Cossall, pioneer of local coalmining

View down Church Lane, Cossall in 1900.
View down Church Lane, Cossall in 1900.

AT the time when Cossall became a place of fixed human abode it formed a portion of the great forest tract that stretched from the Trent into Derbyshire and Yorkshire, of which Sherwood Forest is a surviving fragment. It lay in the valley drained by the Erewash and must have been fenland, as Cossall Marsh suggests, when a Saxon named Cotta, whose name (or that of a namesake) appears also in Cotgrave.

He and his followers made a clearance in the tract, protected it by a timber stockade and turned to the cultivation of its virgin soil. The stream provided fish, the forest flesh but of these early days no documentary evidence exists. The second part of its name, the "all," is as in Nuthall, Hucknall, &c.) the modern rendering of the Old English "healh" which may mean an angle, corner, secret place or a hollow in a slope. These definitions are not antagonistic and may be reconciled to indicate an outoftheway spot possessing all these features. It is not, however, until the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086 that conjecture gives place to known facts of its history.

In that great survey it figures as Coteshale—thus preserving the memory of its founder. Half of it had belonged to a Saxon thegn, Levenot, who also held manors at Sutton-in-Ashfield, Annesley, and Bunny all of which went to a Norman Ralph, son of Hubert, the remainder passing to William Peverel as a dependency of his manor of Wollaton. It was then a place of little importance; Ralph's portion had but three villeins, Peverel's only two and the scanty population doubtless parished at Wollaton. Within 20 years of the Conquest its taxable value had markedly declined: its annual Pentecostal offering to Southwell was the modest sum of sevenpence.

Stirring times

The fight of the last of the Peverels in 1154 entailed the forfeiture of his possessions and Wollaton with its half of Cossall came into the hands of the Moreteins, with whom it long remained. In the reign of the crusading King Richard I, Eustace de Moretein adhered to the faithless Prince John; he was one of those taken captive when Coeur de Lion re­covered Nottingham Castle in 1194, but made his peace by a fine of 20 marks.

Twice he paid for exemption from foreign military service, and when the barons rose against King John in 1215 he threw in his lot with them. He had the illfortune to be captured by John at Rochester and his estates were seized, but presently his wife had letters of safe conduct going about his redemption. Upon the accession of Henry III his possessions were restored to him, but two years later they were committed to the custody of Wm. de Cantelupe as he had failed to keep the terms for payment of his ransom. Later in the reign Roger de Mortein was in rebellion with Simon de Montfort and being taken prisoner at Northampton he was confined in Nottingham Castle: in 1264 he was taken with others to London to be exchanged with royalist prisoners captured at Lewes. William de Moretein, (adhered to King Henry, and was rewarded for his fidelity with grants of land. His nephew and successor in 1283 had grant of free warren in his manors of Wollaton and Cossall. FitzHubert's moiety came to the family which had taken the name of the village and was notable for its benefactions to monasteries; Under King John Gilbert de Brunnesley held lands here and in Brinsley and Broxtowe by service of rendering him £113s. 4d yearly and finding a horse worth 5s., with a sack and a large pot of iron, and a halter for 40 days with the army in Wales. The Annesleys had property here, and in 1267 Petronilla de Wodehouse was holding part of a toft with 10a. of land and half an acre of wood from the Archbishop of York at "Cashale."'

First Notts coalmine

St Catherine's church, Cossall (photo: A Nicholson. 2003).
St Catherine's church, Cossall (photo: A Nicholson. 2003).

Even at this early period Cossall was an industrial village. About 1275 mention occurs of a plot of land near the "Crokede Dyk" where ironstone was formerly "dug" and by 1283 colliers were working "mine of sea coal." The pit had passed beyond the quarrying stage by 1315 for an arrangement was then made for the suspension of the rent payable by the lessee whenever the workings were wrecked by firedamp. The mine was probably small as it had been let at a rental of 20s. and 32 horseloads of coal per annum for 99 years "if the coal lasts." One hundred years ago Curtis recorded that "coals are got in this lordship at about 60 yards in depth and of an average thickness of 3ft.; the Babington pits are much deeper." The village rivals Selston as a pioneer in what is now the chief industry of the county, and the conjunction of its coal and ironstone suggests association with the forges in Sherwood Forest. Charcoal was, however, preferred for smelting, but the smiths preferred coal, as also did limeburners, and ere the pits of Wollaton were opened the workers of Smithyrow, Girdlesmith-gate (Pelham Street), and Bridlesmith-gate in Nottingham, presumably drew supplies of fuel from Cossall.

