Lofthouse, who scored 30 goals in 33 appearances for England and 255 goals in more than 450 appearances for Bolton between 1946 and 1960, died peacefully in his sleep at his nursing home on Saturday night.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme, Charlton said: 'One of the highlights of my year is when I go to Bolton and see people like Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle and, of course, Nat.
Leader and a credit to football: Sir Bobby Charlton has paid tribute to his friend, Nat Lofthouse (L)
'I was ever so pleased to see them because I feel they gave so much colour to the game at a time when football was about strength more than anything else, and Nat was as strong as anyone.
NAT LOFTHOUSE: FACTFILE 1925: Born August 27 in Bolton.1939: September 4 - Signed for Bolton on amateur terms.1941: March 22 - Made his debut against Bury, scoring twice in a 5-1 win.1946: August 31 - Following the conclusion of World War II, finally made his league debut against Chelsea to begin a one-club career which saw him make over 500 appearances for his home town club.1950: November 22 - Made his England debut, scoring both his side's goals in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia at Highbury.1952: May 25 - In a legendary performance which earned him his nickname of 'The Lion of Vienna', Lofthouse scored twice in England's 3-2 win over Austria, returning to the action after being knocked out and suffering a knee injury.September 24 - Scored six goals in a game between the English Football League and the Irish League.
1953: May 2 - Captained Bolton in the legendary 1953 FA Cup final at Wembley, scoring a goal and also hitting the post as Blackpool, inspired by winger Stanley Matthews, won the game 4-3. Lofthouse was also named English Footballer of the Year after scoring 30 goals in the First Division.1958: May 3 - Scored both goals as Wanderers beat Manchester United at Wembley to win the FA Cup. The second goal, which has gone down in football folklore, saw Lofthouse bundle United goalkeeper Harry Gregg into the net along with the ball, knocking him unconscious.November 26 - Made his final England appearance against Wales. His 33 caps got 30 goals.1960: December - Retired after a serious knee injury, making a farewell appearance against Birmingham. He scored 255 league goals for Bolton.1961: Appointed assistant trainer at Bolton.1967: Took on the role of chief coach.1968: December 1 - Appointed as manager of the club after a brief spell in the role on a caretaker basis.1978: Became Wanderers' executive manager.1986: Was named as Bolton club president, a role he held until his death.1989: Awarded the freedom of Bolton.
1994: Received an OBE in the New Year's Honours list (right).1997: Bolton named their new Reebok Stadium's East Stand and its corporate hospitality area the Nat Lofthouse Stand and the Lion of Vienna Suite respectively.2002: Inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.2006: Was voted Bolton's greatest ever player in a fans' poll.2011: January 15 - Died peacefully in his sleep, aged 85, following a long illness.
'The first time I ever saw a professional game Nat was playing as a centre-forward and they were talking about him as this youngster who had just burst onto the scene, and he was just fantastic.
'He was a leader, he had fantastic ability in the air, and he was strong, but he was also a talisman.
'He played four or five games with England at the end of his career and I felt he was the one who was in charge, he was the leader.
'I'm really sorry, and anybody in this part of the world will be very sorry, that he isn't with us any more because he was a fantastic credit to the game.'
Lofthouse was one of the most feared centre-forwards of his generation, renowned for his strength and finishing ability on the ground and in the air.
He became known as the 'Lion of Vienna' after a goalscoring, match-winning - and pain-defying - performance in England's 3-2 win over a fearsome Austria side in 1952.
The other match for which he was synonymous was the 1958 FA Cup final when he scored twice in Bolton's 2-0 victory over Manchester United, controversially barging goalkeeper Harry Gregg into the net in the process of scoring one of his goals.
He belonged to a golden generation of England players along with the likes of Sir Tom Finney and Sir Stanley Matthews whose time came before the 1966 World Cup success.
'You have to put him in with those two great players. Tommy Finney and Stan Matthews were wingers and outside the influence of the 18-yard box,' added Charlton.
'But Nat Lofthouse, you just put the ball in there at any height and he was so brave.
'He just scored phenomenal goals in the air. He was a great player without any question.
'In his day if you were a centre-forward you had to do more than score goals; you had to lead and you had to be tough.
'In those days football was a hard, tough game. It wasn't like today where they glorify everything.
'The pitches were bad, the ball was heavy, the equipment was awful, but he loved the game of football, and he was ever so proud to be a part of it.'
Expressing his sympathies, Bolton chairman Phil Gartside told the club's official website: 'Nat undoubtedly is a Bolton Wanderers legend.
'He was a one-club man and our football club meant as much to him as he did to us.
'We will miss him, but we will celebrate his life, his legacy and great times that he brought to Bolton Wanderers.'
Head above the rest: Nat Lofthouse, pictured playing against the USSR at Wembley in 1958, was one of England's most-prolific strikers
After finishing playing, Lofthouse remained at the club in a number of off-field positions including chief coach, chief scout, caretaker manager and club president, a role in which he remained until his death.
Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, described Lofthouse as 'a true legend'.
Top of the pots: Lofthouse powered Bolton to victory against Manchester United in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1958
'We don't see many players of that kind these days and the loyalty to one club which continued long after his playing career finished,' said Clarke.
'He was a model professional and showed the kind of commitment to his home town and to his local club that we don't do these days.'
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