Leigh (St. Mary)

LEIGH (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of West Derby, S. division of Lancashire, 46 miles (S. S. E.) from Lancaster, and 197 (N. W.) from London; containing 22,229 inhabitants, and comprising the parochial district of Tyldesley cum Shakerley, the chapelries of Astley, Atherton, and Bedford, and the townships of Pennington and Westleigh. The name is derived from the Saxon Ley, synonymous with the English word Lea, a field or pasture: the parish appears to have been under the feudal control of the barons of Warrington, and several of its townships, at an early date, communicated their names to local families. The manufacturers of Lancashire are eminently indebted to the ingenuity of Thomas Highs, a reed-maker of Leigh, who in 1764 constructed the first spinning-jenny, which he named after his daughter Jenny or Jane; and in 1767 invented the water-frame, subsequently improved and extensively introduced by Sir Richard Arkwright. The manufacture of silk, cambrics, muslins, and fustians is carried on here, but that of the first, introduced in 1824, is the most considerable. The general trade of the place has been greatly improved by the Bolton, Leigh, and Kenyon railway, and a branch of the Duke of Bridgewater's canal, which here forms a junction with a branch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Coal is found in great abundance in the parish, and also a peculiar kind of limestone, which forms an excellent cement, impervious to water. The town is principally in the township of Pennington, and partly in that of Westleigh: courts baron are held here for the manors of Pennington and Westleigh, by their respective lords, and petty-sessions for the Warrington division of the hundred of West Derby are held on every alternate Thursday. The powers of the county debt-court of Leigh, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Leigh. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held on the 24th and 25th of April, and the 7th and 8th of December, for cattle, pigs, pedlery, &c.

The parish comprises 11,969 acres, of which 2767 are arable, 8304 pasture, and 150 woodland; it is bounded on the north by the parish of Deane, on the east by that of Eccles, on the south by the parishes of Newchurch and Lowton, and on the west by Wigan parish. A rivulet from the parish of Deane enters the township of Atherton, and passes by Shakerley, near which it is joined by three small rivulets in the township of Bedford: it is increased by a stream that flows out of West Houghton, and by another from Little Hulton; and the whole of these rills make their final confluence on the margin of Chat Moss, where they give rise to the little river Glazebrook. The features of the country in all the townships of the parish are interesting, though little varied by hill and dale; the meadows are luxuriant, the hedge-rows numerous, and tolerably well stocked with trees in the more sheltered parts. The soil of the parish is chiefly a stiff rich loam, except on the border of the moss land, where it is peaty. Light-Oaks Moss and Bedford Moss, as also the heath called Black-Moor Moss, in Astley, are all portions of Chat Moss; and Tyldesley Moss, though now separated from it by cultivation, once formed a part of that extensive tract. Potatoes are grown to a considerable extent; and the dairies, which are remarkable for the quality rather than the quantity of milk they produce, yield excellent cheese. Few parishes in the kingdom combine so extensively the elements of manufacturing and of rural prosperity.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £9, and in the patronage of Lord Lilford; net income, £270, chiefly derived from land and houses, for the most part bequeathed subsequently to the Reformation: there is a good glebe-house. The church is a large stone structure in the Tudor style, consisting of a nave, aisles, and a chancel, with two sepulchral chapels; that on the north side formerly belonged to the family of Tyldesley, of Tyldesley, and that on the south to the Athertons, of Atherton, of whom Lord Lilford is the present representative. At the west end is a handsome embattled tower, containing an excellent peal of eight bells. At Astley, Atherton, Bedford, Tyldesley, and Westleigh are other churches. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, Roman Catholics, and others. The free grammar school was endowed in 1655, by Piers Ranicar, with a rent-charge of £5; and subsequent bequests have raised the endowment to £28. Among the other schools are spacious national and infant schools, built in 1841, and endowed with two cottages worth about £12 per annum. The poor-law union of Leigh consists, in addition to this parish, of the adjoining parishes of Newchurch and Lowton, and comprises a population of 28,568.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.