History of Leigh-on-Mendip

St Giles’ Church Heritage Hub – is located in the church community room where the archive of parish records can be interrogated. There is also a 30-minute film of the Restoration Project for the Nave roof and a new church booklet, as the last church information booklet was issued in 1980. The film can be viewed at the Vimeo website https://vimeo.com/407514700 as a stand-alone film and copies of the new church booklet can be obtained through Margaret Loten (01373 812922) or Chris Cudmore (01373 813735). 

The Local History Group  announced the publication of  “The Book of Leigh Upon Mendip” in June 2010. The book is priced at £12.50 with p&p within the UK at £2.50 extra if applicable.  It is available from Graham at  graham@grahamcroft.plus.com  Click here for the history of Asham Wood

Recent past minutes of the Parish Council are here.

Some historical facts from around the village

This parish is within the Diocese of Bath and Wells and is 600ft. above sea level. The Church of St. Giles is an ancient building of stone in the Perpendicular style, consisting of chancel, nave of six bays, aisles, south porch and an embattled western tower containing a clock and six bells. The tower, elaborately decorated, belongs to the period of Henry VII, and is 100ft. high. It has a pierced parapet surmounted by twenty pinnacles, and there are others rising from the buttresses below the parapet, On the north side of the aisle is a priest’s doorway. The screen has vanished, but it once ran across, enclosing two Chapels at ends of north and south aisles, one probably dedicated to St. Catherine. The South one at the present time and going back for an unknown number of years, is known as “Quality Corner”. In 1900 a pair of seven branched candlesticks were presented to the church. This church was partially restored in 1884, and during the alterations an altar stone of Purbeck marble was discovered embedded about 18 ins. under the floor, and in perfect preservation. It has now been restored to its original purpose. On the chancel walls are two corbels, from which the Lenten veil was anciently suspended. New choir seats were added in 1893. In 1898 during the restoration of the north wall of the nave, the ancient rood-loft doorway and steps were brought to light, as well as the old north doorway of the nave. In 1899 the south wall of the nave was pointed and restored, when all the windows on this side were found to have been insertions of the Perpendicular period, the original wall dating from the 12th. century. The exterior of the tower was repaired in 1904-5, and again in 1909, when the nave walls were also renovated, and in the passage to the rood-loft on the north side, a mutilated figure of St. Catherine was found. The tie-beam roof of the nave, and part of the roof of the north aisle was also extensively repaired. The greater part of the pews date from the early 15th century, and afford sittings for 300 persons. The registers date from the year 1566. The font is early Norman. The chancel roof is of chestnut. The nave seats date from 1390 and were carved in the reign of Richard II. The north door was used in olden days by the Horners to reach their Manor House, about 30ft. from the foot of the tower. Margery Horner was buried here in 1576. Mary Horner died in 1598 in the reign of Elizabeth I and Leonard Horner in 1607 when James I was on the throne. The Horner family were Lords of the Manor, and owned most of the Parish. In the Church Porch is a Holy Water stoup. The earliest Vicars known by name to us are Thomas Elys and John Bagford 1449 and John Peedys 1468. The chalice is dated 1673. On the buttress at the foot of the tower is a scratch sun-dial. The west window has in it all the emblems of the Passion of Our Lord. In the east window can be seen some glass with the initial “M” for Queen Mary of Tudor times. An unusual feature of the church is the step which goes down instead of up, to the chancel, the original floor of this being of Saxon origin. Until about 1927 seating in church could be reserved by paying a fee.

If you have wondered why Leigh was usually pronounced as Lye, it may be because in the records of Glastonbury it was “Luntocai”, and in course of time was shortened. Leigh was given to the Abbey in 681 by Hedda, Bishop of Winchester. After 800 years of ownership the Abbey parted with it, and it became the property of the Crown, and later part of the Mells Estate. Writing about the lovely towers of Somerset the late Sir Compton Mackenzie said:- “I am tempted to proclaim the tower of Leigh-on-Mendip the most beautiful in England”.

In 1858 on a Sunday evening when the Vicar, the Rev. George Augustus Mahon was preaching from the pulpit a man of the village fired a gun at him though one of the windows. The gun was loaded with blood which burst over the Vicar, who fell against a pillar and was stunned.

