A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 7, Leek and the Moorlands. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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Leekfrith was formerly a township in Leek parish and later a civil parish 7,542 a. (3,052 ha.) in area, including a detached portion of c. 10 a. to the east on the north side of Blackshaw moor. (fn. 1) It is pasture, with a village called Meerbrook in the centre beside the Meer brook. Dieulacres abbey, founded in 1214, stood near the river Churnet in the south part of the township, and its granges were among the earliest settlements in what was an area of wooded countryside; the 'frith' element of the township's name means a wood. (fn. 2) The short northern boundary with Cheshire follows the river Dane. On the east the boundary with Quarnford and Heathylee, in Alstonefield, follows a tributary of the Dane, Black brook, so called by the mid 13th century, (fn. 3) and Back brook, which flows south to the Churnet. (fn. 4) The Churnet itself forms the southern boundary with Tittesworth and with Leek and Lowe. The area was increased to 7,551 a. by the transfer under the Divided Parishes Act, 1882, of a detached portion of Tittesworth on Blackshaw moor. (fn. 5) In 1894 the south-western corner of the the township, 127 a. at Abbey Green and Bridge End, was added to Leek urban district, and a detached portion of Leek and Lowe north-west of Bridge End was transferred to Leekfrith. As a result Leekfrith civil parish covered 7,534 a. (fn. 6) In 1934 Leekfrith was reduced to its present 7,016 a. (2,839 ha.) by the transfer of the detached portion of Leekfrith on Blackshaw moor to Heathylee civil parish and 508 a. in the south-west of Leekfrith to Leek urban district. (fn. 7) This article deals with the former township and the added parts of Leek and Lowe and of Tittesworth.
The township is dominated on the north-east by the Roaches and Hen Cloud, outcrops of Millstone Grit. The Roaches, rising to 1,658 ft. (505 m.), were so called by 1358 and derive their name from the French roche, meaning a rock or a cliff. (fn. 8) Hen Cloud to the south rises to 1,350 ft. (410 m.). Its name means a steep rock (henge clud) in Old English. (fn. 9) Gun, a hill on the west side of the township, rises to 1,263 ft. (385 m.). The valley between the Roaches and Gun is drained by Meer brook, so called c. 1220. (fn. 10) Fed by Turner's pool, recorded in 1535, (fn. 11) the brook originally flowed into the Churnet, but since the mid 19th century it has flowed into Tittesworth reservoir. The reservoir originally lay mostly in Tittesworth, but it was extended c. 1960 and now lies mostly in Leekfrith. (fn. 12) At Meerbrook village the land lies at 682 ft. (207 m.), falling to 519 ft. (158 m.) at Abbey Green to the southwest. The Millstone Grit is overlain by Boulder Clay in the Meer brook valley and on Blackshaw moor, and the soil is mostly fine loam, with a mixture of clay, loam, and peat on Gun. (fn. 13)
In 1666 Leekfrith had 103 people assessed for hearth tax. (fn. 14) In 1751 there were 313 people aged over 16 in the township. (fn. 15) The population in 1801 was 697, rising to 806 by 1821, 873 by 1831, and 926 by 1841. It was 877 in 1851, 771 in 1871, and 792 in 1891. After the 1894 boundary changes it was 716 in 1901. In 1911 it was 614, falling to 598 by 1921 but rising to 625 by 1931. After the 1934 boundary changes the population was 514 in 1951. It continued to fall and was 452 in 1961, 362 in 1971, and 333 in 1981. In 1991 it was 350. (fn. 16)
A Neolithic or Bronze Age mace head has been found on the west side of Tittesworth reservoir, and two apparently Bronze Age vessels have been found near Hen Cloud. (fn. 17) There is a barrow at the north end of the Roaches, and another near Middle Hulme Farm beside the Churnet on the east side of the township. (fn. 18) The burial place (sepulcrum) of Thoni, mentioned in the bounds of the estate granted to Dieulacres abbey c. 1220 and lying at the south end of Gun, may have been a barrow. (fn. 19)
In 1214 the Cistercian monks at Poulton, in Pulford (Ches.), were transferred to a site in the grounds of the later Abbey Farm in the south part of the township. Their patron Ranulph, earl of Chester, had been instructed in a dream to settle them at 'Cholpesdale' on the site of the former chapel of St. Mary, itself possibly a hermitage. The name Dieulacres was fixed by the earl himself and means in French 'May God grant it increase'. (fn. 20) About 1220 the earl issued a charter granting the monks what was described as 'the land of Rudyard' on which to build their abbey. (fn. 21) The estate, covering the south-western part of Leekfrith township, stretched on the east as far as Meer brook, a name which means 'boundary brook' and may refer originally to the boundary of Rudyard manor. (fn. 22)
Abbey Green west of Abbey Farm probably originated as an open space at the abbey gate. It lies along a road which before the later 18th century formed part of the route between Leek and Buxton and of one to Macclesfield. Abbey Green Farm is of the 17th century, when it was owned by the Tunnicliffe family; it was assessed for tax on six hearths in 1666. (fn. 23) The Abbey inn east of the farmhouse has a lintel over the entrance with the date 1702 and the initials of the tenant John Allen and his wife. (fn. 24) By 1726 there was a bowling green at the house, which was known as Bowling Green House in 1770. (fn. 25) It was an inn by 1834, known as the Bowling Green. (fn. 26)
