The village was first mentioned 1086 in the Domesday Book. The foundations and part of the walls of All Saints Church in South Kirkby are from the Anglo-Saxon period.
For many centuries, Moorthorpe was a farming village, but as the Industrial Revolution took hold, it took hold of Moorthorpe and of South Kirkby. In 1881, the South Kirkby Colliery was founded, which caused a swift increase in population and an extension of both villages until at their largest they housed together almost all of the 3,000 workers employed in the mine.
The nearby Upton Colliery closed in 1964 due to loss of life caused by explosions, fires, and serious geological faults. In 1988, the South Kirkby Colliery itself closed, along with many of the other coal mines in the immediate area, and the mine lands were later cleared for redevelopment, as in mansy of the neighbouring villages.
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