People have probably lived in the vicinity of Coates for thousands of years. There is plenty of evidence of early earthworks, not least there are the remains of an Iron Age fort at Trewsbury. Equally the southern border of the parish is the Fosse Way, a Roman road which ran (and still runs, largely) from Bath to the north east of Nuneaton.
The village lies very close to the source of the river Thames, and the outline of a Roman building is clearly visible in a field directly south of the Tunnel House Pub, just a mile from the village. Little is known about this building, but there has been speculation that it is a temple to the goddess Isis, as the source of the great river may have once started there.
The first mention of the parish is, unsurprisingly, in the Domesday Book – the limits of the parish were largely the same then as they are now. The name “Cotes” was derived from the sheep pens that littered the area, just as was the word “Cotswold”, which means “region of the sheep pens.” Oakley Wood possibly derives its name from Achelie, an ancient term meaning a clearing in the trees.
In 1066 the village consisted of three manor houses, named Radulph, Cockerel and possibly Oakley, as with the wood. Historical details of Coates are few and far between, based largely on the occasional spat in the courts. In 1221, for example, the then-priest of the parish, named Robert, slew William de Boses at the occasion of an Ale drinking. As nobody in the village helped to capture the renegade priest, the entire village was fined and the priest was outlawed.
Records suggest that the church was first constructed in the 14th Century. It may seem strange that the Church is so far outside the village, but at the time all or part of Coates lay between the Church and what is now Hailey Woods. No-one is sure why the main part of the village was re-sited where it stands today. One theory is that it was due to the Great Plague; a more mundane explanation perhaps, is that houses built up around the newer manors over time, and fell down in the older areas.
In the late 15th Century, the three manors were brought together by Sir William Nottingham, and in 1600 the village was officially renamed from Cotes to Coates. The remaining part of one manor is now known as Church Farm (reputedly with a tunnel from the stables to the church, but this remains undiscovered), and another is now Setts House.
The oldest part of the village is the end wall of church farm; the oldest house(s) still standing are Coates House, which was originally a number of cottages known as Setts Cottages. Architecturally these were based on the Craft Movement, as were Setts House and Fosse Hill. Setts House was actually built – or at least paid for – by a Captain Stanwick, who didn’t want to have to drive his sister to church!
Life in the village changed dramatically with the arrival of the canal joining the Severn to the Thames. Taverns were constructed for the benefit of the canal workers, one at each end of the tunnel – these are the Daneway Inn in Sapperton, and the aforementioned Tunnel House, which was built in 1789. It was was gutted by fire in 1952, and later renovated, and it was extended in 2004. The Thames Head, situated out on the Tetbury road, is an old coaching inn.
In 1848, 22-year old Thomas Gibbs came to Coates as Curator of the church. He later built the school, largely at his own expense, and lived to a ripe old 94 years. His body is buried in the church yard. The school, probably built originally on the site of a workhouse, first opened its doors in 1849; it was closed in 1987 and sold by the Bathurst estate as a private house. The clock maintenance passed to the parish council, and thereupon to the current owner who still has to ensure the time is set correctly!
Later in the 19th Century, a new manor house was built; later still saw the arrival of a further large residence, which was brought down stone by stone from Hams Hall, near Coleshill in Warwickshire, in 1921. During the war a German plane – a Junkers bomber – crashed into the tennis courts at the rear of Bledisloe, having jettisoned its bombs along the Setts. Coates resident Albert Wheatley was put on guard of the crashed aircraft, and the two German airmen were buried in the churchyard. In 1950 the house was acquired by the Royal Agricultural College and renamed Bledisloe Lodge.
There was also, until 19-something, a licensed establishment in the village called The Shepherds Arms. Coates has never had its own pub; The Shepherds Arms was licensed to dispense beer, and while the men of the village were not legally allowed to drink on the premises, they used to sit on the opposite wall to do so! The last licencee of the Arms was the Wright family, before that Douglas Holder and before that Georgina Laurence, known to all as Georgie, and her assistant Laura. The post office, opposite what is now May Tree Close, was run by a Mary Ann Roberts in 1901, then her son Tom Roberts, and then by his daughter, Nancy. Mary Ann was married to George Roberts, who had a brother Robert Roberts. Their father was Richard Giles Roberts who was a master carpenter for Lord Bathhurst.
The Village Hall was originally built as a mens’ reading room in 1905. Today it hosts a gardening club, and “good companions” whist drives are held regularly. The church itself has been restored twice, once in 1861 and again in 1947. The footpath across to Tarlton was the route for burials of Tarlton residents, as they had no church yard. Incidentally, the cart was until recently still in the church! Inside the church there is an account of a Coates man, Bernard Vann, who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.
In 1911, the Coates village community purchased a clock to commemorate the coronation of George V. It was placed in the centre of the village on the National School.
Coates has remained roughly the same size for the last hew hundred years, with population numbering around 400. 12 council houses were built between the wars, and 18 after the last war. Recent expansions include the creation of Quaker Row (in the gardens of the existing terraced houses) and May Tree Close in the early 90’s.