There was evidently a settlement at Meerbrook in the mid 13th century, when there was mention of Robert of Meerbrook, and by the earlier 16th century it had a chapel. (fn. 27) The former Waterhouse Farm on the east side of the village also existed by the earlier 16th century. (fn. 28) The siting of the village was probably determined by access to the upper part of the Meer brook valley and to Gun. A house at Burntoak Hollins west of the village, in existence by the earlier 16th century, (fn. 29) stood on what in the 18th century was a packhorse way over Gun. (fn. 30) The nearby farmhouse called Oxhay may have been associated with the way: at the east end of the present house, which has date stones of 1754 and 1765, there is a large storage area, possibly for fodder. The Lazy Trout inn in the village centre existed as the Horseshoe by 1818 and the Three Horseshoes by 1834. There was another inn, the Fountain, to the south-east by 1834. (fn. 31) A post office was opened in the late 1890s. (fn. 32) In the later 1950s there was concern about possible pollution of Meer brook, which flows into Tittesworth reservoir, and the Staffordshire Potteries Waterworks Board compulsorily purchased nearly all the houses in the village. The reservoir was enlarged between 1959 and 1962, and the sites of the Fountain inn, Waterhouse Farm, and several houses were submerged. At the same time the road from Leek, which originally entered the village from the south-east, was replaced by a new line to the west. In the later 1970s the Board encouraged a return of population, and surviving houses were restored. (fn. 33) The village school, closed in 1969, became a youth hostel in 1977. (fn. 34)
By the mid 13th century there were settlements east of Meerbrook village called Nether, Middle, and Over Hulme, a name derived from Old Norse holmr, or its English equivalent, and meaning raised ground in marsh land. (fn. 35) Land at Nether Hulme was given by Ranulph of Wirral (otherwise Ranulph of Hulme) in the mid 13th century to Dieulacres abbey, which by 1291 had built New grange at the confluence of the Churnet and Meer brook. (fn. 36) In 1666 there were two houses there, one occupied by John Hulme and assessed for tax on four hearths, and the other occupied by Thomas Mountford and assessed for tax on three hearths. (fn. 37) Both houses were submerged when Tittesworth reservoir was extended c. 1960. In 1974 adjoining land was laid out as Tittesworth Reservoir Amenity Area. (fn. 38)
The present Middle Hulme Farm was built in the early 17th century. It has the date 1118 and the initials TB on the east porch, placed there when the house was pebble-dashed in the later 20th century. The date is probably a misreading of 1718, which would fit the date of the kitchen wing and the occupation of the house by Thomas Brough. (fn. 39) In 1811 the road which originally ran north-east from the house to Upper Hulme was realigned to run south-east across Blackshaw moor. (fn. 40) By 1819 there was an inn where the new road met the Leek-Buxton turnpike road; it was called the Three Horseshoes by 1834. (fn. 41)
What was called Over Hulme in the mid 13th century is identifiable as the present hamlet of Upper Hulme on the township's eastern boundary. The original settlement was probably on the high ground west of Back brook, where Butty Fold Farm possibly stands on the site of one of two houses recorded at Over Hulme in the earlier 16th century. (fn. 42) The present farmhouse is of the early 18th century and has a 19th-century porch. It apparently replaced an earlier house occupied by the Condlyffe family in the 17th century: a date stone (possibly reconstructed) on an outbuilding has the date 1647 and the initials of William Condlyffe of Upper Hulme (d. 1664) and his wife Anne. (fn. 43) A hamlet grew up on the lower ground beside Back brook in the earlier 19th century, after the opening of a silk mill there. (fn. 44)
The earliest settlements elsewhere in the township were Dieulacres abbey's granges in the upper part of the Meer brook valley. Roche grange, in existence by 1246, probably stood north-west of the Roaches in the area of the present hamlet called Roche Grange. A grange at Wetwood, in existence possibly by 1246 and certainly by 1291, stood on the east side of Gun, probably on the site of Lower Wetwood, which is of the earlier 17th century and has an extension of 1671. At the Dissolution the abbey had a third grange at Foker, probably on the site of the farmhouse called Upper Foker north of the abbey site. (fn. 45) The name Foker, recorded in 1330s, means 'foul marsh' (fn. 46) and refers to an area of common waste in the south-west corner of the township. Part of the waste was a detached portion of Leek and Lowe township, to which it had probably been assigned as pasture for use by inhabitants of Leek town. (fn. 47) A farmhouse on the southern edge of the waste was called Lower Foker in 1770 and Foker Grange, its present name, by the late 1890s. (fn. 48)
The sites of several other farmhouses were occupied by the earlier 16th century. (fn. 49) In the west part of the township they included the Sheephouse, renamed Fould Farm by 1673, (fn. 50) and Park House Farm, both on the Meerbrook road north of Abbey Green, and to the northwest of Fould Farm a house called Redearth. By the later 16th century there were two houses at Redearth, of which only one survives. Rebuilt in the 17th century, that house has a third storey with windows evidently inserted to provide light for weaving; in 1666 the house was occupied by a weaver, John Plant. (fn. 51) Two houses described in the earlier 16th century as lying 'under Wyndyat' probably stood on the sites of Far House and Windygates Hall on the east side of the township. Both houses are of the 17th century, and Windygates Hall has a date stone of 1634 on its porch. There was also a settlement by the earlier 16th century at the north end of the Meer brook valley at Thorneyleigh. The Armett family occupied a house there which probably stood on the site of Thorneyleigh Hall Farm, which is of the 17th century and has a doorhead dated 1691 reset over the garden entrance. (fn. 52) Thorneyleigh Green Farm dates from the 18th century but replaced a house occupied by John Stoddard (d. 1675), a benefactor of Meerbrook chapel and school. (fn. 53) Of other farmhouses in the Meer brook valley Greenlane Farm is first recorded in 1675 (fn. 54) and Frith Bottom in 1695. (fn. 55)
