The Book of Benefactors was originally compiled in 2000 and continues to be updated with gifts and bequests, including the most recent 2014 Bell Restoration Appeal.
It records, “…with immense gratitude, the names of those who, over and above routine giving, have supported appeals for the upkeep and embellishment of our church.” and the first entry records The ‘Ancient Bell’, circa 1360.
Having been compiled retrospectively, it cannot be a definitive list of donations, especially over the earliest centuries of the church’s existence, but every effort has been made to include as many gifts as possible.
It is on permanent public display on the Victorian lectern (or litany desk) in the sanctuary. This double-sloped desk is in the same style as the choir stalls and it stood, for many years, at the front of the chancel on the north side (opposite the pulpit). It was moved in 2002 when the dais was built and it was no longer practical in that position.
The Lords Leigh are 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.
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 remains the Patron of the Church to this day.
Alice Leigh, born in 1578, was the second daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh. She married Robert Dudley, son and heir of the Earl of Leicester (favourite of Queen Elizabeth I) and his disowned wife, Lady Douglas. After the Earl’s death, his widow, Lettice challenged Robert’s legitimacy to his father’s titles and won, after which he left the country, abandoning his wife, Lady Alice and their five daughters.
The deserted Lady Alice from then on devoted her life to good works and, amongst other acts of charity, gave generously to the poor in the parishes of Stoneleigh, Mancetter, Leek Wootton, Ashow, Kenilworth and Monks Kirby, and in 1638 she also gave a magnificent set of silver-gilt communion plate.
In 1644 King Charles I, by Act of Parliament, created Alice a Duchess of England in her own right. In his Letters Patent, King Charles admitted to the injuries done to Sir Robert and Lady Alice and their children. He stated that he was bound to honour her with the grant of the title of Duchess Dudley for her lifetime and to enable her to own her own property.
Duchess Dudley died in 1668, in her ninetieth year and is buried in a tomb on the north side of the chancel in The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Stoneleigh.
The Honourable Mary Leigh was the older sister of Edward Leigh, 5th Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh and was, together with her uncle, appointed his guardian in 1774, when he was declared to be insane. He was confined to Stoneleigh Park until his death in 1786, had no children and left the estate to his sister.
She was a great local benefactor and, as well as providing much of the funding for the building of the new church in 1790, had two new bells cast in 1793.
On her death in 1806, the Stoneleigh estate passed to James Henry Leigh of Adlestrop, with a life interest to his uncle, The Reverend Thomas Leigh. “When the Rev Thomas heard of his inheritance, his cousin Cassandra Austen and her daughter, the novelist Jane Austen, were staying with him; together they visited Stoneleigh” (historicengland.org.uk).
Earl of Warwick is a title that has been created four times in English history and is one of the most prestigious titles in the peerages of the UK.
The Earl of Warwick who would have supported the rebuilding of the church at Leek Wootton in 1790 would have been George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (of the fourth creation). He was born in 1746 and his father was created Earl when he was just 13.
The Royal Register records that,”…a very great and singular attention was paid to the education of this nobleman by his late father, who, fearful of the corruption which disgrace our great seminaries of learning, consigned him to the care of the first historian of the age, to complete his moral as well as political character. From Scotland he returned so well informed, and such an amiable manliness about him, that the most flattering prognostications were made of his future eminence… His travels did not in any great degree either improve or corrupt him, and he has since remained a quiet inoffensive domestic character, little known but by persons of taste and virtue.” Cokayne, and others, The Complete Peerage, volume II, page 337
He went on to become a Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Society of Antiquiaries and he was Member of Parliament for Warwick between 1768 and 1773.
The title passed from father to son, including the 5th Earl, Francis Greville, whose wife, Daisy, was a long-term confidant or mistress to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII and was the inspiration behind the popular music hall song Daisy, Daisy.
Their grandson, Charles Guy Fulke Greville, the 7th Earl, was the last to live at the historic seat of Warwick Castle, before it was sold in 1978 by his son (to whom he had handed control to in 1967) to Madame Tussauds.
In 1665 Charles II granted Kenilworth Castle to Laurence Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, in whose family’s hands it remained until the 20th century. Despite changing fortunes, the castle had long been a tourist attraction. Curious travellers came even before the Civil War, and by the 1770s visitor numbers were sufficient to warrant production of a guidebook.
In 1790, the Earl of Clarendon was Thomas Villiers. He was the son of the 1st Earl Clarendon (of the second creation) and great-grandson of the 4th Earl (of the first creation). He sat as Member of Parliament for Christchurch and Helston.
The Earldom descended to brother to nephew to son to son to grandson to son.
The Clarendon connection with Kenilworth Castle ended when the 6th Earl sold it in 1937 to the industrialist Sir John Siddeley, whose son gave it to the people of Kenilworth in 1958.
