Kirkby-in-Ashfield lies on the eastern edge of the Erewash Valley which separates Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Kirkby, as it is locally known, was originally a Danish settlement (Kirk-by translates as ‘Church Town’ in Danish) and is a collection of small villages including Old Kirkby, The Folly (East Kirkby), Nuncargate and Kirkby Woodhouse. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and has two main churches: St Wilfrid’s, a Norman church, which was gutted by fire on 6 January 1907 but quickly re-built to its former glory; and St Thomas’s, built in the early 1910s in neo-gothic style.
 
Kirkby-in-Ashfield was once an important centre of coal mining and railways in west Nottinghamshire, with three active coal mines and several railway junctions. The former Mansfield and Pinxton Railway from the Erewash Valley Line was joined here by the later Midland Railway line from Nottingham. The Great Central Railway main line passed to the south-west side of the town and had a double junction with the Great Northern Railway Leen Valley Extension line to Langwith Junction and the Mansfield Railway to Clipstone. The railways were closed during the Beeching era of the early 1960s when branch-line passenger services suffered widespread disruption, leaving the town without a link to central Nottingham and nearby Mansfield. The railway tracks were re-opened to passengers in the 1990s as part of the Robin Hood Line, providing links to other North Nottinghamshire towns and to Nottingham where a transport interchange allows transfer to the trams of Nottingham Express Transit system.