The northern part of the township had been settled by the earlier 17th century. There was a house at Hazelwood by 1635. By 1640 there was one at Buxton Brow, then called Buckstone Brow, and another at Clough Head. The site of High Forest further north was also occupied by 1640. (fn. 56) Pool Farm near Turner's pool was built for William Armett in 1669. (fn. 57) In 1681 a family was living at Five Clouds, the name for rocks on the west side of the Roaches. (fn. 58) A cave at the south end of the Roaches inhabited by the early 17th century was known as Rockhall in 1770. (fn. 59) On the east side of the Roaches a scattered settlement of coal miners grew up in the 19th century around Shaw House. (fn. 60) Roaches House (originally Argyle Cottage) south-east of Hen Cloud was built in 1876. (fn. 61)
A settlement on the township's south-western boundary where the Leek-Macclesfield road crossed the Churnet was known as Bridge End in 1641. It included Coneygray House, recorded in 1697 and named after a medieval rabbit warren. (fn. 62) The hamlet developed in the earlier 19th century after the opening of a dyeworks by 1824. (fn. 63) A row of seven houses dated 1850 stands to the east where the road to Meerbrook village crossed the Churnet. The former Highfield Hall north of Bridge End was built in the early 19th century. (fn. 64) Rock House, on the west side of the main road by the river crossing, was built in the earlier 1860s for Charles Ball, a Leek accountant. (fn. 65)
Before the later 18th century the road from Leek to Buxton ran via Abbey Green, Middle Hulme, and Upper Hulme. It crossed the Churnet by Broad bridge, so called in 1587 and rebuilt in the early 19th century. (fn. 66) It is now called Broad's bridge. From Upper Hulme the road ran north-west to a gap between Hen Cloud and the Roaches and on to Flash, in Quarnford, in Alstonefield. (fn. 67) The present Leek-Buxton road, which forms part of Leekfrith's eastern boundary, was laid out in 1765 and 1766 as a turnpike road. It was disturnpiked in 1875. (fn. 68) The Leek-Macclesfield road runs through the south-west corner of the township. Part of the medieval Earl's Way, the road was turnpiked in 1762, and in 1824 a tollhouse was set up at the north end of the Leekfrith stretch of the road at Poolend. (fn. 69) The road ran in front of Highfield Hall, but it was realigned to the west in the late 1820s. (fn. 70) It was disturnpiked in 1878, and the Poolend tollhouse was demolished in 1879. (fn. 71) There was formerly another route from Leek to Macclesfield, which branched from the Meerbrook road at Fould Farm and ran along the top of Gun, crossing into Cheshire at Danebridge, in Heaton. Recorded c. 1230, the road was still in use in the earlier 18th century. (fn. 72) In 1731 Robert Brough was murdered on Gun by his servant Joseph Naden as he travelled home along the road. After being sentenced at Stafford, Naden was hanged on Gun and his corpse gibbeted there. (fn. 73) The gibbet post was still standing in 1875. (fn. 74) A packhorse way ran east-west across Gun and passed through Meerbrook village and Middle Hulme. (fn. 75)
Leekfrith was included in an association for the prosecution of felons formed in 1802 and also covering the townships of Leek and Lowe and Tittesworth. (fn. 76) A separate association for Leekfrith was established in 1819 but evidently lapsed. The association was revived in 1833, and it still functioned in 1873. (fn. 77) The rural part of Leekfrith was connected to a mains water supply in the earlier 1970s. (fn. 78)
In the mid 19th century Meerbrook wake was celebrated at the end of September or the beginning of October. (fn. 79) Before the change in the calendar in 1752 it was probably held on the Sunday nearest 21 September, the feast of St. Matthew, the patron saint of Meerbrook church. By 1866 a wake was held in July at Abbey Green, and it was still held in 1919. (fn. 80) A village hall was built west of Meerbrook village in 1908 and rebuilt in 1988. (fn. 81) A Women's Institute was formed at Meerbrook in 1924. (fn. 82)
The Roaches and Hen Cloud impressed Robert Plot when he visited the area c. 1680. (fn. 83) He also noted Lud's Church, a ravine northwest of the Roaches, which has been suggested as the setting for the climax of the 14th-century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (fn. 84) About 1862 the landowner, Philip Brocklehurst of Swythamley, in Heaton, placed a ship's figurehead in the form of a woman at the entrance of the ravine. (fn. 85) It was apparently intended to commemorate the supposed martyrdom of the daughter of a Lollard preacher, and it was still there in 1914. (fn. 86)
The Roaches were added to the Swythamley estate at the time of the inclosure of the area in 1811, and in the late 1890s Philip Brocklehurst acquired Hen Cloud. He encouraged visitors to the area by cutting footpaths and building bridges across streams. He also incorporated the Rockhall cave dwelling into a Gothic-style shooting lodge. The lodge became a tourist attraction, and in 1872 Princess Mary of Cambridge and her husband Francis, duke of Teck, were entertained there. (fn. 87) It later became a private dwelling, and it remained as such until 1989. It was then acquired by the Peak Park joint planning board, which had bought 975 a. of the Roaches in 1980, following the break-up of the Swythamley estate in 1977. In 1993 the lodge was made into a refuge by the British Mountaineering Club. (fn. 88) The area remains popular with walkers and rock climbers. A colony of wallabies there originated in the late 1930s, when some escaped from a private zoo kept by Col. H. C. Brocklehurst at Roaches House. (fn. 89)
Richard Caldwall (d. 1584), the physician, was born apparently at Upper Hulme. (fn. 90) The sculptor Richard Hassall (1831-68) was born at Pheasants Clough, a farmhouse on the west side of the Roaches. (fn. 91)
MANOR AND OTHER ESTATES.
