Kirkburton is a village and civil parish which, since 1974, has been a local government ward in the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire, England, south east of Huddersfield, in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees. Previously part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, the township comprises the two villages of Kirkburton and Highburton together with several hamlets, including Thunderbridge, Thorncliffe, Storthes Hall, Burton Royd, Riley, Dogley, Common Side, Causeway Foot, Laneside, Linfit and Shepley [all re-directed here]. According to the 2001 census the parish had a population of 23,986, while in 2008 it was estimated that the village had a population of 1,970.
The area was populated in the Iron Age when a settlement was believed to have been built on the site of the church. A Saxon fort is also believed to have stood on that site. The village is recorded in the Domesday Book as Bertone in Wachefeld. The entry reads (translated):
"In Wakefield , with 9 Berewicks... are 60 carucates of land 3 bovates and the third part of 1 bovate to the geld. 30 ploughs could plough this land. This manor was in the demesne of King Edward; now, in the king's hand, there are 4 villans, and 3 priests and 2 churches, and 7 sokemen and 16 bordars. Together, they have 7 ploughs. [There is] woodland pasture 6 leagues long and 4 leagues broad. The whole [is] 6 leagues long and 6 leagues broad... To this manor belongs the soke of these lands... Kirkburton, 3 carucates... in all, there are 30 carucates to the geld, which 20 ploughs could plough. Now they are waste"
During the First English Civil War the villagers supported the Parliamentary cause. The priest, Gamaliel Whitaker, angered his parishioners by supporting the Royalists. He was denounced to the government forces who went to arrest him in 1644. During the struggle the soldiers shot his wife, Hester, in the ensuing confusion. Legend has it that her ghost haunts the old vicarage.
The Huddersfield-Kirkburton Branch Line opened in 1867, serving two terminal stations as well as Deighton, Kirkheaton, Fenay Bridge and Lepton. It was unusual in that it was operated by the London and North Western Railway company in an area where the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company had a virtual monopoly. Plans to extend the line to Barnsley never materialised and Kirkburton remained at the end of the line which was primarily used for goods traffic, although passenger services ran until 1930. The line continued as a transport goods until the 1960s, when a combination of road haulage and a decline in industry lead to closure of the station in 1965. Evidence of the railway remains in the area around Northwood Park, a housing development built on the old route. Parts of the station still remain, albeit in ruined state, whilst the bricked up tunnel can be seen when travelling into the village centre from the Penistone Road.
A psychiatric hospital operated at Storthes Hall from 1904–1991. It was founded as an asylum, the Storthes Hall Mental Hospital (1929–1938), the West Riding Mental Hospital (1939–1948) and Storthes Hall Hospital (1949–1991). After the hospital closed the land was sold to the University of Huddersfield and halls of residence were built. Most of the site is the Storthes Hall Park Student Village, and the remaining area due for further development as a retirement village.
Kirkburton's major industries were the woolen industry and coal. The village have a small shopping centre in Kirkburton but Highburton has become the residential centre.
The manufacture of woollen cloth was well established here by the time of Queen Elizabeth I. It expanded rapidly after the late 18th century. The first textile mill was built at Dogley in about 1787 and used waterpower to prepare wool for spinning and for fulling the finished cloth. In about 1800 another mill opened at Linfit, which used steam power. Both mills gradually took on other processes and developed into substantial businesses under the Kenyon and Hey families. By 1880 there were eight mills at work in the township.
Leather tanning and the exploitation of coal seams made valuable contributions to the economy of Kirkburton for several centuries. The last tannery closed in the 1830s. Coal mining grew in importance with the increased use of steam for pumping water and by 1850 there were 20 small pits in the township. The remains of a number of mines and bell pits can be seen, including the former St Helen's Colliery on Moor Lane in Highburton. In the latter half of the 19th century there were more than 30 pits operating around Kirkburton employing more than 300 men. The last colliery closed about 70 years ago. One old-established industry, which has moved from the village, was the manufacture of edge tools and shovels, which was introduced in the mid-18th century. The last factory, Carters, moved to new premises a few years ago.
In 2006 Shepley Spring Ltd acquired the former Whitley Willows Textile site in Kirkburton and set up a volume bottled water plant, utilising the vast high quality ground water sources in this area. Known as Shepley Spring Brookfield, the site operates 24 hours a day and produces tens of millions of bottles for UK Supermarkets and wholesalers.