Yarrow, and beyond it, towards Anglezarke and Withnell Moors, is the district called Healey; part of the boundary on that side is formed by Healey Nab, a hill 682 ft. above sea level. Crosse Hall and Cowling are in the south of Healey and Botany Bay in the north.
A number of brooks, including the Chor, run through the valleys to join the Yarrow, which touches the township in the south-east, and then, after bending to the south, flows northward to form part of the western border.




Chorley first appears in historical records in the mid-thirteenth 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. It is most likely that the borough was sacked by the Scots during the Great Raid of 1322, with Chorley being one of the southernmost points reached in Northern England. This led to the construction of a Peel tower, which is said to have been located somewhere close to Duxbury Hall.
The township contained 232 hearths liable to pay the hearth tax in 1666, this being the largest number in any township in the hundred. There were several considerable residences: Astley Hall had fifteen hearths, Mrs. Chorley twelve, John Gillibrand eleven, Crosse Hall (John Asley) ten, Hugh Cooper nine, William Tootell six, Bagganley (Mr. Starkie) four, Lawrence Breres four, and Henry Welch, clerk, three.

The economy before the Industrial Revolution

Father’s occupation was recorded in the baptismal registers of Chorley between 1722 and 1734, and gives us a rare insight into economic life at that period. The occupations of a hundred young, married men are recorded in the chart below.


Other occupations recorded in the baptismal registers were attorney, bricklayer, butcher, carrier, chandler, draper, gardener, gauger, glazier, grocer, hatter, innkeeper, maltster, miller, minister, peruke-maker, saddler, skinner, slater, tanner and white-limer.

Occupations were also recorded in the burial registers and include a number of occupations that were not mentioned in the baptismal registers: apothecary, barber, clockmaker, cordwainer, dauber, felt-maker, flax-dresser, fletcher, mason and soldier.

The onset of industrialisation

Cotton manufacture was introduced soon after 1750, and in 1779 Chorley was visited by rioters bent on destroying the newly-invented spinning machines. About 1790 it was 'a small, neat market town,' with 'several mills, engines, and machines for carding and spinning cotton,' the Chor being utilized to work the machinery. On the banks of the Yarrow also were 'many bleaching and printing grounds, with cotton factories intermixed.

The economy after the Industrial Revolution

Examination of a hundred entries in the baptismal registers for the year 1822 yields a very different picture from that of the previous century:


Other occupations mentioned in the sample of one hundred are butler, auctioneer, butcher, grocer, painter, plasterer, potter, printer & bookseller, reed maker and sawyer.

The nineteenth century textile workers in our sample of one hundred can be broken down into six categories:


The weavers tended to separate into two categories: old, male handloom weavers and young, female powerloom weavers.

Calico printing in Lancashire dates from about 1765, when the Bamber Bridge print works were built. In 1774, legislation was passed to permit the wearing of calicoes in Britain, an Act which stimulated both calico weaving and printing in Lancashire. The Bamber Bridge works were initially manned by workers from London, but by 1795 Lancashire had taken over as the main centre for calico printing, due to the availability of local cloth supplies, cheap land for bleach crofts and a plentiful supply of clean water. Bamber Bridge is just six miles north of Chorley. Five calico printers are listed in Pigot & Co.’s Directory of 1828-29.

Economic growth came at a cost: life expectancy in 1840 was substantially lower than it had been fifty years earlier.


Chorley was a chapelry in the parish of Croston until 1793.

The church of ST. LAWRENCE located on Union Street at the north side of the town has been a place of Christian worship for over 800 years. It consists of a chancel with north vestry and south aisle, nave with wide north and south aisles under separate gabled roofs, south porch and western tower. Only the chancel, nave and tower, however, belong to the original structure, and of this very little of the ancient work remains externally except in the stonework of the tower and in the nave gable and north wall of the chancel. Up to 1859–61, when the aisles were erected and other alterations took place, the building was a small structure dating probably from the beginning of the 15th century.


The Church of England parish church of St George, situated on St George's Street, is an important example of the work of architect Thomas Rickman, a major figure in the Gothic Revival. It was built in 1822.


Chorley United Reformed Church was one of the oldest and largest United Reformed Churches in the north-west. Founded in 1792 as an Independent Church it later affiliated to the Congregational church and in 1972 voted to become part of the new United Reformed Church.
The Wesleyan Methodists built their first chapel in 1792. It was afterwards used for the Mechanics Institute. They built another chapel in 1842.
The Primitive Methodists had a chapel in 1829, succeeded by another built in 1866.
The Baptists had a meeting room in 1821; they built a larger chapel in 1848.
Abraham Crompton, after his purchase of Chorley Hall, built a chapel for 'a congregation of Dissenting Protestants called Presbyterians' in 1725, close to the parochial chapel, and left £850 for the maintenance of a minister. The building remains unaltered to the present day, but the doctrine has become Unitarian.

