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 about 1787 and used waterpower to prepare wool for spinning and for fulling the finished cloth. About 1800 another mill opened at Linfit, which used steam power to carry out the same activities. 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.
The tanning of leather and 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 no fewer than 20 small pits in the township. The remains of a number of mines and bell pits can still be seen, including the former St Helen's Colliery on Moor Lane in Highburton. In the latter half of the 19th century there were over 30 pits operating around Kirkburton employing over 300 men. The last colliery closed about 70 years ago. One old-established industry, which has recently moved from the village, is 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, this site now operates 24 hours a day and produces tens of millions of bottles for UK Supermarkets and wholesalers.
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