Wirksworth is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. Within it is the source of the River Ecclesbourne. The town was granted its market charter by Edward I in 1306. The market is held every Tuesday in the market square. St Mary's Church is believed to date from about AD 653.
Historically, Wirksworth developed as a centre for lead mining and later of stone quarrying.
Many of the institutions in the area have connections with the Gell family, of Hopton Hall, whose most famous member was Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet, who fought on Parliament's side in the Civil War. One of his predecessors, Anthony Gell, founded the local grammar school, and one of his successors, Phillip Gell, opened the curiously named Via Gellia (possibly named in allusion to the Roman Via Appia), a road from the family's lead mines around Wirksworth to the smelter in Cromford. Today, Anthony Gell School is named after Anthony Gell.