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Until the early 19th century, Great Bolton and Little Bolton were two of the eighteen townships of the ecclesiastical parish of Bolton le Moors. These two townships were separated by the River Croal, with Little Bolton on the north side of the river and Great Bolton on the south side.
In 1838, Great Bolton, most of Little Bolton and the Haulgh area from Tonge with Haulgh township were incorporated under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 as a municipal borough, making it the second to be created in England, after Devonport. Further additions were made to the borough, with part of Rumworth in 1872, and part of Halliwell in 1877.
In 1889, Bolton was granted County Borough status and became entirely self-governing and independent from Lancashire County Council jurisdiction. In 1898, it was extended further by adding the civil parishes of Breightmet, Darcy Lever, Great Lever, the rest of Halliwell, Heaton, Lostock, Middle Hulton, the rest of Rumworth (which had been renamed Deane in 1894), Smithills, and Tonge, plus Astley Bridge Urban District, and part of Over Hulton civil parish.
The county borough was abolished in 1974 and became a constituent part of the Metropolitan Borough of Bolton in Greater Manchester.
Under the Reform Act of 1832, a Parliamentary Borough was established for the town. The Bolton constituency had two Members of Parliament who both represented the whole borough.
The Parliamentary Borough continued until 1950 when it was abolished and replaced with two parliamentary constituencies, Bolton East and Bolton West, each with one M.P.
In 1983, Bolton East was abolished and two new constituencies were created, Bolton North East (which covers a large part of the former Bolton East), and Bolton South East (which covers most of the former Farnworth constituency). Also in 1983, there were major boundary changes to Bolton West, which took over most of the former Westhoughton constituency.