An ancient pilgrim's way passed from the Trent Bridge at Nottingham and proceeded via Aspley, Strelley and Cossall to the abbey and hermitage at Dale; fragments of it remain near Cossall and at Strelley much of its stone paving was uncovered and removed quite recently. Dale Abbey owned part of Short Wood and had other interests here. Thurgarton Priory received tofts and lands from Reginald de Cossall and the little priory at Felley had some of the local tithes, but the principal monastic beneficiary was Newstead Priory.

In Miss Walker's translation of the Newstead Cartulary of 1344 may be read at length the particulars of the benefactions of Wm. de Cossall, a Baron of the Exchequer which included no insignificant portion of the lordship, part of which he purchased from the Moreteins for the purpose, the priory undertaking in return to maintain two secular chap­lains to celebrate in the chapel of St. Catherine at Cossall and one at Newstead for the welfare of the souls of the donor and his family. The lands thus given to Newstead were sufficiently extensive to justify the priory in erecting two granges upon them." Others added pious gifts and Lenton Priory rented the watermill for which it paid 20s. a year—the same figure as the coalmine was then producing.

The Willoughbys

Wm. de Moretein, who died in 1283, counted among his Cossall possessions a manor with a capital messuage, the coal mine, a water mill, and a fishery. In addition to free tenants he had villeins and bondsmen whose modest rentals in cash were liberally supplemented by personal service. His arable land was let at 4d. an acre, but his meadows fetched 3s. per acre and his income from the manor was £9 16s. 3d. a year.

In 1314 Roger de Moretein sold to Sir Rd. de Willoughby the elder the advowson of Wollaton church and Cossall chapel, and five years later he conveyed to Sir Rd. de Willoughby the younger, the Chief Justice of Ireland, his manor of Wollaton and certain messuages and lands in this parish. In 1313 this Sir Richard had obtained Cossall manor on a lease which he presently improved into a permanency by marrying Isabel, the Moretein heiress. Thus the Moreteins, descended Warner the "man" of Peverel, faded out from Wollaton and Cossall, and the long ownership of the Willoughbys commenced. By 1323 the old fee was broken up and new races of proprietors came in.

In the latter part of the 14th century there were several cases of local outlawry and among them was Thos. Kyrkeman, "chaplain of Cossall," who decamped when charged with a trespass and was "put to the horn." He was subsequently pardoned.

Another sidelight is afforded by a record of 1411 which states that the whole township then sued William at the Gate, of Moorgreen, for breach of agreement well and faithfully to guard the beasts of the place for the year at a charge of 4d. per head. He had withdrawn, they said, without reasonable cause and they claimed the considerable sum of 100s. against him as damages. Their unguarded cattle had apparently roamed at large among the growing crops.

THE Willoughbys having Wollaton and other manors, must have soon parted with that at Cossall, for Thomas Latymer, who died in 1349 (perhaps of Black Death), held it of the Archbishop of York by service of paying 6d. a year. It reverted to the Crown, from whom the Skevyngtons long held it but after the Wars of the Roses this family appears to have fallen on evil days, for in 1465 Hugh Skeyyngton was outlawed for debt, and 30 years later it passed from their possession. Before the mayor of Nottingham Robert Skevyngton then (1495) swore to deliver it up within seven days to Sir Henry Willoughby, who undertook to pay seven marks a year to the vendor or to his wife if she survived him. Thus, after about a centuryandahalf, Cossall Manor came again to the lords of Wollaton, but it was not coterminous with the parish for the Cokefelds, Strelleys, Percys and others were proprietors of other parts of the vill, and in 1430 Sir Nicholas Strelley made provision for gifts to such of the poor of this and some neighbouring villages as did not "play at unlawful games or frequent unlawful taverns by night."