The Vicarage, the older part of which was originally a farmhouse, is an Elizabethan edifice dating from 1598, with a modern addition on the north and east sides. Its 16th century walls exceed the usual thickness of the period.

Great House Farm. Henry VIII is believed to have stayed here when he came to hunt in the area. Evidence that part of this farmhouse is of the Elizabethan period can be seen from well preserved tiles of the period, which are contained in a passage way floor. The tiles have an “E” centrepiece which is crowned, and Latin lettering flanks the letter. A somewhat warn date stone on the building shows that it dates back to the 1560’s.

Manor Farm. An interesting residence with a date stone of the year 1698.

Sparkes Farm. Another attractive house dated 1690.

Townsend Farm. This house is built on the site of two former cottages. Here in 1851 lived Dr. George Moon, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, London Graduate and Surgeon Royal Navy Half Pay, Retired, aged 71, – out of practice through age and infirmities “except for dispensing of a few drugs (no visits) among family friends, and occasionally to such in this rural poor neighbourhood who cannot afford to employ the General Practitioner.” Dr. Moon was born at Leigh in 1780. A tablet in the church commemorates the death of his wife Sarah Fisher in 1817 aged 31, and their 7 children.

Soho Farm. This was built in the 1600’s but little of the original building is left. During Monmouth’s rebellion in the summer of 1685 his password was “So Ho” and he is reputed to have ridden through the hamlet shouting this.

Temple House Farm. There is only a trace of this left but in 1851 it was inhabited by a family of seven. It comprised 115 acres for which 5 Labourers were employed. To reach it go to the lower end of the village, turn left, and enter the first field gate on the right and cross two fields. The farm land is now part of Rookery Farm. The word “Temple” often shows that the land belonged to the famous order of Knights Templar which was founded early in the 12th century to guard the ways to Palestine, and to protect the holy places.

Tadhill House Farm, An old Inn and Coaching Station (really in the parish of Downhead) on the main Wells to Frome road. The license was relinquished in 1921. This house, “Tadhill” or “Tothill” is on the site of an ancient grange of the Abbots of Glastonbury. One of the front entrance doors has a pediment of the Jacobean period. (There is a cottage in the village street adjoining Foxhollow with a similar doorway.) A few hundred yards away towards Wells, on the roadside are the ruins of a cottage belonging to the farm. In the 1800’s this was a Dame School where some learning was imparted for a few coppers weekly. Also here was a Toll Gate, the cottage always being known as the Turnpike Cottage.

The house on the corner of Soho was also a Toll Gate, the keeper of it in 1851 being Charles Keyford.

In the same year there existed several farms which have now disappeared, viz:- Nailor’s Farm, Allwoods Farm, Crooks Tile Farm and Pitten St. Farm.

The School was built in 1863 to accommodate 130 children. It was a Church School then but was later taken over by the County At a spot now covered by playground and garden was a building used for stabling. Previous to this any schooling probably took place in the old Reading Room (see The Firs) and the teachers in 1851 were Wm. I. Cruft (bachelor) aged 20, from London, and Sophia Heard (widow) aged 39, from Tavistock. Schoolmaster George Henry Bunting came to Leigh in 1860 and served the village for 42 years. He married a Leigh girl.

The Firs. On this site was the old Reading Room which could be approached from the Vicarage by a flight of steps, and was used for tea parties, Christmas trees and any suitable festivity in connection with the Church Sunday School. Books were also stored there and issued as from a Lending Library. This building in its early days had been occupied as a dwelling house.

Plevna. In the time of the Rev. George Mahon, who had charge of Downhead and Vobster churches as well as Leigh, his curates lodged here. One we know of in 1851 was James Trevor White, an Irishman aged 35 and his wife Ann Cadogan White born in Hornsey and aged 30.

The Cottage. Another dwelling with a date stone of 1754.

