A brief history of West Leake.
The first recorded mention of Leake is in the Domesday Book of 1086 although evidence of Roman occupation can be found in the area, including a likely site of a villa at Stanford on Soar; a temple (currently under Ratcliffe on Soar power station); and isolated finds of coins near ancient trackways.
At the time of Domesday, Leake is described as being amongst the more prosperous estates in England. Whilst many estates had fallen in value, Leake's value had actually risen since the Conquest.
It was held by Henry De Ferrers, one of Duke William’s henchmen, with both a church and mill, but at that time the estate was not sub divided into East and West Leake. The mill was almost certainly sited at what became West Leake, while recent research suggests that the church was at East Leake.
The oldest part of East Leake church, the north wall of the nave, was built in the Saxon style, while the north wall of the nave at St Helena’s church, the oldest standing masonry in West Leake, is believed to date from circa 1100.
The earliest known sub- tenants of the De Ferrers estate were the Touke family, who possibly originated from Calvados, in Normandy. By the mid 12th century the villages had become separate entities.
Early in the 13th century the Touke family gifted land in the village to Dale Abbey and granted parts of the estate, including the mill, to the Bugge family, prosperous wool merchants from Nottingham.
By 1281 the Bugge family had gained complete control of the lands at West Leake and later the rights to the fishery.
August 1318 was a significant time for the village. The then king, Edward II, en-route to Nottingham from Leicester, encamped with his retinue in the area, for two days whilst a non-aggression treaty, between the King and his cousin, Edmund of Lancaster was drawn up and ratified. The treaty prevented civil war until 1321. The presence of both the King and his cousin, together with their retinues, must have put pressure on the local food resources, particularly as this was during a period of poor harvests, possibly caused by a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia, which effected the weather. It is likely that random finds of silver half-pennies in the area, date from this visit.
In 1325 Geoffrey Bugge, of Bingham inherited his families holding in West Leake. Geoffrey's son, another Geoffrey, married Margaret, the daughter and heiress of Robert de Champaine of Thurleston in Leicestershire. This would have brought considerable wealth into the village as Robert was a descendent of one of Duke William’s henchmen and held a number of estates in the East Midlands. It is just possible that the ruined medieval hall, on the moated site is from this period.
The church contains two outstanding funeral effigies, which have been rather overlooked, since the male figure is not in armour and they are not of alabaster, which, although available locally, did not come into general use until later.
Recent investigation by an architectural archaeologist, suggest that they are of the highest quality and would have been very expensive to procure.
It is possible that they represent Margaret and Geoffrey. Following the death of one of the Bugge family, without heirs, the estate passed through various hands, for a short time belonging to the Manners family of Haddon Hall.
In 1593, most of the estate was acquired by Richard Mansfield, although there were a number of separate small freeholds, and a larger one, which belonged to the Stapletons of Rempstone. This was subdivided into two, one half being sold to Bartholemew Ragg and the other to George Bird, both from Rempstone, Their principal tenants were the Wylde family. The Wylde family holding included Town End Farm and a swathe of land between the village street and the Kingston Brook.
Richard Mansfield’s son, Thomas, a lawyer, consolidated his holdings in the village by purchasing various freeholds, including one which had previously belonged to the Leake family. The village, other than the freeholds, remained in the ownership of three generations of the Mansfield family, until it was inherited by a nephew, Evelyn Chadwick, in 1741. Chadwick (shown right) enlarged his estate by purchasing the Bird Freehold from the absentee Rector and Lord Hastings, the Patron of the Living, who jointly claimed it as Glebe Lands, although they had no right to do so.
In the meantime Chadwick had entered into negations to sell what he considered was his estate, or manor, to Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall. It is from that date that the first large scale map of the village and its surroundings, now in the Nottinghamshire Archive, was drawn. It took until 1755 and two acts of Parliament for the issue of ownership of the freehold to be resolved. The Bird family and their tenants, the Wyles, benefited from the Act of Parliament, in that a new freehold, of 168 acres of land, between West and East Leake, much of which bordered the Kingston Brook and included south facing slopes, was created. The freehold included a farmstead, which became Town End Farm. By the mid 19th century, members of the Wilde family were farming approximately 500 acres of land.
In the early 19th Century, a small cottage industry, a basket making shop, was set up by the Mills family, possibly on Wylde land and they also developed Osier beds near “The Star” public house.
The Mills family went on to own two far larger basket making works at East Leake. The last “commercial” basket making was carried out by Italian Prisoners of War, during WW2.
The Middleton family owned the Estate for the next one hundred years, at which point it was acquired by the Strutt family, who were later to become the Lords Belper. In 1850 at the instigation of Amelia, the then Lady Belper, a school was built in the village.
This school continued in use until 1900’s when declining pupil numbers caused it to be closed, with the pupils being transferred to either Kingston on Soar, or East Leake Elementary schools. In 1966 after many years of limited use, the present Lord Belper gifted the building to the village as a Village Hall to be administered by a group of trustees. (See more)
By the beginning of the 1880s, the village church had become very dilapidated, so was largely rebuilt, excepting the chancel and the north wall of the nave. The farms continued to be tenanted up until the 1970’s, when Village Farmstead and Platts Croft, on the corner of Dark Lane were sold off for development into housing, with some buildings being demolished and new houses erected, while more substantial barns were converted into homes.
The farmsteads through the village were all gradually sold off by Lord Belper’s Kingston Hall Estates. In October 1986, Town End Farm, tenanted by the Alsop family, was the last farm to be “taken in” to be managed directly by Kingston Hall Estates.
The general configuration of the medieval tofts still remain behind properties on the north side of the street, but over the years some houses have disappeared from the street scene, including cottages on the green and a pair of cottages, next to the churchyard lych-gate, which were burnt out in the 1950’s.
Sadly, the thatched roofed Post Office, which has partial stone foundations and a bread oven, was reconstructed in a mock, half timbered style. Some new houses have been built fairly recently and Town End Farm has also been redeveloped to provide accommodation.
(c) 2023. Text provided by Mike Saunders, a well respected local historian who lives in West Leake.