"Kirkby-in-Ashfield is a parish and village, four miles and a half from Mansfield, in the same hundred as that town, and contains a tolerably large church, dedicated to St Wilfrid, the living of which is in the patronage of the Duke of Portland, and in the incumbancy of the Rev. Brook Boothby. In 1821, the parish contained 1,420 inhabitants."
[From Pigots Commercial Directory of Nottinghamshire, 1828-9]
Kirkby-in-Ashfield was a Danish settlement. Kirkby means 'village with a church', while the Ashfield suffix comes from open land, or "feld", with ash trees.
Kirkby is mentioned as Chirchebi in the Domesday Bookand recorded as having a church, a priest and two mills. The landowner of the time, whose name was Levenot, paid Danegeld (a tribute or tax to the Danes) for ten bovates and two carucats of land. Levenot was ousted by William the Conqueror, who granted the lands to Ralph Fitzhubert, who in turn passed them to the Norman family of D'estoteville. This name became corrupted to 'Stuteville', and the Stuteville family held the title of Lord of the Manor until 1340 when Robert Stuteville forfeited his lands to King Edward III.
The village was granted a market and fair in 1261, and the steps and shaft of the market cross still stand - although on the opposite side of the road from their original location.
Kirkby Castle was built on a small site behind the church, and it is said that during February 1284, King Edward I spent one night there on his way to Codnor Castle. In 1310, the castle was said to be "greatly in need of repair", and now all that remains of it today is some grassy mounds in the field.
In 1340, King Edward III granted the manor of Kirkby - along with several others - to his favourite, John Darcy, Justiciary of Ireland, and it stayed in the Darcy family until 1466, when it passed to Margery, a daughter of Phillip, Lord Darcy, who later married Sir John Conyers; their descendant becoming Baron Conyers. The Conyers heirs eventually sold it to Sir Charles Cavendish, who eventually passed the Manor to the Duke of Portland.
A Manor house was built in Kirkby in the early years of the 17th century, probably by the Newton family. It stood opposite the church, on what is now Church Street, and was demolished in 1960.
In 1826 the first school was built in the parish, along with a house for the Master. The cost of £300 was raised mainly by subscription, and by 1832 the school was attended by forty scholars. By 1900 there were six schools found within the parish of Kirkby.
19th Century Kirkby
During the 19th century, Kirkby changed from a fairly small agricultural based community to an industrial township. The area called East Kirkby - sometimes known as Kirkby Folly - developed and provided housing for the increased population.
In 1831, the population of Kirkby was 2,032, which was made up from farmers, tradesmen, framework knitters and a small number of miners, working at the Portland Colliery. The Portland Colliery was opened by the Butterley Company in 1821, and in 1823 the company built 47 houses on Portland Row (now demolished) to house their workers. By 1847, the mine had seven shafts.
In 1853, the population had increased to 2,363 but by 1861 had jumped to 2,886. This last increase was caused by the further growth of mining in the area. The Butterley Company bought further land at East Kirkby in 1887 and Summit Colliery was sunk. At one time this colliery was one of the largest in the country. Houses for the men were built around this time off Lowmoor Road. The Summit Colliery closed in 1969.
The New Hucknall Colliery Co. acquired land at Kirkby, and Bentinck Colliery was sunk in 1894, and by 1907 1,300 men were working there - and the same number at the Summit Colliery. By 1900, the miners living in the town had pushed the population to over 7000. By 1921, the figure was 17,236.
By the end of the 19th century, East Kirkby had become larger than the old village itself, and in 1901 it was formed into a separate ecclesiastical parish. On 23rd May 1903, the new parish church for East Kirkby, St Thomas' was consecrated by Dr Ridding, Bishop of Southwell.