History of Little Leighs

building - exterior
Leez Priory, Little Leighs.
© Copyright Peter Stack contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

History of Little Leighs >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848

LEIGHS (LITTLE) is a parish of scattered houses, near the small river Ter, 6½ miles North of Chelmsford, and 5 miles South South West of Braintree. It has only 182 inhabitants, and 1,080 acres of land.

LEIGHS PRIORY, which stood at the extremity of this parish, more than 1½ mile North West of the church, was founded about 1230, by Sir Ralph Gernon, KT., for Augustine canons, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. John. The buildings were extensive, and there was a spacious park, and pleasant gardens. The patronage remained in the heirs of the founder, till its suppression, when its revenues were valued at £114.1s.4d.

It was granted by Henry VIII., with the manors of Little Lees, Camsey, Berns, and Herons, to Sir Richard Rich; an eminent lawyer, who converted the Priory into a magnificent seat for himself and family. He enlarged the park from 400 to about 800 acres, and in 1547, was created "Baron Rich, of Leeze."

His grandson, Robert, was created Earl of Warwick, in 1581, but on the death of the 8th earl, without male issue, in 1759, all his honors became extinct. Charles, the 4th earl, died in 1673, and left Leighs Priory to his sister's son, the Earl of Manchester.

It afterwards passed, by purchase, to the Duke of Buckingham, and Sir Charles Herbert Sheffield;- the latter of whom sold it and the estate, about the close of the 18th century, to the Governors of Guy's Hospital, London, who converted the park into farms, and took down the Priory, except the Porter's Lodge, some buildings converted into a farm house, and the fine Tower Gateway.

The latter is of brick; with stone dressings, and has an imposing appearance, having a handsome octagon turret at each corner, finely embattled. The doorways and windows, in each story, are richly ornamented, and there are still some fragments of glass in the latter. Part of the buildings, and a large portion of the estate, are in Felsted parish.

The Princess Elizabeth was confined here during some part of the reign of her sister Mary.

After being enlarged and beautified by Lord Rich, the mansion consisted of two quadrangles, surrounding an outer and an inner court. Dr. Walker, in preaching the funeral sermon of Charles Rich, Earl of Warwick, in 1673, called Leighs Priory a "secular Elysium; a worldly Paradise; a heaven upon Earth." Near the farm house are some of the large fish ponds that belonged to the priory. The estate still belongs to Guy's Hospital; and other parts of this parish belong to Dr. Badeley, of Chelmsford, and several smaller owners.

St John the Evangelist Church - exterior
St John the Evangelist Church, Little Leighs
© Copyright Peter Stack contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Church (St. John,) is a small antique fabric with a wooden tower and spire.

The Rectory, valued in K.B. at £9, and in 1831 at £400, is in the patronage of Sir S. Stewart, and incumbency of the Rev. Thomas Slack, of Springfield. The glebe is l7A.3P; and the tithes were commuted in 1831, for £385.5s. per annum.

Twenty poor families have distributed among them, during Lent, one barrel of white, and half a barrel of red herring, from Lord Rich's Charity.

For distribution in bread, the poor parishioners have two yearly rent charges of 20s. each, one left by John Smith, in 1726, out of a cottage in Great Waltham, and the other left by Owen Offlet, out of Shalford Hall.

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Little Leighs - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

Little Leighs - First Series Ordnance Survey Map 1805

This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-4.0

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