Thurnscoe means "thorn wood" and remained largely agricultural before the arrival of mining in the late 18th century.

Prehistoric activity in the Thurnscoe area is indicated by Iron Age enclosures, field systems, tracks and settlements that are visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs of the area to the south of the town. Thurnscoe is situated to the east of Ryknild Street Roman road and archaeological evidence also demonstrates Romano-British settlement in the area to the west of Derry Grove.

Early medieval activity at Thurnscoe is indicated by place-name evidence. Recorded as ‘Ternusc’ in the 1086 Domesday survey, Thurnscoe derives its name from the Old Norse ‘pyrne’ and ‘skogr’ and means ‘thorn wood’ (Smith 1961). Early medieval deposits survive within the fabric of St. Helen’s Church, which was rebuilt in the 15th century and again in the early 18th century.

Following the Norman Conquest, Thurnscoe was granted to Robert, Count of Mortain, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. A moated site with associated earthworks may have been occupied in the 11th century. Various lands in Thurnscoe were granted to Nostell Priory in the 12th century, while Roche Abbey held lands here by the 14th century. A farm in the area originated as an abbey grange, while monks from Roche quarried limestone at Thurnscoe.

Thurnscoe remained largely agricultural and the remains of extensive post-medieval field systems are visible on aerial photographs. While coalmining took place in the area from the late 18th century, its main impact occurred after the opening of Hickleton Main Colliery in 1894. By the early 20th century, Thurnscoe had expanded substantially through the construction of housing for miners and their families. Hickleton Main closed in 1988.