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Hucknall is 7 miles (11 km) north-west of Nottingham, on the west bank of the Leen Valley, on land which rises from the Trent Valley in the south and extends northwards to Kirkby-in-Ashfield. The Whyburn or Town Brook flows through the town centre. Farleys Brook marks its southern boundary.
The town's highest point is Long Hill, at 460 ft (140 m) above sea level, with views over the city and Trent Valley, which descends to 22–24 metres (72–79 ft) AOD, flowing just beyond most of the city centre.
The town is surrounded by farmland or parkland. To the north-west lie Misk Hills and Annesley. To the north-east of the town are the villages of Linby and Papplewick, and beyond these two, Newstead Abbey and its grounds, once the residence of Lord Byron. To the west lies Eastwood, birthplace of D. H. Lawrence and an inspiration for many of his novels and short stories. To the east of the town is Bestwood Country Park.
The contiguous settlements of Butler's Hill and Westville often appear as distinct entities on maps, but are generally seen as parts of Hucknall. They belong to its historic and present-day Church of England parish, although the town itself has no civil parish council. The identity is reinforced by being part of the post town and by being shared wards of Hucknall.
Hucknall was once a thriving market town. Its focal point is the Church of St Mary Magdalene, next to the town's market square.
The church was built by the Anglo-Saxons and completed after the Norman Conquest, though its medieval chancel, nave, north aisle and tower were much restored and enlarged in the Victorian period. In 1872 a south aisle was added and in 1887 unusually long transepts, while the rest of the building apart from the tower was thoroughly restored. The top tower stage and the south porch are 14th-century. There are 25 stained-glass windows by Charles Eamer Kempe, installed mostly in the 1880s, and a modest memorial to Lord Byron.
From 1295 until 1915, the town was known as Hucknall Torkard, taken from Torcard, the name of a dominant landowning family. Signs of the earlier name can be seen on some older buildings.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, coal was discovered and mined heavily throughout the Leen Valley, which includes Hucknall. This brought wealth to the town and three railway lines. The first was the Midland Railway (later LMS) line from Nottingham to Mansfield and Worksop, which closed to passengers on 12 October 1964, though partly remained as a freight route serving collieries at Hucknall, Linby and Annesley. The Hucknall station on this line was known as Hucknall Byron in its latter years. In the 1990s the line was reopened to passengers in stages as the Robin Hood Line, the section through Hucknall in 1993, with a new station on the site of the old "Byron", though simply called Hucknall. The second was the Great Northern Railway (later LNER) route up the Leen Valley and on to Shirebrook, serving many of the same places as the Midland south of Annesley. It closed to passengers on 14 September 1931, but remained in freight use until 25 March 1968. The station on this line was known as Hucknall Town. The third was the Great Central Railway (also LNER), the last main line built from the north of England to London, which opened on 15 March 1899. The stretch through Hucknall closed fully on 5 September 1966, but Hucknall Central station had closed earlier, on 4 March 1963.
From 1894 until 1974 Hucknall was the seat of Hucknall Urban District Council. With the abolition of the UDC, local government was transferred to Ashfield.
In 1956 the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Hucknall was built to serve western parts of Hucknall.