The Leigh Family of Stoneleigh

The Lords Leigh were the lay patrons of Leek Wootton Church. In the Reformation the Dissolution of the Monasteries led to property formerly owned by the Catholic Church passing into the hands of laymen. The Advowson of Leek Wootton Church, which had been in the Benefice of the Abbey of Kenilworth, came into the ownership of Rowland Hill, who left it to his niece, Alice Barker, when he died in 1561.

Alice was married to Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh and their son, Thomas, was the first Leigh Baronet of Stoneleigh, whose daughter Alice was a generous benefactor of the Church. The Baronetcy passed to Sir Thomas’s grandson, Thomas, who was created the first Baron Leigh in 1643 in recognition of his intrepid loyalty to Charles I during the Civil War, entertaining the King at Stoneleigh when the gates of Coventry were shut against him. The title passed to grandson to son to brother to son and to son, ending with Edward Leigh, 5th Baron Leigh. He was declared insane and kept confined at Stoneleigh Abbey until his death, when the property passed to his sister, Mary, for the duration of her lifetime and the title became extinct.

Sir Chandos Leigh, 1st Baron Leigh (image © National Portrait Gallery, London, Ref: NPG D37277)

On Mary Leigh’s death a hunt began for the rightful heirs to Stoneleigh Abbey, which eventually (and controversially) identified James Henry Leigh of Adlestrop, Gloucestershire. He and his wife, Julia Judith Twisleton (daughter of the 7th Baron Saye & Sele), had a son, Chandos, who was a schoolmate of Lord Byron, an author and minor poet. In 1839 the barony of Leigh was revived and he became the first Baron Leigh of the second creation. The barony descended to Sir Chandos’ son, William Henry Leigh. When his son, Francis Dudley Leigh was waiting to inherit Stoneleigh Abbey, he lived at Leek Wootton House, in the centre of the village (almost opposite the end of Church Lane) from 1898.

He inherited the title and Abbey in 1905 and his brother, Rupert moved to the house in 1906. Sir Francis and his wife Helene (a wealthy American heiress) had no children, so when he died in 1938 his nephew, Rupert William Dudley Leigh, who was born in 1908 at Leek Wootton House, inherited (his father having died in 1919). The relationship between the Lords Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey and Leek Wootton remained until the last Lord Leigh transferred the ownership of the Abbey to a charitable trust in 1996, but Lord Leigh remained the Patron of the Church until 2020, when he passed the patronage to the Bishop of Coventry.