The name of the village comes from two elements, firstly the older nearby village of Esh, a Saxon term for Ash, and secondly Winning, which was a Victorian term used when coal was found.
The Esh mine opened in 1866, closing for economic reasons between 1930 and 1942; it then reopened in 1942 before finally closing in June 1968.
In March 2006 the National Lottery granted £25,200 towards the restoration of the Esh Winning Colliery banner. The banner group planned to use the money to restore the banner, which was on display at Beamish Museum, and produce a replica for display at the Durham Miners' Gala.
Opencast mining was performed in the hills around the village from the late 1970s to 1990s when the land was then reclaimed and restored.
Esh Winning was on the route of the Deerness Valley Railway; the line opened in 1858 and ran until 1964. The route of the line is now part of the eight-mile Deerness Valley Railway Path.
The Grade II-listed Memorial Hall is one of the village's largest buildings; it was built in 1923 as a memorial to the miners killed in World War I. Initially it was used as a meeting hall and community centre, before being converted in the 1920s to a cinema and ballroom and renamed The Majestic. The building has been disused since the 1970s although there have been attempts in recent times to restore and redevelop the building, none of which got out of the planning stage. The hall, now boarded up, had its own cinema, concert hall, library and swimming pool.
Built in Edwardian style with several rooms, it was perhaps a little too grand for a small community and experienced financial difficulties in the late 1920s.
Nevertheless, it continued to operate a cinema and ballroom for many decades afterwards.
In 1996 the 31-hectare Ragpath Wood was purchased by the Woodland Trust; the wood is to the south-east of the village bordering the Deerness Valley Walkway. The wood is on the site of an Ancient Woodland site, although it was felled during World War II and replanted in 1967.
The Esh Winning Eco-Learning Centre (EWE) is a training centre for the North East area, based in the local primary school. It specialises in the provision of training around sustainable development and outdoor learning. It is funded by a number of key partners including Durham County Council, Surestart and is part of North East Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Schools. A number of environmental courses and initiatives are being run from the centre.
Sir Bobby Robson, former manager of the England national football team, grew up in the neighbouring village of Langley Park and was educated for a time in Esh Winning. A local park has been named in his honour.
The village has a cricket team playing within the Durham County League.