A prospector, reading Sir Walter Scott's The Fortunes of Nigel at the time, discovered gold on the farm Varkensfontein in 1886 and immediately formed the Nigel Gold Mining Company. The town which grew around the mine still bears names derived from Scott's book.
Today the town is focused primarily on mining and also has various heavy industries.
An alternative theory of the origins of Nigel's name is that the name is commonly found in Britain as a variant of 'Niall'.
Nigel's municipal government became part of the much larger Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality municipality following the creation of new local government structures in 2000, along with most of the East Rand. It's a quiet town that doesn't have any heavy industries and is far away enough for peace and quiet.