The manor of FRITH was first mentioned in 1552 when the Crown granted what were described as the manors of Leek and Frith with the site of Dieulacres abbey to Sir Ralph Bagnall. Frith manor descended with Leek manor. (fn. 92)
ABBEY FARM, which occupies part of the site of Dieulacres abbey, was the home in 1614 of Thomas Rudyard, lord of Leek manor. (fn. 93) His younger son Anthony lived there in 1638. (fn. 94) Anthony was succeeded in 1662 by his son Thomas. (fn. 95) The house was occupied by Edward Stubbs in 1666, (fn. 96) but the following year it was evidently the home of Anthony's brother John: a gateway into the garden on the west side of the house incorporates a stone with the date 1667 and the initials of John Rudyard and his wife. (fn. 97) Known as Abbey Dieulacres in 1673, the house and its estate were inherited that year or soon afterwards by John's nephew, James Rudyard. James died in 1712, leaving the estate in tail to his cousin John Rudyard, with reversion to his godson Ralph Wood, the son of another cousin. (fn. 98) John Rudyard evidently died childless, and the estate passed to Wood, who was living at Abbey Dieulacres in 1736 and died there in 1765. (fn. 99) The estate was later sold to the Misses Furnivall, of whom one was evidently the Anne Furnivall of the Abbey who in 1777 married John Daintry of Leek. Anne was succeeded in 1798 by her nephew John Smith Daintry. (fn. 100) In 1829 Daintry sold the estate in two separate shares to Theodosia Hinckes and John Davenport of Westwood Hall, in Leek and Lowe, either John (d. 1848) or his son John (d. 1862). The younger John bought Theodosia's share in 1853. (fn. 101) In 1871 his son George sold what was then called Dieulacres Abbey Farm to James Searight, (fn. 102) whose executors sold it in 1892 to Capt. W. Jones Byrom of Leek. (fn. 103) On Byrom's death in 1897 it passed to George Renny, still the owner in 1940. (fn. 104) The owner in 1992 was Mr. A. E. Docksey.
Abbey Farm, which stands west of the site of the abbey church, is timber-framed on a sandstone course. (fn. 105) It is uncertain whether any part of the present fabric dates from before the 17th century. The house was assessed for tax on seven hearths in 1666. (fn. 106)
HIGHFIELD HALL, originally called Highfield House, was built in the 1810s by Richard Badnall, a Leek silk dyer, on land bought in 1801 by his father Joseph (d. 1803). (fn. 107) On Richard's bankruptcy in 1827 the house and 46 a. were sold to Sarah Fowler and her sons Matthew and Josiah Gaunt, all three members of a Leek banking family. (fn. 108) In 1870 the estate was bought by Charles Glover. (fn. 109) In 1885 E. Cliffe Glover sold it to Arthur Nicholson, a partner in the Leek silk company later known as Brough, Nicholson & Hall. Knighted in 1909, Nicholson was a noted breeder of shire horses and built a stud farm north-east of the house. The horses were paraded when George V and Queen Mary were entertained at Highfield in 1911. (fn. 110) Nicholson died in 1929, but his widow Marianne continued to live at the house until her death in 1937. (fn. 111) The house, to which Nicholson had by 1889 added a wing, (fn. 112) was of brick with stone dressings. It was sold in 1939 and demolished in 1940 or 1941. (fn. 113) Surviving outbuildings include the present Home Farm and the former stable block, also converted into a house.
About 1230 Ranulph, earl of Chester, granted Dieulacres abbey land on Gun and at Wetwood, besides the right to share with the earl's tenants pasture south of Gun and as far east as Meer brook. (fn. 114) Later in the 13th century local benefactors gave the abbey more land in the centre and east part of the township. (fn. 115) By 1246 the abbey had a grange on the west side of the Roaches (known as Roche grange by 1406) and possibly another at Wetwood. (fn. 116) There was certainly a grange at Wetwood by 1291 as well as a third, New grange, south-east of Meerbrook village. In 1291 Roche grange and New grange comprised 2 carucates each, and Wetwood 1 carucate. (fn. 117) The abbey may also have managed as a grange the land which it had by 1501 at Foker: the post-Dissolution tenant, Thomas Vigars or Vygers, held a house called Foker Grange in 1542. (fn. 118)
The common waste lay chiefly on Gun and the Roaches and was inclosed in 1811 under an Act of 1805. Most of the Roaches, 758 a., was sold by the inclosure commissioners to Edward Nicholls of Swythamley Hall, in Heaton. (fn. 119)
Sheep farming was important in the later 13th century when Dieulacres abbey produced wool for export. (fn. 120) A place called Woolhouses, recorded in Leek manor in the 1330s, was probably in Leekfrith, and in 1567 there was a building called the Woolhouse at Abbey Green. (fn. 121) In the late 15th century the abbey apparently concentrated on stock rearing and used land in the north part of the township as pasture for cattle belonging to the abbey's grange at Swythamley. (fn. 122) By 1535 most of the abbey's land in Leekfrith was leased to tenants, each paying a variable money rent, two capons worth 6d., one day's ploughing worth 3d., and one day's reaping worth 3d. (fn. 123)
In the early 19th century two farms which covered the Roaches area, Back Forest (312 a.) and High Forest (225 a.), were part of the 1,125 a. which formed the Leekfrith portion of the Swythamley estate. (fn. 124) What was called the Dieulacres Abbey estate in 1870, covering 1,193 a., was then owned by George Davenport, formerly of Westwood Hall, in Leek and Lowe. Its largest farms were Abbey farm (229 a.), Park House (161 a.), and North Hillswood (148 a.). (fn. 125)
Of the 2,840.7 ha. of farmland returned for the civil parish in 1988, grassland covered 1,936.3 ha. and there were 760 ha. of rough grazing. The farming was dairy and sheep, with 3,271 head of cattle and 7,621 sheep and lambs. There were 29,814 hens, mostly broilers. Of the 70 farms returned, 58 were under 50 ha. in size, 9 were between 50 and 99 ha., and 3 were between 100 and 199 ha. (fn. 126)
The 'frith' element of the township's name indicates wooded countryside, (fn. 127) and woodland was recorded c. 1230 on Gun and at Wetwood and in 1340 at Hellis wood (later Hills wood) north-east of Dieulacres abbey. (fn. 128) Hills wood survives as Abbey wood, so called by the late 19th century. (fn. 129) Forest wood along the township's northern boundary is probably the result of planting in the early 19th century after inclosure. (fn. 130) The woodland returned for the civil parish in 1988 covered 108.5 ha. (fn. 131)
Forest and warren.
