Everyone called Cotgreave, Cotgrave, Cotgrove or Coatgrieve has inherited their name in one way or another from Thomas de Cotegrave who lived in Cheshire in the thirteenth century. Sometimes his name was written down slightly differently, like Kotegreve or Cotegreve, but there’s no doubt that he was named after a place, and it must have been near Chester because his activities were all in the local villages, like Christleton and Burton. But there is no place in Cheshire with a name that is anything like Cotegrave! In the sixteenth century, the place name had already been forgotten, and people started to say that Thomas must have been from Cotgrave in Nottinghamshire. There is no evidence for this, and all it really proves is that wherever Cotegrave was, it must have been a pretty inauspicious place.
By chance, there is one remaining reference that allows us to work out where Cotegrave really was. Hidden away in the British Museum, in a document called Harley Manuscript 2022, there is an casual mention of “a certain plot of land and woods that is called Cotegreve in Brune Stapleford”. That puts it five or six miles east of Chester near the village now called Bruen Stapleford, which is named after the local Bruen family. The manuscript says that “Cotegreve” extends from somewhere called Thickmore to Eybrook, and there’s enough information to work out where these places were, narrowing down the options for Cotegreve. It has to be near – but not right next to – the road between Burton and Bruen Stapleford. This is now a lane called Burton Road, which runs from Burton to the junction of Ryecroft Lane and Duddon Hook Lane. The document records that there was one “selion” and one other piece of land between the road and Cotegreve; in theory a selion is 250 yards long but they weren’t all perfect rectangles, and allowing for local geography it might be a bit more or less.
Although the location of Cotegreve itself was long forgotten, when Victorian surveyors turned up half a millennium after Thomas de Cotegrave’s death to make a tithe map of the area, they had to plot every inch, and they recorded that two fields were known locally as Near Cotgreaves and Far Cotgreaves. They are exactly where the old manuscript describes Cotegreve, and they are the starting place for the fascinating story of Thomas’s descendants. None of these people is very famous, but collectively, their history tells the story of the last eight centuries.
British Library, Harley MS 2022
Tithe map available at https://maps.cheshireeast.gov.uk/tithemaps/