The Leigh Parish Today
The ancient parish of The Leigh ( pronounced The Lye and at one time spelt that way ) has an area of 1504 acres and sits almost equidistant from Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Gloucester—only about five miles from each.
The land is mostly flat –the highest point being 100 feet-with a large proportion being pasture, bounded almost entirely by watercourses.
Although it is a small parish, there are three distinct parts-Leigh End where the church is situated-Evington where the more compact village is now referred to as The Leigh and Coombe Hill where the Road to Cheltenham (A4019) intersects the Gloucester toTewkesbury Road
At the last count in 2016 there were 127 houses with a combined population of 357 people of whom 70% had lived in the Parish for more than ten years. With a garage, shop and pub at Coombe Hill and regular bus services to the main towns the Parish is compact but with an opportunity for limited growth in the future.
The History of The Leigh
This section has been kindly prepared by Brian Bramley—
In 1085 William the Conqueror, at his Christmas Court held in Gloucester, commissioned the Domesday Book and the entry for The Leigh is “La Lege”, the translation from the Norman/French according to Rudder the 18th century Gloucestershire historian probably means “The Place”.
In the 1930’s an archeological dig was carried out on what was believed to be the site of a Roman farm house.
The parish was divided between the hundreds of Deerhurst and Westminster, corresponding to the estates formerly belonging to a) Deerhurst Priory (the manor of Leigh was still held by Deerhurst Priory in 1604, and b) Westminster Abbey (the manor of Evington was held by Westminster Abbey until its dissolution by King Henry V111 in 1539.
The first mention of St.Catherine’s Church was in 1225, with the main settlement in the parish being close to the church and the moated Leigh manor house, (now Leigh Court).
By the 14th century it appears that the settlement at Evington, which is ½ mile north-east of the church, was larger than the area by the church which was by then known as Leigh End. The reason for this change is likely to have been the proximity of the common which provided most of the pasture in the parish. Evington now has more the character of a nucleated village with houses grouped around a triangle of roads.
It is known that Cyder Press Farm, Daniel’s Orchard and Coombe Hill including Slate Mill were part of Evington. . Cyder Press Farm incorporates some herring-bone masonry, thought to be Saxon, and the timber framed farm house incorporates a pair of incomplete cruckblades.
By 1793 a farm house called the Great House (later Leigh End Farm) had been built west of the church.
Leigh House, the largest house in the parish was built in early 19th C, probably by the Hill family. A manor-house may be represented by Evington Hill Farm, which is mainly a cruciform timber-framed building part of which is 16th century or earlier.
Brick House Farm (previously called Evington Manor Farm) built in the early 18th century may be the location of the Evington manor estate. Evington House (previously Evington Villa) lies beside the old course of the road at Coombe Hill and was largely rebuilt by Sir Arthur Brook Faulkner in the early 19th century, but a timber-framed 17th century wing was retained. There are a number of other old houses in the parish, some thatched and mostly altered.
The low lying land to the North and North East of the parish ( Deerhurst Common as it used to be called) was grazed in the summer by animals belonging to commoners from The Leigh and Deerhurst. In 1761 people from The Leigh had dug a large illegal ditch to define their section of the common, and probably help drain it and improve “their share”. It was destroyed by a “riotous mob” – presumably from Deerhurst.
Within 40 years however, between 1792 and 1795 a canal was dug along this undefined boundary from the River Severn to Coombe Hill. The canal was intended mainly for the carriage of goods between The Severn and Cheltenham, particularly coal from the Forest of Dean (up to 50,000 tons annually). The Act of Parliament relating to the canal construction allowed improvement of all waterways and pools up to 1 ¾ miles from the canal and this had a major impact by increasing the drainage of the area. The common land and remaining open fields had all been enclosed by 1815.
The canal closed in 1876 following the opening of the Gloucester-Cheltenham tramway.
In 1985 The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust purchased the canal and have since then acquired additional land resulting in the Coombe Hill Nature Reserve covering 223 acres of wetlands.
The growth of the population at Coombe Hill in the 19th century was recognised by the building there of a Methodist Chapel and a Mission Church whose mother church was St.Catherine’s at The Leigh.
The population grew to 470 in 1851 but then declined and stood at 281 in 1931.
In 1839 the parish had four inns, including the Swan at Coombe Hill which is now the only one remaining.
In 1874 Leigh Court and Leigh End remained the largest farms and there were seven others over fifty acres and about twenty smallholdings.
In 1608 the parish had four carpenters, three tailors and a smith, with the smithy not closing until about 1940-hence the name Blacksmiths Lane..
The church at The Leigh was probably built as a chapel of the Benedictine Deerhurst Priory by the late 12th century. Some of the notable items include a large stone slab in the wall opposite the West Tower which is thought to be a medieval altar stone. A new vicarage was built in the late 1840’s – now Hoefield House.
The name of the church was changed from St. James to St. Catherine in 1885, when the building was extensively renovated. The tower was built in the 15th C. The Nave is 14th C. The Font is 15th C and it was here that the baptism took place on 10thApril 1389 of Cecily Browning, later the wife of Roger Whittington, brother of Richard Whittington, the famous three times Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington.
There are six bells, five of them cast in the 17th century and one of 1908.
By 1828 schooling at The Leigh was having a hesitant start. In 1840 it was alleged that the schoolmaster was a farm labourer with no education and that the vicar believed the poor should not be educated. However by 1846 there was a day and Sunday school with 44 children taught by a mistress, and in 1862 a new school with a teacher’s house attached was built in Church Lane. This school reached its centenary, closing in 1962.