The village of Colston is first recorded in none other than the Domesday Book in the year 1086. At that time there were two parishes of Colston and Kinoulton. Colston having a similar parish boundary to the present day parish of Colston Bassett. Prior to the Norman Conquest the wider area including Kinoulton and Colston was included in the saxon manor of Newbold. After the Conquest the name of Newbold ceased to exist. It is considered that the origins of the name Colston relate to place of Col, being a saxon, old English or possibly Scandinavian personal name.
Bassett was not, however, a place name but a family name. It was added to the parish of Colston when Ralph Basset was given the estate including the church, which is now in ruins but is still the village burial ground. This was around 1120 when Ralph Basset was given the entire estate or manor of Colston by King Henry 1. Ralph Basset was the head of an important Norman noble family and he held high office, being Lord Chief Justice of England.
It is therefore likely that the parish became called Colston Bassett shortly after Ralph’s death in 1127. The village, from then onwards became an estate village which, forever after, was inextricably entwined with each subsequent owner or lord of the manor. The village remained in the Basset family for eight successive generations until the last Lord Ralph Basset died in 1390.
At that point the entire estate passed to his nephew Sir Hugh Shirley but this was successfully contested and the estate eventually passed to another relative, Lord Stafford. The Stafford family retained ownership until around 1520 when the surviving Stafford heir (being the Duke of Buckingham) was executed for high treason, no less !
Sir Thomas Kitson, “a merchant of London”, then purchased the estate and was obviously a person of considerable wealth as he was Sheriff of London in 1533. Sir Thomas died in 1540 and the estate then was inherited by his son , also called Thomas. In 1574 the estate then passed to Thomas Kitson’s godson Mr Edward Golding who held the estate until his death in 1584. His son (also called Edward Golding) acquired the estate and shortly after that came to live in the village in the newly built manor house on the site of the current Colston Bassett Hall.
In 1604 Colston Bassett was subject to a disastrous outbreak of the plague. It was described as a severe visitation with “all communication cut off by the inhabitants of the adjacent villages, between themselves and the wretched population of the infected town”. There are recorded the burials of 83 victims of the plague between July 1604 and the following March 1605.
It is a long held story that the outbreak of plague caused the destruction and removal of the village from around the ruined St Mary’s church to where it now stands today. The Reverend Evelyn Young in his History of Colston Bassett is not so certain of the truth of this story. Although it is most probable that the village did originally exist around the now ruined St Mary’s Church, it had disappeared from that area well before 1604. This is confirmed by a map of 1600 which shows no buildings around the old church. He considered that this story may be a reference to a much earlier outbreak of the plague, probably at the time of the Black Death in 1349.
Around 1610 Edward Golding was made a baronet and his son Charles succeeded to the title and the estate on his death in 1666. He only held the title and estate for a few months as he died in 1667 at the relatively young age of 37. His son (also Sir Edward) succeeded to the title when he was only 10 years old and the estate was managed by guardians until he achieved his majority.
At this time Colston Bassett was caught up in the events of the Civil War and this was particularly in relation to the split loyalties of village families of the time. Edward Golding was a Royalist and Colonel Francis Hacker was an equally staunch Republican or Parliamentarian. Colonel Hacker lived in the Hall House or Hall Place (now Manor Farm on Bakers Lane) and Sir Edward at the Hall. Francis Hacker was said to have been influenced by his friend Colonel Hutchinson of neighboring Owthorpe Hall, who was a leading Parliamentarian local commander, being involved in the seige of Nottingham Castle. It is recorded that in May 1643 Thomas Hacker (Francis Hacker’s younger brother and a Royalist) was slain in a fight at Colston Bassett. This confirms that a Civil War skirmish occurred in the village at that date.
Francis Hacker was directly involved in the death of King Charles and supervised arrangements for the execution. When Charles the Second succeeded to the throne after the restoration of the monarchy it was Colonel Hacker who was arrested and sent for trial for treason. He was hung drawn and quartered in October 1660.
The estate remained in the Golding family for a further generation and the next Sir Edward Golding set about rebuilding the Hall and carried out extensive tree planting between 1704 and 1710.
The estate then passed into the hands of the Martin family, Henry Martin was the MP for Kinsale and from whom the Martins Arms takes its name. He was responsible for the construction of several of the larger properties that exist today such as the Rectory and the Yews or Colston Bassett House as it is now known On the death of Mr Martin in1839 the estate then passed to his second son, also Henry Martin, and eventually it was sold in 1864 to Mr George Thomas Davy, “an eminent London merchant”. It was George Thomas Davy who was responsible for planting and landscaping the village to the design and layout that can be seen today. This includes the lowering of the gradient of Hall Lane, the construction of New Road and the school.
In 1876 the estate was sold to Mr Robert Millington Knowles whose particular interest was farming and modern farming techniques. He further developed the tree planting in the village and constructed various agricultural buildings and cottages. Mr Knowles was also responsible for building the new church (St John the Divine) in the centre of the village. This was in memory of the death of his wife and son. The new church was completed in 1892. The roof of the old church of St Mary’s was removed on completion of the new church and St Mary’s was relieved of its role as the parish church but still remains the burial ground for the village.
Mr Knowles died in 1924 and the estate then passed to his daughter and son in law, Sir Edward and Lady Le Marchant . The estate remains with the Le Marchant family to this day.
Around this time (1920) the Colston Bassett and District Dairy was opened and has since then specialized in making Stilton cheese, the king of cheeses. The Dairy has continued to win many awards and has become nationally famous for its distinctive product.
During both world wars the inhabitants of the village have played their part and in some cases made the ultimate sacrifice as shown on the war memorials in the church and churchyard. Nearby Langar (on the parish boundary) was a Bomber Command base during the Second World War.
In the last fifty years the village has changed from an entirely agricultural economy to a predominantly commuter type village for people working in the surrounding towns and cities. The village may now be about to experience something of a renaissance with the increased ability of people to work from home. Who knows what the future may hold?
Building and development in the village has generally been restricted since the end of the Second World War. This had been for two reasons. Firstly, because of the estate nature of the village ownership has not been diverse or fragmented therefore any development has been controlled by the estate itself. Secondly, the village was quickly awarded Conservation Area status in the early 1970s which (again) ensured that any form of development should be controlled and subject to statutory guidance and restriction.
Finally, in addition to the Dairy, the village has a nationally acclaimed public house and retaurant in the Martins Arms and an award winning store and post office at the Colston Bassett Store, both being located in the centre of the village.