The History of Utkinton & Cotebrook
Both villages can claim a long history with Utkinton citing an entry in King William’s Domesday Book. Although not specifically mentioning the village by name, it makes reference to land owned by the Earl of Chester and held by Uviet, his tenant, and it is widely believed that the area in question is now Utkinton. It’s been variously named Utkgnton, Hutkynton, Hudekintona and Utkyngton but its current name goes back many hundreds of years. Some historians also believe that John Street formed part of the border between territory held by the Danes and that of the English King Alfred.
History of Utkinton
In reality Utkinton is a hamlet as it does not have a church (OED definition: “A small settlement, generally one smaller than a village, and (in Britain) one without a church.” ) although it is bigger than Cotebrook which does have a church and is, therefore classified as a village.
From the most recent Electoral Roll Utkinton has some 208 properties and 425 individuals registered whereas Cotebrook has 98 properties and 199 residents. NB: the actual populations will be bigger than these to account for individuals who are not registered to vote (young people below 18 and visitors). Overall the Parish has some 706 individuals of whom 19.9% are of school age or below, 59% are of working age and 21% of retirement age or over.
The longevity of the villages gives the parish its distinctive feel with many historic buildings. Chief among them is Utkinton Hall, former home of the Done family. This imposing edifice still looks large today but when it was built, in Elizabethan times, it was four times its current size. Other 17th century buildings include; Yew Tree cottage in Eaton Lane, The Bailiff’s House, Hall Lane, and Fishers Green Farmhouse together with its former Stables.
The picture shown to the left was painted by a local artist, Rae York, and the finished work donated to Utkinton WI and it now hangs in Utkinton Village Hall. For those who are keen local historians there are many references to the ‘Hall’ and its past scattered liberally through the work. It is well worth examining.
The parish is in the very heart of Cheshire, roughly equidistant from the main conurbations of Chester, Nantwich and Northwich. Utkinton is to the west and Cotebrook the east, and over two thirds of the residents live in the former. The area is generally serviced by unclassified country lanes, offering easy walking and extensive views of the surrounding farmland and attractive countryside, especially from the top of the Sandstone Ridge which bisects the parish. However the modern world makes its presence felt in the shape of the busy A49, the current survivor of the old Coach Road.
As with all long-established settlements there have been various developments over time, but a visitor returning to the parish after 30 years absence would see very little change, apart perhaps from the increased speed of the traffic through the villages.
History of Cotebrook
Most villages in England have great difficulty in pinpointing their origins but, in one sense, this is not a problem for Cotebrook, as records show it was so named in 1875 when St John’s church was built. The name derives from the small brook running near to the Alvanley Arms where sheep were “coted” (or penned) prior to being washed. However, the settlement itself is far older and up until this time was known as Utkinton-cum-Rushton. This was an accurate description of Cotebrook’s position, lying midway between those other two localities to its west and east. Nowadays, however, the main thoroughfare (the A49) runs from Tarporley in the south and northwards to Warrington.
Change, however, is nothing new to this village, and has been a common theme throughout its lifetime. It was called Cote-Brook (sic), in 1875 and had many more cottages than exist today. Maybe that’s one reason why it can boast two excellent public houses. These are (in alphabetical order) the Alvanley Arms and the Fox & Barrel. The former can trace its history back to the 16th century and local legend has it that the F & B was named after a fox which hid in a barrel to escape the hunt. Truth or myth; you decide.
Cotebrook once had its own state school. Sadly that closed in 1955, but there is some compensation in the fact that it still has a Village Hall, built in 1938, which is home to various clubs and activities and also houses a fine collection of old photographs of by-gone days in the locality.
If you ask a local, today, where the races are, they will point you in the direction of the nationally renowned Oulton Park Motor Racing circuit in nearby Little Budworth. But 150 years ago the visitor would have received a different answer as Cotebrook, for most of the 19th century, was host to the famous Tarporley Horse Races. The outline of the course can still be seen on maps, and local road names such as Stable Lane; Sadlers Lane; and Racecourse Lane, pay homage to the excitement of the past. And our equine friends still play a large part in the current life of the village, since the opening of the multi-award winning Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre, on the A49.
Cotebrook is proud of its historical association with famous designers. Charles E. Kempe (1837 – 1907), a celebrated Victorian stained glass window manufacturer, applied his art in the building of St Johns, and John Douglas (1830 – 1911), described as “the best Cheshire Architect” by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his seminal guide, The Buildings of England, designed the Old Parsonage which stands across the road from the church.
However, whilst Kempe and Douglas helped to put Cotebrook on the map, metaphorically, it is the BBC North West Tonight team who have literally done that job. If you watch the nightly weather forecast after the regional news bulletin, at about 10.25pm, the weather map always features a couple of lesser known locations alongside the big guns of Liverpool and Manchester. And guess what – Cotebrook is one of them. It isn’t there every night, but if you tune in for a week, you will have a good chance of seeing it, and it’s a great way of ending the day with a little feeling of pride.”