Holy Trinity


Cottam is recorded in Domesday without mention of a church or priest. Although no church at Cottam was assessed in the ecclesiastical subsidy of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291, a chapel had in fact been established by the late-thirteenth century, and probably by the twelfth on the evidence of the Norman south doorway. This foundation was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and on 20 April 1287, the rectory was annexed to the prebend of Rampton in Southwell Minster collegiate church. All tithes from the rectory of Cottam were to be paid to the prebendary – a canon at Southwell Minster– who would pay one mark yearly to support a vicar at the chapel. Interestingly though, in Archbishop John le Romeyn’s register, a request from the chapter of Lincoln to the archbishop to admit their newly elected dean into the benefices in York diocese belonging to the deanery on 24 June 1288, may have included the parsonages pertaining to South Leverton and Cottam chapel as Lincoln claimed jurisdiction of these along with Mansfield, Skegby, and Mansfield Woodhouse. South Leverton had been given to Lincoln by William II in 1093 as part of the Manor of Mansfield and it would appear that this gift included the village of Cottam.

Cottam was linked to South Leverton from an early date and served as a chapel-of-ease. In 1316, the register of fees combined the two villages ‘respondent pro villa integra’.

In 1370 the parishioners of Cottam sought a decision as to whether the vicar of South Leverton was obliged to provide a chaplain to minister to them in their chapel on three days a week. Several bore witness that it had been custom for many years for a chaplain to be present on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. All sacraments were administered, from baptism to burial in the chapel cemetery. Archbishop John de Thoresby ordered the dean of Retford to investigate the parishioners claims (as he held claim to the fruits of South Leverton vicarage during its vacancy). The dean found in the parishioners favour and his decision was attested in South Leverton church on 25 May 1372.

The construction of a chapel at Cottam was apparently necessary because frequent flooding of South Leverton parish made it very difficult for a number of the parishioners to travel to their mother church. Such was reported in 1548, when chantry commissioners recorded that Cottam chapel was located a mile away from the parish church, and that ‘there are belonging the sayd chappell eighty people that receive the communion and other rytes eccclesiastical’. The churchwardens of South Leverton parish at this date were accustomed to allocate 26s 8d for the maintenance of a priest at Cottam. It is a point of interest that ten years prior to this commission, in 1538, Sir John Hercy had written to Thomas Cromwell, begging him to take pity on the ‘poor men of Cottam’ who were threatened by a ‘lunatic priest’ put to them by the Archbishop of York’s officers.

According to Robert Thoroton, writing in 1677, the chapel of the Holy Trinity was a free chapel; he also noted that the priory of St Mary Torksey, Lincolnshire, held a good part of the land in Cottam.

In 1610 the parishioners were evidently very unhappy with their minister. In the churchwardens’ presentment that year they wrote that:

their minister Mr Richard Hunt never read the constitutions in their chapel at any time in the last year; their minister seldom or never reads any divine service on Wednesdays and Fridays in their chapel; the minister expounds very often, but by what authority they know not; Euzebius his son expounds also, but by whom or whether he is licensed, they know not; the minister and his son never instruct the youth of their town, except on Sundays in Lent; their minister much frequents alehouses ‘in verie scandalous sorte’…; the minister does not at any time read the names of such as are married, buried and christened on Sundays as is required; Roberte Smyth does not repair his part of the churchyard fence for his house, late Thomas Cobbe’s, but suffers it to decay; their minister did not come to make his election of the churchwardens, but the inhabitants did notwithstanding elect Roberte Smyth and Thomas Keyworth.

In 1620 a fight broke out in the chapel’s churchyard, and the circumstances surrounding this act of violence possibly indicate some level of underlying religious tension. One John Cob of Cottam was accused of striking Leonard Keaworth, and in his defence, Cob stated that Keaworth and several others had been playing football in the churchyard on a fasting Tuesday. Observance of religious rules was evidently taken more seriously by some members of the community than others. Further evidence of religious discord, albeit of a different nature, is recorded in 1636 when it was noted that a widow of Cottam had been prosecuted as a ‘popish’ (Roman Catholic) recusant. However, it seems that this was an individual case of recusancy, and forty years later, in a visitation dating to 1676, the vicar of Cottam recorded that there were forty-four inhabitants of the parish of sufficient age to take the sacrament, none of whom were Papists, Puritans, Quakers or of another affiliation who refused communion and regularly absented themselves from church.