Community Life

Chorley was granted a market charter by Henry VII in 1498 and has since held it every Tuesday.


A grammar school was founded in 1611. It stood in the churchyard but was taken down in 1823–4 and a replacement erected on the same site. Pigot & Co.’s Directory of 1828-29 mentions a National School and four others. According to Walton, literacy in Chorley reached a peak in the 1770s before declining in the face of population pressure and economic change.

Pigot & Co.’s Directory of 1828-29 lists just four inns: Gillibrand Arms, Red Lion, Royal Oak and Standish Arms, but twenty-six taverns and public houses.


The principal road is that from Manchester to Preston, going north-west and north through the middle of the township. On the east side of the town another road goes north and then passes through Heapey and turns to Blackburn. Several cross streets connect the two main roads, from the former of which other roads branch off south-west and west to Coppull and Wigan and to Croston and Leyland.
The Bolton and Preston Line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, formed in 1846, goes north through the town, where there is a station. From this point a branch line (1868) turns off northeast to Blackburn.
The old Wigan and Lancaster Canal, part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, goes north through the Blackbrook valley.
Pigot & Co.’s Directory of 1828-29 lists coach services to Blackburn every morning, to Preston and Carlisle morning and evening, to Liverpool via Wigan and St Helens every afternoon, to Manchester twice a day and to Preston twice a day.
Carriers ran regular services to Blackburn, Bolton, Manchester, Leyland, Preston and Wigan.


It is clear that many hundreds of workers migrated into Chorley to work in the textile industry. Unfortunately, we don’t get detailed information on where they came from until the 1851 Census. Nevertheless, an analysis of both the 1841 and 1851 Census returns seemed worthwhile. Here are the results.
Out of a sample of 100 weavers, 98 were born in Lancashire.
Out of a sample of 100 bleachers, 99 were born in Lancashire.
Out of a sample of 100 printers, 95 were born in Lancashire.
Out of a sample of 100 weavers, 97 were born in Chorley.
Out of a sample of 100 bleachers, 64 were born in Chorley.
Out of a sample of 100 printers, 78 were born in Chorley.
This suggests that bleaching and printing were less attractive jobs and hence the employers had to look outside the town for a significant percentage of their workforce.

Families & Notable People

Those landowners contributing to the subsidy of 1542–3 were Thomas Charnock, William Chorley, James Parker and Ellis Chorley; those in 1564 were Thomas Charnock, William Chorley, Thomas Gillibrand and Hugh Parker. Bagganley Hall is said to have been the residence of the Parker family
Chorley, Gillibrand and Tootell were the major families in the 17th and 18th centuries. As recusants, Richard Chorley and Thomas Gillibrand paid double to the subsidy of 1628.
The Chorley family resided at a house in the northern part of the township which took its name of CHORLEY HALL from its owners. After the Jacobite Rebellion, the estates were confiscated by the government and sold to Abraham Crompton, described as a banker of Derby, who rebuilt the house about 1746 and whose great-grandson, another Abraham Crompton, sold Chorley Hall about 1817 to R. Townley-Parker who dismantled it shortly afterwards.
Thomas Gillibrand purchased a messuage in Chorley in 1563. In 1628, Thomas Gillibrand, a convicted recusant, was one of the more considerable landowners in Chorley. The fidelity of the family to Roman Catholicism was probably the reason for the sequestration and ultimate forfeiture of Thomas Gillibrand's estates during the Commonwealth period.

The Gillibrands were living at Gillibrand Hall in the 1820s.



Crosse Hall and Astley Hall are the other major estates in the parish.
The CROSSE HALL estate included a large part of Healey, but the house was long ago abandoned as a residence in favour of Shaw Hill in Whittle-le-Woods.
The Houghton family lived at Astley Hall in the 1820s. Other families that have lived there include Charnock, Brooke, Townley-Parker and Tatton. The building dates from the 1570s with additions made in the 1600s and 1820s.


The Standish family lived at Duxbury Hall just to the south of Chorley.

Chorley’s most notable person is probably Henry Tate (1819-1899), the sugar magnate. He founded the Tate Gallery in London.

Sources consulted

O.S. maps
Parish registers
Trade directories
Census returns
Wallwork, K.L. The Calico Printing Industry of Lancastria in the 1840s, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, No. 45 (Sep., 1968), pp. 143-156
Walton, J.K. Lancashire: A Social History, 1558-1939. Manchester University Press, 1987
Aspin, Chris The First Industrial Society: Lancashire. Carnegie, 1995