The name Newton means "new town", while Makerfield is an ancient name for the district from a pre-English word meaning "wall", and the English word "field". Neweton was mentioned in the Domesday Book. "In Makerfield" was added to distinguish it from other Newtons and recorded as Makeresfeld in 1205 and 1351, as Makefeld in 1206, Makerefeld in 1213 and Makerfield since 1242.
Before the Norman conquest, Newton was head of a hundred. The Domesday hundred was assessed at five hides one of which included Newton. The lord of the manor was Edward the Confessor at his death in 1066. The Newton Hundred was subsequently combined with the Warrington and Derby Hundreds to form the West Derby Hundred.
It was an agricultural village, albeit with borough status, until the arrival of the railways in 1830. There was some industry: there are five cotton spinners recorded in an 1825 directory. However, it was the coming of the railways that transformed a small village into the world's first "railway town", although places such as Crewe, Derby and Swindon soon overtook Newton in size and importance. The town also developed into a major coal mining area, being on the South Lancashire Coalfield.
The fields between Newton and Winwick were the site of one of the last battles of the Second English Civil War.
Newton-le-Willows railway station
Newton's history since the 19th century has been very closely linked with the railway industry. The Vulcan Foundry was opened in 1831 and later developed into one of the world's foremost locomotive manufacturers. Vulcan Village, the southernmost suburb of Newton was developed to house workers from the foundry and has in recent years become a conservation area.
The western area of the town, Earlestown also developed with the coming of the railways. Earlestown was also built as a factory village, but for the Viaduct Foundry, which later became the London and North Western Railway's principal waggon works. Since Victorian times, Earlestown has been the fastest-growing area of the town, and thus Newton-le-Willows' town centre is situated in Earlestown. Between Earlestown and the Vulcan Village is the largely residential suburb of Wargrave.
William Huskisson, Member of Parliament for Liverpool and an early supporter of railways, was killed at Parkside near Newton when he was run down by Stephenson's Rocket locomotive on the opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. There is a memorial at the spot where the accident happened. A modern bridge in the town centre is named in memory of Huskisson.
Newton has two historic railway stations. Newton-le-Willows railway station is in the old original part of town and Earlestown railway station, opened in 1830. They are two of the oldest railway stations in existence. Earlestown was an important junction where the original Liverpool and Manchester line was joined by the 1837 line running south to Birmingham. The town has also had three other railway stations, situated at Parkside, where Huskisson's fatal railway accident happened, at the Vulcan Village and one serving the old racecourse, closed when Haydock Park Racecourse was opened.
Two other local railway related landmarks are Newton Viaduct and the Sankey Viaduct which is locally known as the "Nine Arches".
The town also had other industries: printing sugar refining, chemicals, glass, biscuit manufacturing machinery and coal mining. Parkside Colliery opened in the 1960s with an expected lifespan of 100 years but closed in 1992. The colliery hit the national headlines due to demonstrations against its closure. The closure of Parkside marked an end to Lancashire's centuries old coal industry. The town is the home of the head office of Nicholls Foods, the makers of Vimto soft drinks.