Bertie Greatheed (1759-1826) of Guy’s Cliffe (in this parish) was the son of Samuel Greatheed MP and his wife Lady Mary, whose maiden name was Bertie, the daughter of the 2nd Duke of Ancaster. He was baptised at St Mary’s Church in Warwick. He was a dramatist and wrote a tragedy play called The Regent, which was staged at Drury Lane Theatre in 1788, but was withdrawn after 9 nights. He was supported in this endeavour by the actress Mrs Siddons, who had once been an attendant to his mother and was a frequent guest at Guy’s Cliffe; he dedicated the subsequent publication of the play to her. Bertie also composed the wording for the plaque on Gaveston’s Cross, which commemorates the execution place of Piers Gaveston in 1312 on Blacklow Hill (south of Leek Wootton) and was visible from the manor house at Guy’s Cliffe. The source of his wealth was plantations on St Kitts in the Caribbean. He is recorded as owning around 20 slaves in 1822 and there is speculation that primitive carvings in one of the stable buildings at Guy’s Cliffe may have been carved by slaves. Bertie Greatheed was a prominent figure and landlord in Leek Wootton, Milverton and Warwick. He was heavily involved in the development of Leamington Spa (circa 1810), owning land that was developed on the west side of The Parade, encouraged investors in the development of the town and was a partner in the Pump Rooms. He died in 1826. He had adopted his mother’s surname, Bertie, into his surname and gives his name in his Will as Bertie Bertie Greatheed. His only son, also named Bertie had died in 1804 in Italy, but he had married in France and had a daughter, Anne Caroline, who was adopted by her grandparents and brought up in England as the heiress of Guy’s Cliffe.
Henry Christopher Wise was the great-great-grandson of Henry Wise of The Priory, Warwick, Royal Gardener successively to William III, Anne and George I. He inherited The Priory (now the location of Warwickshire County Record Office) in 1850 and had been renting Woodcote (the building currently owned by Warwickshire Police), since 1830. In 1851 he sold The Priory and 37 acres of adjoining land to the Oxford Junction Railway Company and bought Woodcote, which joined up with the remainder of The Priory estate.
During his ownership the estate was enlarged and improved, the old house was demolished, a new house built and gardens and pleasure grounds developed. He had six sons and two daughters by his first wife, but was survived by only two sons, George and Augustus (who was ‘an invalid’) and one daughter. George inherited the property in 1883, but on his death in 1888, it was entailed away to the descendants of Henry Christopher Wise’s sister, Catherine, due to Augustus’s poor health (he died in 1912 in a psychiatric asylum) and by-passing George’s paternal half-brother Eddie, who was in line to inherit the Disbrowe family estate in Derbyshire from a maternal maiden aunt.
During the Wise family’s time at Woodcote, they contributed to church and community life and George and Augustus established the Annual Flower Show in 1868, which continues to be one of the key events of life in Leek Wootton.
When George Wise died in 1888, Woodcote (now owned by Warwickshire Police), was inherited by Maj Gen George Henry Waller, the son of his father’s sister, Catherine, and a veteran of the Crimea War. He was married with four children, Margaret, Francis, Wathen and Edith.
In January 1892 his father, Sir Thomas, died and he inherited a baronetcy (originally bestowed on his grandfather Jonathan Wathen Waller, who was an eye surgeon to the Royal family and was present at the death of King George III). However, he died himself only 11 days later and the property and title were inherited by his son, Francis Ernest, who was aged 11 at the time.
Francis went on to join the Army and fought in the Boer War. He left the Army in 1908 and took up his duties as Lord of the Manor. He visited the elderly, the school (where he gave prizes and started races at sports events) and was a much loved squire. He was also a Magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant of the County and High Sheriff.
At the start of World War I he re-enlisted and was killed in October 1914, so his brother, Wathen inherited his land and title. He similarly resigned his commission in 1919 to devote himself to public works alongside his wife, Lady Viola.
When Sir Wathen Waller, Bt died in 1947, without issue, Lady Viola sold Woodcote to the County Council for police use and it became the Headquarters of the Warwickshire Constabulary. His title passed to his second cousin, Edmund Waller, the grandson of Sir Thomas’s brother, Ernest Adolphus.
The Wright family lived at Wootton Court (now called The Hayes), to the south of Leek Wootton, from 1882-1952.
It was purchased by industrialist Francis Beresford Wright, owner of the Butterley Company in Derbyshire, in the hope that the clean Warwickshire air would be beneficial to his wife, Adeline. Francis died in 1911 and Adeline in 1924, when Wootton Court was inherited by their son, Arthur Fitzherbert Wright.
After extensive refurbishment, Arthur, his wife Daisy and their nine children moved into the house in 1927.
During World War II Arthur and Daisy’s daughter-in-law, Doreen, wife of their eldest son, Gilbert, moved in to help look after them and their home. In 2012 the Leek Wootton History Group published Doreen’s wartime diary (please contact the history group if you are interested in buying a copy).
After Arthur’s death in 1952 the family sold the house and moved to Stone Edge, which overlooks Wootton Court.
Early in the new millennium, the house was converted into flats and its name reverted to The Hayes (it had been called The Hayes or Green Hayes prior to the Wright family’s ownership).