Oak Cottage. This was formerly an Inn “The Royal Oak”, three storied, and with outbuildings showing interesting doors and windows. A bakery business was also carried on here. Where the Leigh Service Station adjoins this property, behind high walls and a wide doorway with double doors was where the sacks of malt were stored for the brewing. This was termed the Malt ‘us (Malt House). At Tadhill old Inn there was a Brew ‘us (Brew House) and a Bowling Alley.

White House. This house is on the site where formerly stood a row of 4 cottages, one of which had a stone stair-case.

Post Office Stores. Several tenants were well known bakers in the 1800’s onwards.

Leigh Villas. These are built on what was formerly garden enclosed by a high wall from the street. In the wall was a door through which horses went one at a time for stabling. They were owned by Messrs. Thos. Ashman & Co of the Timber Yard.

Co-op. Stores. This is where Mr. Thos. Ashman lived, although later he moved to Frome, driving to and fro daily by horse and trap.

Timber Yard. Still under the name of Thos. Ashman & Co this business once employed about 30 men, and produced hurdles, rake and spade handles etc. They felled the timber themselves, and brought it back by horse and timber carriage, this conveyance being a long vehicle of planks with some uprights, especially used for timber trunk carrying and drawn by two or three cart horses. An employee from the village was fatally injured by a tree falling on him. The premises on the roadside now used as repair shops etc. for cars formerly housed a wheelwright’s shop a carpenter’s shop and a smithy. A fire in 1915 destroyed most of this, but it was partly restored in 1919. These premises were owned by a firm of local builders. The entrance to the Timber Yard in early days was a wide one to accommodate the timber traffic and the wheelwright’s shop and smithy were on either side of it, with the carpenter’s shop above. To summon the Yard employees to work and disperse them, and for meal times a large bell was rung. This could be heard a mile away.

Holly Bush. On an extremely old map of this locality an Inn is shown to have existed there.

Hillcrest, Tadhill. This building was a stable for two cart horses and a pony. Upstairs, reached by a ladder was a carpenter’s shop.

Scotland Yard. It is not known how this corner got its name but the first resident policeman lived at High Hat, and as the back of his cottage was Scotland Yard that might be a clue. His name was Adam Silcox.

Fairleigh. This was a butcher’s shop for many years with slaughter houses at back and side. Bread was also baked here and carried round the village by basket. Descendants of an old established firm of rake and handle makers followed the butcher and had their workshops here. They had previously at No. 4 Church Walk.

The Stores. This was at one time two houses. The Post Office was here before moving to the present one.

Pilgrim Cottage. This was the old Post Office when telephones in villages were unheard of and it was necessary to travel to Coleford to send a telegram.

Examiner House. This was a small shop with Off License.

Leoglen. Schoolmaster George Banting lived here (see tablet) in church. The present garage adjoining was an office used by Sir John Horner’s agent for the taking of rents from the villagers, most of whom were Sir John’s tenants.

Saw Mill Cottage, A lady lived here who worked as a milliner and used her front windows to display her hats, and possibly bonnets.

The garage between Rose Cottage outbuildings and the Allotments is erected on the site of the village Pound where straying cattle were temporarily housed. The Allotments have now reverted to arable land after many years of cultivation by the villagers.

No. 2 Church Walk. The local doctor from Mells put up medicines and received messages here in the early 1900’s. He rode a bicycle on his rounds at first, then went on to a horse and trap with coachman, and then to a car with chauffeur. From this cottage Parish Relief was dispensed. This was in the region of half-a-crown plus loaves of bread according to the size of the family. This was a weekly affair, the money and the bread being brought from Frome by the Relieving Officer who lived at Mells.

Formerly 5 & 6 Church Walk. This dwelling house adjoining the churchyard was a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Glastonbury. In the wall of a passage-way a small recess was probably the stoup used to contain the Holy Water. This rank of cottages, then thatched were Glebe (belonging to the Church) property before being sold to The Lamb Brewery Co. Frome.

No. 7 Church Walk. A blocked up window overlooking the churchyard was probably the result of the window tax. By this cottage runs a path formerly leading to fields and cottage gardens, and known as the “Drang”. This might possibly have been an access to the Horner Manor House which was so near the church on the north side, and the doorway in the churchyard wall on the corner of the north and west walls could have been their entrance to the church precincts. At Mells a doorway in the churchyard wall is for the Manor House occupants to reach the church.

