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Knottingley is a town within the metropolitan borough of the City of Wakefield and was once described as the smallest town and largest village in the country; its history as a settlement dates back to an Anglo-Saxon development alongside the River Aire, which contributed to many types of industries ranging from shipbuilding, glassmaking, brewing and potteries; Knottingley means "the clearing of Cnotta's people", from the Old English personal name Cnotta meaning "knot", describing a small, round man and -ingas "people of" + leah "wood, modern lee, not the same meaning as Leah (personal name)"; the name was recorded as Cnotinesleahemm in 1128

Knottingley is situated on land that is mostly rich soil on top of a magnesium limestone ridge and it was this commodity that became its principal product far into the late 19th century; the vast quarries excavated in those days are still in existence today as is the limestone business itself; the stone was used principally for burning into lime which was used in the agricultural business.

The opening of the Aire and Calder navigation brought with it cheap transport for the lime business and barges coming downstream carrying coal from the South Yorkshire coalfields would then make the return journey loaded with limestone.

Up until 1700 the river Aire was only navigable from its connection with the river Ouse at Airmyn to as far as Knottingley thus making it the inland port of the West Riding; however, in 1699 the Aire and Calder Navigation Act was passed which at the time was an historic measure as it was the first navigation scheme passed by an Act of Parliament; under this act the river upstream was opened as far as Leeds for the passage of small barges and the importance of Knottingley as an inland port disappeared.

However, the town's fortunes changed again when later on a canal was built, which ran through the centre of Knottingley within a deep cutting in the limestone providing a connection between the newly opened port of Goole with the river Aire at Ferrybridge.

Knottingley is famous as a glass manufacturing town; in 1887 Bagley's Glassworks purchased the rights to the first bottle-making machine, invented by a Ferrybridge postmaster.

The town is one of the few in the United Kingdom to have a working coal mine, Kellingley Colliery owned and operated by UK Coal, it is one of the newest of the few deep coal mines left in Britain today; although its postal address is Knottingley, it is actually situated at Beal in North Yorkshire, about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) east of Knottingley and 3.6 miles (5.8 kilometres) east of Ferrybridge power station.

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