The earl of Chester's forest of Leek was recorded c. 1170. (fn. 132) It was again mentioned when Earl Ranulph included in his charter to the burgesses of Leek, some time between 1207 and 1215, the right to collect timber and firewood in the forest. (fn. 133) The extent of the forest is unknown but it included Leekfrith, and when the earl gave Dieulacres abbey land on Gun and at Wetwood c. 1230, he reserved the right to hunt there himself with sparrowhawks. His foresters, however, were not to enter the abbey's land, where hunting was supervised by foresters of the abbey. (fn. 134) About the same time Henry, the son of William the forester and perhaps a forester himself, bound himself to serve the abbey for life. The abbey's foresters were again recorded in 1271-2 and 1429, (fn. 135) and its former servants in 1538 included Robert Burgh, described as forester of the forest of Leek. It was stated in the 1540s that the abbey's freeholders in Rushton Spencer and Heaton had once acted as foresters. (fn. 136) By the late 15th century the forest was used as pasture for livestock, (fn. 137) and it is likely that the main duty of the foresters was to prevent illegal grazing.
In 1282 Dieulacres abbey was granted free warren in its demesne lands in Leek manor. (fn. 138) There was evidently a rabbit warren in Leekfrith by 1430, when the bridge taking the LeekMacclesfield road over the Churnet was called Conyngre bridge. (fn. 139) Land at Hen Cloud was set aside for use as a rabbit warren in or shortly before 1819. (fn. 140)
In the early 1220s Ranulph, earl of Chester, granted Dieulacres abbey a mill at Hulme. It probably stood on Back brook at Upper Hulme, where the abbey had a mill at the Dissolution. (fn. 141) The mill, which was working in 1599, may have still existed in 1670. (fn. 142)
In the late 1560s Thomas Gent of Upper Hulme built a mill on Back brook, upstream from Hulme mill. In 1599 there was a complaint from the owners of Hulme mill that Gent's mill took water from their mill and drew some of its trade, (fn. 143) and Gent's mill was evidently demolished. In 1600 his grandson William Gent let the site to two brothers, John and William Hind, and the mill had been rebuilt by 1602. (fn. 144) The tenant in 1610 was Robert Deane, (fn. 145) and the mill was known in the 18th century as Deans (later Danes or Dains) mill. (fn. 146) It stopped working c. 1946. (fn. 147)
There was a mill at Turner's pool in 1595 and apparently in 1795. (fn. 150) Thomas Rudyard had a mill at Dieulacres in 1635; it was called Abbey mill in 1677 and probably stood on the Churnet. (fn. 151)
Trade and industry.
A smith named Jordan was living in Leek manor in the earlier 1330s, and a locksmith named Alexander was accused in the manor court in 1340 of cutting down the lord's timber. (fn. 152) Both men may have lived in Leekfrith and made use of the woodland there. An ironworks and a pool in Leek and Frith manors were granted to Stephen Bagot by Sir Ralph Bagnall in 1564. (fn. 153)
A bark house and bark pit recorded in the earlier 16th century at a place called Sury south of Abbey Green (fn. 154) probably indicate the existence of a tanyard.
Walk Mill pool recorded in the earlier 16th century as formerly belonging to Dieulacres abbey may have been associated with a walk (or fulling) mill in Leek manor mentioned in 1548. (fn. 155) The mill was possibly in Leekfrith. Certainly there was a fulling mill at Abbey Green in 1677, and it may have been the walk mill in Leek parish mentioned in 1752. (fn. 156)
A silk throwster named William Lowndes was living at Upper Hulme in 1824, (fn. 157) and by 1831 there was a four-storeyed silk mill with a house and four workers' cottages. (fn. 158) No silk workers were recorded at Upper Hulme in 1841, but by 1851 another silk throwster, George Parker, ran a mill there, employing 18 workers. By 1860 John Beardmore used the works for spinning flax and for dyeing. (fn. 159) In 1869 the mill was sold to William Tatton, the son of a Leek silk dyer, and he opened a dyeworks there. From 1924 the works also wound rayon filament yarn, and in 1928 warping machines were introduced. The company also had warping machines in rented premises in Shoobridge Street in Leek until 1931, when a new factory was built at Upper Hulme to house all the machines. In 1970 production was moved from Upper Hulme to the firm's premises in Buxton Road, Leek. (fn. 160) The premises at Upper Hulme were converted to other industrial uses. Roaches (Engineering) Ltd., established in 1974, designs and manufactures matrices for textile laboratories, and small-scale machines for the same market are made by a sister company, Roaches (Fabrication) Ltd. Hillcrest Engineering Instrumentation Ltd., established in 1986, makes instruments for measuring temperatures in industrial processes. (fn. 161) There was also a furnituremaking business, J. S. and R. Hine, in 1992. The surviving mill buildings include offices dated 1891.
