It is divided by the Croal, a small tributary of the Irwell, into Great and Little Bolton, and as the full name implies, is surrounded by high moorland.
Before 1838, when Bolton was incorporated, the town was governed by a boroughreeve and two constables appointed at the annual court-leet.
The manor of Little Bolton seems to have been, at least from Henry III.'s reign, distinct from that of Great Bolton, and was held till the 17th century by the Botheltons or Boltons.
In 1337 the industry received an impulse from the settlement of a party of Flemish clothiers, and extended so greatly that when it was found necessary in 1566 to appoint by act of parliament deputies to assist the aulnegers, Bolton is named as one of the places where these deputies were to be employed.
Leland in his Itinerary (1558) recorded the fact that Bolton made cottons, which were in reality woollen goods.