The chapelry of Cottam was neither large nor wealthy in the seventeenth century. In 1688, King James II remitted payment of arrears of tenths (taxation) and granted the vicar of Cottam relief of £18 3s 8¼d (accumulated at a rate of 15s. 9d. over the course of 23 years), since the debt had been accumulated by the vicar’s predecessors and the living was valued at less than £30. In 1624 the chapel was reportedly ‘ruinous and in decay’, but by 1627 all seems to have been made good again. A further £10 3s 4d was spent on improvements during the 1630s, with 30s being recorded spent on repairs in 1639.

In 1718 a visitation was made and required the following works:

walls to be repaired; walls to be whitewashed inside; walls to be repaired with lime and hair inside; roof to be repaired; windows to be repaired; pavement to be repaired; steeple to be repaired; north door to be rehung; west end window to be unstopped and glazed to the bottom. The following items to be supplied: table of the prohibited degrees of marriage; the Creed; the Lord's Prayer; the Ten Commandments. The following fittings to be supplied: napkin to cover bread and wine; basin for alms; patten; chalice.

No visitation return was made in 1743 when Archbishop Herring carried out his visitation of the diocese, although it was recorded at this time that the curate of Cottam Chapel was Nicholas Howett, and the churchwarden was William Dobson.

Again, there was no separate return for Cottam when Archbishop Drummond made his visitation in 1764, but the churchwardens were named as John Taylor (old) and John Foottitt (new); under the entry for South Leverton, the vicar, Thomas Hurst, returned that he performed divine service at Cottam ‘as customary’. Later in the century, in 1793, it was recorded that the joint population of Cottam and South Leverton was 392. Throsby, writing in the 1790s, commented that there was a service only once a month and that the ‘little place of worship’ was maintained by the inhabitants.

The building must have been a bad state of repair as in 1794 a faculty was issued to pulldown the west end of the chapel and rebuild.

A clearer picture of Cottam is provided in 1844, when White’s Directory recorded that the chapelry contained eighteen houses and eighty-nine inhabitants.The population of Cottam remained unchanged in 1851, when the religious census of that year recorded that a religious service was held at Cottam once a fortnight with the service being held in the morning during the winter months, and in the afternoon during the summer. By 1881, the number of inhabitants had increased to 107, and two years later Cottam was separated from South Leverton and became a separate civil parish under the Divided Parishes Act (1882). On 24 May 1876 the spiritual parish of Cottam was united with Littleborough until 17 March 1925 when it became united with Treswell parish.

A major restoration of the chapel took place in 1868, when the interior fittings, including square pews, were replaced by open benches (with a capacity for seventy-six people), a prayer desk, lectern, and communion table in stained deal (fir or pine wood). The floor was repaved with black and red Staffordshire tiles. No chancel was fitted, but the east end was raised by two steps. On the first of these steps, seats were placed in the same manner as a chancel, and the altar was located above a stone foot-piece. In 1912, J. Charles Cox apparently considered this set-up sufficient to constitute a chancel, and the chapel was similarly recorded as having a chancel in Kelly’s Directory of 1922. As part of the general restoration of 1868, the font and Norman arch over the entrance doorway were carefully repaired and cleaned, and a stone cross was surmounted on the eastern gable. In 1885, White’s Directory recorded that the turret contained two bells, but by 1929 only one bell remained. The remaining bell was recorded as having been cast in 1704 by George Oldfield II of Nottingham.

By 1914, when Edwyn Hoskyns, bishop of Southwell carried out his parochial visitation, the parish was annexed, with the hamlet of Coates, to the vicarage of Littleborough. The vicarage of Littleborough-with-Cottam was visited on 2 July 1914 at 4 p.m. The net annual value of the benefice was £148, and the vicar was H J Griffin, instituted in 1905. Despite the annexation, Cottam chapel was actually larger than Littleborough St Nicholas, with the former providing sittings for eighty parishioners compared to fifty sittings in the latter. There were also more children enrolled in Sunday School at Cottam, where 25 children attended by comparison with only 4 at Littleborough. Cottam Holy Trinity was formally declared redundant in 2002 and has since been converted into a private house. There is now no public access. The register dates from 1695.