The digging of coal was included in the licence granted in 1596 or 1597 by Sir Henry Bagnall, lord of Leek manor, to Thomas Jolliffe, a Leek mercer, to exploit the waste in Leek and Leekfrith, and coal pits recorded in Leek manor in the early 18th century were probably in Leekfrith. (fn. 162) Six colliers lived in the area around Shaw House on the east side of the Roaches in 1841, but only one in 1871. (fn. 163) A colliery there was disused by 1878. (fn. 164)
In 1704 the lords of the manor licensed William Gravenor and Ralph Hood, both of Leek, and Jeremiah Condlyffe and Emmanuel Wood, both of Leekfrith, to dig for lead and copper ore on the waste near the Roaches. (fn. 165) There was a stone quarry on the Roaches in 1811 and evidently another on Gun in 1839. (fn. 166)
By the earlier 14th century Leekfrith was a tithing of Leek manor and sent a frankpledge to the twice-yearly view. The tithing was then called Roche, a name still used in 1430. It was called Frith by 1548. Leekfrith was still part of the manor in 1820, when the court appointed a pinner for the township. (fn. 167)
The township was part of the Leekfrith quarter of Leek parish, and in the 1660s its poor were relieved by the quarter's overseer. The township had its own overseer from 1713, (fn. 168) and there was a poorhouse at Thorneyleigh in 1775. (fn. 169) The township became part of Leek poor-law union in 1837. (fn. 170)
There was a chapel at Meerbrook by 1537. It may have been supported by a fraternity dedicated to St. Antony: in 1545 William Gent bequeathed 2s. to the stock of St. Antony at Meerbrook for the maintenance of God's service there. (fn. 171) Chapel House, probably a house for a priest serving the chapel, was mentioned in the earlier 16th century. (fn. 172) In 1547 Robert Burgh, probably the former forester of Dieulacres abbey's forest of Leek, left a rent of 13s. 4d. to God's service at Meerbrook. There seems to have been a doubt whether the chapel would survive: Robert's son Edmund was to have the rent if the service stopped. (fn. 173) The chapel still existed in 1553; chapel goods recorded that year included a silver chalice with a paten, and there was a bell. (fn. 174)
Sir Ralph Bagnall later rebuilt the chapel, and in 1565 he gave it to trustees, with a small endowment for a minister. His intention was not only to provide services for the inhabitants of Leekfrith but also to have prayers said for himself and his family on Sundays and feast days by the priest 'preaching the word of God' there. (fn. 175) The inhabitants of the chapelry were also expected to contribute a levy towards the upkeep of the chapel and the minister's stipend. After a disagreement between them and the trustees, it was decided in 1568 that the levy should be set by four men chosen jointly by both parties at Michaelmas. (fn. 176) The income was inadequate for a curate, and in 1597 the chapel was served only by a reader, John Bullocke. The bishop suspended services that year until a sufficient stipend had been raised to support a curate. (fn. 177) A reader c. 1603 was paid £4, together with food and drink; in 1604 he got 'what the people will given him'. The reader in 1604, William Smallwood, was described as tainted with 'vile sins' and denounced as a drunkard. Stated to conduct unlawful marriages 'to the great hurt of the country', he remained at the chapel despite complaints to the church authorities. (fn. 178) There was a curate in 1614 and presumably in 1623, when several inhabitants were presented for withholding his stipend. (fn. 179)
After new endowments of 1668 and 1675, (fn. 180) the chapel was licensed for baptisms in 1677 and burials in 1679; marriages were performed by 1698. Prior permission to conduct those services was necessary from the vicar of Leek, who retained all the fees. (fn. 181) From the mid 1790s the curate, James Turner, appears to have resented having to collect fees, and he determined only to request and not demand them. In 1797 he noted: 'I am advised not to concern or interest myself at all about Leek in future.' In 1799, however, he paid the fee for the baptism of his own son Daniel. In 1800 he again expressed his decision not to collect anything for the vicar until they had come to a new agreement. The vicar still claimed fees for baptisms and burials in 1832. (fn. 182)
The curate was nominated by the trustees of the chapel lands in 1724, by the vicar of Leek in 1728 and again in 1735, and by the principal inhabitants of the township in 1790. Thereafter the right of the vicar of Leek to nominate appears to have gone unchallenged. (fn. 183) The chapelry, which was coterminous with the township, became a parish in 1859. (fn. 184) The benefice, at first a perpetual curacy, was styled a vicarage from 1868. (fn. 185) The church was served by a resident priest-in-charge from 1973 until 1979. There followed a vacancy until 1983, when the parish became part of a new parish of Leek and Meerbrook with services conducted by one of the Leek team ministry. (fn. 186)
