Atherton is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, in Greater Manchester, England. It is 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Wigan, 2 miles (3.2 km) north-northeast of Leigh and 4 miles (6.4 km) southwest of Bolton. Historically a part of Lancashire, Atherton, one of the six vills or townships that made up the ancient parish of Leigh, is built on and around seven brooks.
It has an industrial past with a history of coal mines, cotton mills, Farrer and Brownbill describe Atherton 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".
For about three hundred years from the 1600s Atherton was referred to as Chowbent which was frequently shortened to Bent, the town's old nickname. The town's population according to the 2001 census was 20,302
The manor of Atherton was held by the Atherton family from the de Botelers, whose chief manor was at Warrington. William and Nicholas Atherton served in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The manor house, Atherton Hall, was situated towards the south of the ancient township. Saxton's map shows that there was a deer park here in the time of Elizabeth I This portion of Atherton was incorporated into Leigh in 1894. The Atherton family had a long association with the township until the death of Richard Atherton in 1726 when the estate passed to the Powys family by marriage. "Mad" Richard Atherton, the last direct male descendant of the Athertons, died in 1726 aged 26 but is remembered for two events, the first being that he expelled the congregation from the first Chowbent Chapel in 1721. He also rebuilt Atherton Hall on a very grand scale to designs by architect William Wakefield. Work started in 1723 and wasn't finished until 1743. The carriage drive from the hall led over Lion's Bridge down a straight avenue to the gates which faced Leigh Church where the Atherton's had a chapel. Thomas Powys, son of Henrietta Maria Atherton and Thomas Powys, was ennobled by Pitt in 1797 and he took the title of Baron Lilford. He died in 1800. Atherton Hall was demolished in 1824 when Lord Lilford found it too expensive to keep. When part of Atherton was incorporated into the borough of Leigh in the 1890s, parts of the grounds of Atherton Hall later became one of Leigh's public parks.