The name Darley means 'Deer-glade', with 'ley' derived from 'leah' which means woodland glade or clearing. Menwith is derived from the Norse for Wood or 'Wood on a Hill'. Darley was one of the many settlements that were included in the Forest of Knaresborough and boundary stones can be seen along the River Nidd, marking the boundary between the Forest and lands belonging to Fountains Abbey. Even today some Land Deeds include the 12th Century right permitting the Lord of the Forest of Knaresborough to chase deer across the gardens of the village.
Records of 1230 refer to Corn and hay Tithes being paid in surrounding villages but not by people in Darley, suggesting that Darley was not an area of arable farming at that time. In the early 1300s, the Black Death hit many of the families in and around the settlement known as Darley. During the next few centuries Darley became an area of arable farming like many of the villages within the Forest of Knaresborough. However, by the early 16th Century Darley's open fields were becoming enclosed. In 1634 Darley was on the main road between Ripon and Skipton, although much of the time the road was impassable.
In 1860 construction was started of the railway line from Harrogate to Pateley Bridge and it was completed in just under 2 years, although Darley did not get its station until a few years later. The railway operated until the early 1960s and was very popular both for visitors and for schoolchildren and families going to Harrogate and Knaresborough. Today only the embankment and access tunnels running alongside the southern river bank reveal its route, along with names such as Station Road and 'Station Lane House'. The census of 1861 showed there were 650 inhabitants of Menwith with Darley.
Local industries were powered by water. This is still evident in the millponds, buildings and landscape around today and a working waterwheel can still be seen at Darley Mill. Religion has always played an important part in village life, with a Methodist Church, built in 1829 and Christ Church, now extended beyond the original Anglican Chapel of Ease of 1849 both still in use today. There was also a Primitive Methodist Chapel (1841) and a Friends Meeting House, evidence of what was a strong and significant Quaker presence throughout the Dale.
During the early 1900s the parish flourished, with a variety of shops, several public houses and three mills - Darley Mill, Fringill Mill and Brightwater Mill (The Paint Mill). Many villagers owned or worked on farms or in the mills. Leisure activities included tennis (on a court outside Christ Church), cricket and badminton together with weekly dances, originally in Christ Church Hall and then in Darley Memorial Hall after it was opened in 1947. The Hall was originally the canteen at Scar House Reservoir and was transported down the Dale and re-built to become what was referred to as 'the Marriage Bureau of the Dale' as so many local people met their partners at the dances. Further recent historical information can be found in the books Darley Remembered and Darley Celebrations which can be purchased from Darley Heritage Group.