In 1379 Sir Thomas le Despenser granted the Burley manor to trustees, two of whom were his brother Henry, Bishop of Norwich and his nephew Hugh le Despenser. Thomas died without issue in 1381, when at the outbreak of the Peasants' Revolt, Henry was at Burley and travelled to Norwich to confront the rebels.
The Old Smithy on the village green was used in advertisements for Cherry Blossom shoe polish in the 1920s.
Ashwell Prison, a former Category C prison, is located about one mile (2 km) west of the centre of the village. Previously the site was a WWII US army base, home to part of the 82nd Airborne Division. The prison was closed in March 2011, and has been redeveloped as Oakham Enterprise Park, , a business park for office and light industrial use.