Long Cottage Tadhill. An old house once belonging to the church when the rent was paid to the Rector of Mells, Leigh being in his charge. When a new roof was needed a few years ago a tile dated in the 1700’s was found by the workmen. Three generations, and probably four, of a local family lived here continuously until 1930.

Cottage adjoining Bell Inn. Here dwelt the village shoemaker in the early 1900’s.

Field View. Built on the site of three old cottages. One cottage had a rather unusual window – long and narrow with a rounded top.

Virginia Cottage. An interesting house with outside stairway at back occupied in the 1880s by a grocer and draper.

At Leigh-on-Mendip was a great colony of weavers. They worked in their own houses under the Cottington family, which carried the trade from there to Frome and Bruton. The church tower was built around this period, which was a flourishing one. Three houses in the village, look, by their windows to have been weavers’ homes as they needed wide windows for their looms and the light for their work. The cottages are Lavender, Woodside and Bay Tree. At the latter one the window would be at the back.

There were two Chapels until recent years when the Trinity Primitive Methodist one was sold and converted to a dwelling house, now Old Chapel House. Before the conversion a small cottage adjoined the back, occupied by local people. The Ebenezer Wesleyan Chapel dated 1811 is still in use. It formerly had two galleries, one over the entrance door, and the other behind the rostrum being reached by an outside staircase. An annual event in connection with the Primitive Methodist Chapel was what was known as a Camp Meeting. This was held in the open air on the green at Townsend, adjoining Townsend Cottage. It was a Sunday afternoon affair in the summer and Chapel members with others from neighbouring villages gathered for a Service. The preacher usually had a farm wagon for a pulpit and people stood or sat about. There was a lot of singing and at the end the leading members marched away in procession. The Harvest Festival at the Church was another event of some interest. Preceding the evening service, always at 7.30pm on a Thursday a tea-party was held in the School. For this local farmers and business men’s wives were asked to help the Vicar’s wife by what was termed “taking a tray”. This meant providing their own china, and tea, cream and sugar and dispensing it. After tea a short concert was held, after which people adjoined to the church for service. Meanwhile clergy invited, usually about six, would be robing at Examiner House and then walking across in procession with the Church choir plus two musicians with violin and cornet.

Another annual event was the Flower Show, the exhibits at one time being displayed in the School and later in a marquee in the Bell Inn paddock. Round-a-bouts, swinging boats, cocoa-nut shies, shooting galleries and fairings were much enjoyed. The East Mendip Silver Band was usually in attendance. This Band was really a Coleford one but several Leigh men were members of it, one of them being Bandmaster.

Another annual event was the School Fete with band, fancy dress and procession through the village. There was also a sort of Benefit Society called the Shepherd’s Club. It’s emblem was a shepherd’s crook. Another similar group was named Leigh Revels. The local doctor had his own Club for poor patients who wished to be covered for sickness, by paying a yearly sum. The Vicar’s wife also ran a Clothing Club whereby people paid a small weekly sum, and at the end of the year this was returned to them plus a gift. The money had then to be spent in Frome at a certain draper’s shop. Before the advent of motor cars people were glad of the local Carrier’s conveyance to get them to Frome. In 1851 a Carrier lived at Leigh named Stephen Green, and a retired Carrier named Samual James. Much later one from Stoke St. Michael carried on the job. He could accommodate about eight people in his open conveyance and it was usual to walk up Railford and Egford hills to save the horse. Before piped water was brought to the village those who did not possess a well dipped water from the gutters which ran down on each side of the street.

In 1851 the population was 556 (312 Males 244 Females). Amongst these were 8 Knitters of Stockings, 6 Dressmakers, 1 Tailoress, 1 Tailor, 1 Straw Bonnet Maker, 1 Hoop Maker, 1 Hosier, 4 Marine Pensioners, 5 Blacksmiths, 4 Cordwainers (or Shoemakers) 3 Bakers, 2 Butchers, 2 Grocers and Drapers, 7 Coal Carriers, 5 Miners.