In the 1970s, the skyline was dominated by factory chimneys, but most have now been demolished: remnants of the industrial past include Morrison's chimney and other mill buildings, and the streets of terraced houses for mill workers. Chorley is the home of the Chorley cake. At the 2011 Census, it had a population of 34,667.
The name Chorley comes from two Anglo-Saxon words, Ceorl and ley, probably meaning "the peasants' clearing". Ley (also leah or leigh) is a common element of place-name, meaning a clearing in a woodland. Ceorl refers to a person of status similar to a freeman or a yeoman.
There was no known occupation in Chorley until the Middle Ages, though archaeological evidence has shown that the area around the town has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age. There are various remains of prehistoric occupation on the nearby Anglezarke Moor, including the Round Loaf tumulus which is believed to date from 3500 BC.
A pottery burial urn from this period was discovered in 1963 on land next to Astley Hall Farm and later excavation in the 1970s revealed another burial urn and four cremation pits dating from the Bronze Age.