The history of Stretford is significant due to the centre's close proximity to the area.

The origin of the name Stretford is "street" on a ford across the River Mersey. The principle road through Stretford, the A56 Chester Road, follows the line of the old Roman road from Deva Victrix (Chester) to Mamucian (Manchester), crossing the Mersey into Stretford at Crossford Bridge, built at the location of the ancient ford.

The earliest evidence of human occupation around Stretford comes from Neolithic stone axes found in the area, dating from about 2000 BC. Stretford was part of the land occupied by the Celtic Brigantes tribe before and during the Roman occupation. By 1212, there were two manors (estates of land) in the area; the land in the south, close to the River Mersey, was held by Hamon de Mascy, while the land in the north, closer to the River Irwell, was held by Henry de Trafford. In about 1250, a later Hamon de Mascy gave the Stretford manor to his daughter, Margery. She in turn, in about 1260, granted Stretford to Richard de Trafford at a rent of one penny. The de Mascy family shortly afterwards released all rights to their lands in Stretford to Henry de Trafford, the de Trafford family thus acquiring the whole of Stretford, large parts of which were leased out to tennants who farmed at subsistence levels.

The 1903 book "Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester", mentions two paper mills which operated in the area, one in Old Trafford, the other in Stretford. The Manchester Mercury, 20 March 1770, advertised for sale the "newly erected Paper Mill, for making of writing and printing paper, with engines, dwelling house, and stables, and an acre and a half of land situated in Stretford near the Duke of Bridewater's Canal, and on the banks of the navigable Irwell, where vessels are daily passing and repassing....".

Until the 1820s, one of the main cottage industries in Stretford was the hand-weaving of cotton with reportedly 302 handlooms operating at it's peak which provided employment for 780 workers. By 1826, the mechanised cotton mills of nearby Manchester had replaced them and only four handlooms remained in Stretford.

During much of the 19th century, Stretford was an agricultural village known locally as Porkhampton due to the large number of pigs produced for the nearby Manchester market. It was also an extensive market gardening area, described by one writer as the "garden of Lancashire". In 1845, over 508 tons of vegetables were being produced each week for the Manchester market, inparticular rhubarb, once known locally as Stretford beef.

The arrival of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, and the subsequent development of the Trafford Park Industrial Estate in the north of the town, had a substantial effect on the growth of Stretford. The population increased by 40% between 1891 and 1901 as people were drawn to the town by the promise of work in the new industries at Trafford Park.

In 1940, Stretford was the target for heavy bombing during the Manchester Blitz of Warld War II due to the production of war materials at Trafford Park which included the Avro Manchester heavy bomber and the Rolls-Royce engines used to power both the Spitfire and the Lacaster.