Sir Ralph Bagnall's endowment of 1565 comprised a house for the minister, a garden and two crofts adjoining the chapel yard, two crofts at Gunside, another croft elsewhere in the township, and a rent charge of 2s. from a house in Leek. (fn. 187) He also gave 1 a. at Middle Hulme, which had been lost by 1693. (fn. 188) In 1647 the committee for plundered ministers granted the curacy £25 from the sequestered rectory of Stowe. (fn. 189) By will proved 1668 Joan Armett of Thorneyleigh Hall Farm left a rent charge of £2 13s. 4d. for the support of 'a sufficient and able minister' at Meerbrook; if there was no resident minister, the money was to be used to pay a preacher to give two sermons every quarter. (fn. 190) By will proved 1675 John Stoddard of Thorneyleigh Green Farm left a rent charge of £4 to be paid to a graduate minister for preaching in Meerbrook chapel on Sundays or monthly at the trustees' discretion. (fn. 191) By will proved 1680 Edmund Brough gave the minister of Meerbrook the reversion of a rent charge of £2 10s. (fn. 192)
The curate's income in 1718 was £13. (fn. 193) In 1723 Queen Anne's Bounty gave £200 to meet benefactions of £100 given by John Ward and £100 collected from the inhabitants of the chapelry. Of the money £320 was used by 1730 to buy 27 a. at Roche Grange, which in 1735 was let for £15 10s. (fn. 194) Shortly before 1747 the remaining £80 was used to buy 12 a. near Hazelwood House. (fn. 195) William Bostock (d. 1725) left the reversion of the tithes from two fields in Horton to the curate for preaching a sermon at Candlemas. (fn. 196) In 1792 Queen Anne's Bounty gave £200, which was used in 1800 to buy c. 10 a. near Turner's pool. (fn. 197) When the commons were inclosed in 1811 the commissioners assigned 7 a. to the curate. (fn. 198) Another grant of £800 was made by Queen Anne's Bounty in 1822. Half was used in 1835 with a further grant of £200 made in 1830 and benefactions of £100 each from the curate, James Turner, and a Mrs. Pyncombe to buy an additional 28 a. at Roche Grange. (fn. 199) In 1845 James Turner gave a further 5 a. near Roche Grange as an endowment, requiring future curates to preach on Sunday evenings in summer. (fn. 200) The living was worth £97 a year c. 1830. (fn. 201) In 1887 there were 71 a. of glebe, with an estimated rental of £92. (fn. 202) The land at Roche Grange was sold in 1920. (fn. 203)
The other half of the £800 granted by Queen Anne's Bounty in 1822 was used in 1827 to rebuild the curate's house. (fn. 204) It was destroyed by fire in 1927 and again rebuilt. (fn. 205) The house was sold soon after 1979. (fn. 206)
In the later 1720s the vicar of Leek, Thomas Loxdale, wrote to the bishop stating that the inhabitants of Leekfrith were negligent in bringing their children to be baptized and that he seldom heard about the sickness of 'any poor people on the Moors' until they were dead. A curate appointed in 1724 had soon left, and Loxdale asked the bishop to ordain Henry Royle, the schoolmaster at Meerbrook. (fn. 207) The request was not granted, and in 1728 a new curate, Richard Legh, was appointed. He died in 1733. (fn. 208) Daniel Turner was appointed curate in 1735, later also becoming curate of Quarnford, in Alstonefield, and of Rushton. He lived at Meerbrook, where he died in 1789, and was succeeded by his son James. On his retirement in 1826 James was succeeded by his son, also James (d. 1863). (fn. 209) In 1830 there was one Sunday service at Meerbrook and Communion was celebrated four times a year. (fn. 210) In 1851 the average Sunday attendance was 50 when the service was in the morning and 120 when in the afternoon or evening, besides Sunday school children. (fn. 211) Psalm singers were mentioned in 1754. (fn. 212) They may have survived until 1864 when new liturgical practices were introduced by James Turner's successor, John Clarke. (fn. 213) By Easter Sunday that year the church band had been replaced by a harmonium, and a harvest festival was held for the first time later in the year. (fn. 214)
There was a chapelwarden in 1553, and from 1698 he usually signed the terriers with the curate. It was the custom by 1809 for the curate to nominate the warden. (fn. 215) There was a clerk for the chapel by 1730. His salary was £1 in 1754 and £2 in 1830. (fn. 216)
Roger Morrice (d. 1702) left half the interest on £100 for the purchase of bibles for the poor of Leekfrith. A distribution of 10 or 12 bibles was still made in the earlier 1820s. (fn. 217)
The present church of ST. MATTHEW dates from the 1870s. Its smaller predecessor, of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings, consisted of a chancel, nave, and west tower. An external stairway on the south side of the tower was probably built to provide access to a room apparently used as the school until 1778. (fn. 218) There was a west gallery by 1830, lit by a dormer window on the south side of the nave. (fn. 219) In the 1870s the church was rebuilt in ashlar to a design by R. Norman Shaw. The first stage, in 1870, was the addition to the existing church of a chancel, north vestry, and central tower. The cost was met by Elizabeth Condlyffe (d. 1878). In 1873 the nave was rebuilt and was given a south-west porch; the west tower was demolished. The church has a stone pulpit and font carved by Edward Ash of Meerbrook, the nephew and pupil of the sculptor Richard Hassall of Leekfrith, and there are pieces of Leek embroidery designed by Shaw. An organ, also paid for by Elizabeth Condlyffe, was installed in 1879. (fn. 220) The single bell is dated 1818. (fn. 221)
The registers date from 1738. (fn. 222)
The graveyard was enlarged in 1901 and 1968. (fn. 223)
John Tompson was described as not 'conformable to the religion now established' in 1623, when he taught a school at Meerbrook. (fn. 224)
William Davenport of Fould Farm was converted by the Quaker Richard Hickock in 1654 and established a meeting at his home. It had 30 members in 1669, many of whom presumably lived in Leek. (fn. 225)
