Until the late 1950s, the village was the site of a major rural railway junction. Situated on the main Harrogate to Northallerton via Ripon railway line (closed 1968), a branch line (closed 1963) ran westwards from Melmerby to the small market town of Masham, famous for brewing. A line (closed 1959) also ran north eastwards linking Melmerby with the East Coast Main Line at Thirsk.
The village is part of the parish of Melmerby and Middleton Quernhow, a small hamlet a quarter of a mile north of the village. The population is approximately 430.
During the war the village was the site a a large munitions store, taking advantage of the railway access.