The discovery of a Bronze Age barrow (funeral mound) at Whitelow Hill, near Ramsbottom a few miles north of Bury, shows that this area has been populated for some thousands of years. Living in an area of forest, marsh and moors, the earliest people probably travelled from place to place with their herds of animals.
The Roman occupation of Britain saw the foundation of important fortress towns by the army such as Deva (Chester) and Mancunium (Manchester). The roads built to link these and other Roman towns together probably helped towards the development of strongholds that would later become settlements. One very important road, the one north from Manchester to Ribchester passed right through the present day Metropolitan Borough of Bury, taking in Prestwich, Whitefield, Radcliffe, Starling and Affetside. For those interested in finding out more about this Roman road, known as Watling Street, there is no better place to go than the village of Affetside. Not only will you find an impressively straight stretch of the road but also the 'Roman Cross', a relic that possibly marked the half-way point either between Manchester and Ribchester or even between London and Edinburgh. Local legend certainly surrounds the origins and use of the cross. Even more intrigue surrounds the site of the long-lost Roman stronghold of Coccium. Was it near to the present day village of Ainsworth? Certainly the locals have always known the surrounding area as 'Cockey Moor'.
Bury gets its origins as a named settlement during Anglo-Saxon times. The word Bury means 'a stronghold'.
For much of its history, Bury has not been as important as neighbouring settlements such as Radcliffe and Tottington. The Domesday Book land survey, compiled during the reign of the Norman King William the Conqueror, mentions only Manchester, Rochdale, Salford and Radcliffe. After the Norman Conquest the De Montbegons, the lords of the manor of Tottington, held much of the Bury area. By 1193 the manor was held by the knight Adam De Bury. When Alice De Bury married Roger Pilkington in the 14th century, the manor passed into the hands of the Pilkington family. Sir Thomas Pilkington was deprived of his land by King Henry VI in 1485 as a punishment for him having supported his defeated rival Richard III. As a reward the new Tudor king granted the lands to one of his most devoted supporters, Thomas, Lord Stanley. Stanley was given the title Earl of Derby and a family right to the manor that has lasted to the present day. Much land to the south of Bury was subsequently sold to Lord Grey De Winton whose descendents, the Earls of Wilton, have been notable landowners ever since.
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