Could Cottingham be the largest village in England?

Could Cottingham be the largest village in England? That's what residents claim says Chris Titley Photographs by Neil Holmes

Could Cottingham be the largest village in England? That’s what residents claim says Chris Titley - Photographs by Neil Holmes

Two former residents of Cottingham help to define it. One is the actor Brian Rix, born here in 1924. Known both for his frenetic farces and tireless charity work, he symbolises Cottingham’s friendly, bustling, larger-than-life side.

The other is poet Philip Larkin. His modest grave, the stone inscribed only with his name, the dates of his life (1922-1985) and the single word ‘writer’, is found in the middle of the unprepossessing cemetery. Larkin stands for the other side of Cottingham: undeniably English, traditional yet set a little apart from the mainstream, located as it is a little to the north of neighbour Hull.

But there is more to Cottingham than many would credit. The first thought to strike every first time visitor is the same: are you sure this is a village? With its large gothic church, immodest council offices and mad-busy shopping streets of Hallgate and King Street, Cottingham could rival any town. All the history books tell you residents proudly claim their home as the largest village in England.

A fine place to start is Market Green. Although Cottingham has enjoyed the right to hold markets since 1199, the first surviving mention of Marketstead Green dates from four centuries later. The market lapsed for many years but was revived in 1985 and is now open every Thursday thanks to the dedication of the traders.

Cottingham’s oldest pub, the Duke of Cumberland sits in the north east corner of Market Green. Its licence dates from 1731 and in the 1800s it became a coaching inn with its own brewery.

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Nearby is the splendid brick and stone council office, built in 1908, which once housed the fire station and Cottingham Urban District Council, abolished in 1935.

Another of Cottingham’s must-see buildings is the church of St Mary the Virgin. This is a grand testament to the village’s importance in medieval times. The nave dates back to 1320, and includes a fragment of medieval glass in the south west window. Look out too for carvings above the windows in the chancel which include a man with his tongue hanging out, a jester with a monkey and a man with his arms around a bear.

St Mary’s is not the only notable place of worship. The Zion Chapel, set back from Hallgate, was built in 1819 and retains some of its original box pews. A few doors down is the equally imposing Methodist Chapel.

To the west of the village centre is Castle Hill Hospital. This was once an impressive private mansion, built by Hull banker Thomas Thompson in 1814 and ornately castellated so it became known as Cottingham Castle. Unhappily it was destroyed by fire in 1861. All that remains is the tower folly.

Hallgate is Cottingham’s principal medieval street. At the West Green end there are the remnants of a moat in some of the front gardens. This marks the outer boundary of the fortified manor house Baynard Castle, built in about 1200 and abandoned in the 1300s.

The Fair Maid pub is named after Joan Wake, the ‘Fair Maid of Kent’, wife of Edward the Black Prince, mother of Richard II and heiress of Cottingham Manor.

Many of the buildings date from another prosperous period in Cottingham’s history. With the coming of a turnpike road to Hull in the 18th century, and the railway in the 19th, it became home to wealthy Hull families and commuters. Among the Victorian homes is192 Hallgate, where Philip Larkin rented rooms in the mid-1950s.

Hallgate is still full of life today. The village is blessed with many interesting independent shops, selling everything from antiques to art, sweaters to sweets. And if you want to escape the bustle, turn into the peaceful memorial gardens.

After the Second World War the University of Hull bought a camp that had previously been home to US soldiers. It built the impressive halls of residence known as The Lawns, and Cottingham’s latest incarnation, as a student town, began. Several of Cottingham’s historic villas have been saved by the university transforming them into student accommodation, including Thwaite Hall, sitting in beautiful grounds which include the Botanical Gardens.

Cottingham residents are rightly proud, not only of their status as England’s largest village, but also of its heritage.

The Cottingham Civic Society meets regularly at the Darby And Joan Hall on Finkle Street, and the village has an active local history society too, which published a Historic Cottingham Walk leaflet.

It leads you through all the monuments and milestones and is an excellent way to get to know this big-hearted village.

My village

Michelle Rudland runs Art Market, the contemporary art gallery on Hallgate. Artist Sandra Power, originally from Hull but now a resident of the United States, came over to launch the gallery when it opened last October.

Today it displays the work of a very varied group of artists, including the paintings of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Details are on the website

‘It’s been well received in Cottingham,’ Michelle says. ‘We’re pleasantly surprised how well it’s done.

‘We’re local residents and business people. We thought it was an opportunity to bring something extra to Cottingham as a place to come and shop. The residents are feeling quite proud of the fact that they’ve got an art gallery.

‘There are quite a lot of university lecturers who live locally, and some very good local artists,’ says Michelle. ‘There are open days and exhibitions in the civic hall.’

She is enjoying bringing something modern to a village with such history and charm. And in 2011 Michelle wants to get more involved in the Cottingham community. ‘We’ll be looking at how we’re going to represent local artists either through the gallery or the website, and possibly do some art competitions with the schools and put the children’s pieces in the gallery on large canvases.’

Getting there: Cottingham is north west of Hull and due south of Beverley off the A164. Trains regularly call at the station to the east of the village centre.

Where to park: Market Green has free parking, although spaces are restricted on Thursdays when the market is in full swing.

What to do: Visit the historic sites – pick up a Historic Cottingham Walk leaflet from the library behind the council offices. Browse in the eclectic shops and enjoy food and drink in the many pubs.