John Wood, a nonconformist who had been ejected from his fellowship at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1662 and had preached in the Staffordshire Moorlands, was in 1690 recommended as a minister for a congregation to be based at Meerbrook, but he died later the same year. The recommendation came from Roger Morrice (d. 1702), vicar of Duffield (Derb.) until his ejection in 1662 and later a London merchant. He presumably had connexions with Leekfrith, where he was living when he made his will in 1701. (fn. 226) The house of John Cartwright of Upper Hulme was licensed for worship by protestant dissenters in 1693. (fn. 227)
A Methodist service was held fortnightly on Sundays at Roche Grange in 1798. (fn. 228) In 1805 the curate of Meerbrook claimed that there were 'scarcely any Methodists' in his chapelry and in 1809 that there was only one, a widow. (fn. 229) Wesleyan Methodists, however, continued to meet at Roche Grange, and an afternoon congregation of 20 was recorded there on Census Sunday 1851. Sunday services were last held at the farmhouse in 1921. (fn. 230) Fortnightly Sunday services held in 1829 at Thorneyleigh and at Meerbrook had ceased by 1832. (fn. 231) A Wesleyan chapel at Meerbrook was opened in 1862 and remained in use in 1992. (fn. 232) Another at Upper Hulme is in the Heathylee part of the hamlet. (fn. 233)
John Tompson, a licensed schoolmaster in Leek parish in 1616, probably then taught at Meerbrook. He certainly taught there in 1623, even though his licence had been withdrawn. (fn. 234) John Comylach of Meerbrook subscribed as a schoolmaster in 1621. (fn. 235) Ralph Poulson, licensed in 1662 to teach at Foker, was probably the man of the same name who was a schoolmaster of Mill Street, Leek, at his death in 1691. (fn. 236)
By will proved 1675 John Stoddard of Thorneyleigh Green Farm gave a rent charge of £10 for a master to teach 20 poor children. (fn. 237) Roger Morrice (d. 1702) left half the interest on £100 for the master at Meerbrook to teach eight poor children, provided that the master was able to teach Latin. (fn. 238) Henry Royle became the master in 1722 and continued to teach at Meerbrook until his death in 1769. (fn. 239) In 1818 the master teaching the 28 free children also taught 12 fee-paying children. (fn. 240) The school was apparently held in a room in the church tower until 1778, when a schoolroom was built in Meerbrook village. A house for the master was added in 1839, and in 1871 the schoolroom was enlarged. There were 30 children on the books in 1874. (fn. 241)
The decision in 1930 that Meerbrook Church of England school, then an all-age school with 63 children on its books, should become a junior school took effect in 1940, the senior children being transferred to Leek. (fn. 242) The school took controlled status in 1957 as St. Matthew's Church of England (Controlled) primary school. (fn. 243) It was closed in 1969, and the children were moved to a new school at Blackshaw Moor, in Tittesworth. (fn. 244) The former school building at Meerbrook was converted into a youth hostel in 1977. (fn. 245)
Two dame schools at Meerbrook, with a combined attendance of 16 in 1818, evidently still existed in the earlier 1830s. (fn. 246) A Church of England Sunday school established in 1825 had 50 children in the earlier 1830s but an average of only 30 in 1851. (fn. 247)
CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
By will proved 1668 Joan Armett left a rent charge of £1 to be distributed on Christmas Eve at Meerbrook chapel to the poor of the chapelry, especially those living 'along the side of Gun'. In the earlier 1820s nine people received 2s. each, a tenth 1s., and 1s. was paid to the landlord of the public house where the money was distributed. (fn. 248)
By will proved 1675 John Stoddard left a rent charge of £2 for the poor living at Gunside. In the earlier 1820s it was paid to between three and six people. (fn. 249)
By will proved 1680 Edmund Brough left a rent charge of £1 to be distributed at Candlemas to the poor living at 'Roachside' and in the Hazelwood area in the north of the township. In the earlier 1820s four people shared the 17s. which was received after land tax had been deducted. (fn. 250)
By will of 1760 Thomas Wood left the interest on £30 to be distributed in bread to the poor of Leekfrith every Sunday at Meerbrook chapel. The interest in the later 1780s was £1 10s. In the earlier 1820s the bread was given out on Sundays between November and March. (fn. 251)
Sarah Nicholls (d. 1785) left the interest on £200 for the poor of Leekfrith and Heaton. The charity was later amalgamated with one established by Sir Philip Brocklehurst for Leekfrith and Heaton. (fn. 252)
By will proved 1832 James Mobberley left the reversion of rents from three cottages at Meerbrook and from 1 a. on Gun to provide bread for the poor of the chapelry; it was to be distributed at the chapel every Sunday between 1 October and 1 May. The charity had taken effect by 1860. The cottages came to be treated as poorhouses, let at low rents, but were sold in 1925 to increase the charity's income. (fn. 253)
Elizabeth Turner (d. 1865), daughter of James Turner, curate of Meerbook 1789-1826, left half the interest on £100 for the poor of Leekfrith. (fn. 254)
By a Scheme of 1979 all the above charities, except for the Nicholls and Brocklehurst charity, were united as Leekfrith Relief in Need charity. (fn. 255)