Hunslet had many engineering companies based in the district, such as John Fowler & Co. manufacturers of traction engines and steam rollers, the Hunslet Engine Company builders of locomotives (including those used during the construction of the Channel Tunnel), as well as engineering firms Kitson & Co., Manning Wardle and Hudswell Clarke. Many railway locomotives were built in the Jack Lane area of Hunslet.
The area has a mixture of modern and 19th-century industrial buildings, terraced housing and 20th-century housing. It is an area that has grown up significantly around the River Aire in the early years of the 21st century, especially with the construction of modern riverside flats. It was at one point the main production site for Leeds Creamware, a type of pottery (still produced) so called because of its cream glazing. Hunslet is now prospering as it follows the trend of Leeds generally and the expansion of office and industrial sites south of Leeds city centre. Hunslet became a part of Leeds in 1835.
Hunslet is first mentioned as Hunslet in the Domesday Book of 1086, though 12th-century spellings of the name such as Hunsflete seem to be more conservative: the name appears originally to have meant 'Hūn's inlet', from an Anglo-Saxon personal name Hūn and the Old English word flēot 'creek, inlet', probably referring to an inlet from the River Aire. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, the manor belonged to the Lacys, from whom it passed to various families including the Gascoignes and the Neviles. Hunslet was the birthplace of Thomas Gascoigne, born in 1404 and later chancellor of Oxford University.
In 1823 forty working men from Hunslet raised the sum of £1.5.1 which they sent to the radical publisher Richard Carlile who was serving a prison sentence in Dorchester jail for the publications in which he exposed the reactionary policies of the government of Lord Liverpool. The subscription was accompanied by a noble letter written by one of the contributors, William Tillotson.
The population of Hunslet grew rapidly in the first half of the 19th century becoming an important manufacturing centre. Several large mills were built for spinning of flax including Hunslet Mill, and there were chemical works, works for the manufacture of crown and flint glass, extensive potteries for coarse earthenware and the Leeds Pottery.
By 1906 Hunslet was home to Leeds’ second-largest gas works, the city’s main rail goods yards, known at the time as Midland Goods Station (now the site of Crown Point Retail Park), as well as a large number of factories.
The area was redeveloped in the 1960s, the main feature of this being the Hunslet Grange (Leek Street flats). In the 1980s it was again redeveloped, and in the 2000s, the area around the River Aire and Clarence Dock was redeveloped.