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Leek (St. Edward the Confessor)

LEEK (St. Edward the Confessor), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, partly in the S. division, but chiefly in the N. division, of the hundred of Totmonslow, N. division of the county of Stafford; comprising the townships of Bradnop, Endon, Heaton, Leek, Leek-Frith, Longsdon, Onecote, Rudyard, Rushton-James, Rushton-Spencer, Stanley, and Tittisworth; the whole containing 11,576 inhabitants, of whom 7071 are in the town, 23 miles (N. N. E.) from Stafford, and 154 (N. W. by N.) from London. This place, which is of great antiquity, and has been styled "The Metropolis of the Moorlands," subsequently to the Conquest became the property of the earls of Chester, one of whom obtained for it the grant of a market from King John; it was eventually given to the monks of the abbey Dieu la Croix, in the parish. In 1745, the troops of the Pretender marched through it on December 3rd, in their advance to Derby, and returned on the 7th of the same month. The town is pleasantly situated on an eminence, on the road from London to Manchester: the streets are spacious, well paved, and lighted with gas; and the inhabitants are supplied with water by means of pipes from the springs on Leek Moor. The curious phenomenon of a double sunset occurs here at a certain time of the year, owing to the relative position of a rocky mountain westward from the town.

The principal business is the silk manufacture, which has long been in a flourishing state, and of late years several very extensive mills have been erected for twisting, throwing, and weaving the silk. The articles for which the town is chiefly celebrated, are sewing-silks, twist, buttons, ribbons, ferrets, galloons, handkerchiefs, shawls, sarcenet, serges, velvet, and broad silk. A large quantity of buttons covered with worsted stuff are also manufactured, affording employment to many hundred women and children in the surrounding villages, who are engaged in sewing the cloth upon moulds. A considerable quantity of cheese is made in the neighbourhood; and there are valuable mines of lead and copper in the adjacent hills, some of which were worked before the year 1680. The Caldon branch of the Trent and Mersey canal passes within half a mile of the town, and near it runs the river Churnet. Along the beautiful vale of this river, passes the Churnet-Valley portion of the North Staffordshire railway, forming part of the direct line from Manchester to London. In 1806, the old market-cross, which stood at the foot of the marketplace, was taken down, and a town-hall erected on its site. Petty-sessions for the Northern division of the hundred are held at the Red Lion inn, on alternate Wednesdays. The market is on Wednesday; and there are fairs, chiefly for cattle, on the Wednesday before February 3rd, Easter-Wednesday, May 18th, Whit-Wednesday, July 3rd and 28th, and the Wednesday after October 10th: the principal cattle-fair is that on the 18th of May. The powers of the county debt-court of Leek, established in 1847, extend over nearly the whole of the registration-district of Leek and Longnor. Courts leet and baron are held by the lord of the manor, at which a constable is appointed.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £7. 9. 1½.; net income, £200; patron, the Earl of Macclesfield: the tithes were commuted for land in 1805. The church, a very ancient structure in the later English style, has a tower with eight pinnacles, and stands on an eminence which commands a very extensive prospect: in the interior are several neat mural monuments to the Daintry, Wedgwood, Jolliffe, Mills, and other families; and in the churchyard are the remains of a pyramidal cross, adorned with rude imagery and fret-work, supposed to be of Danish workmanship. A church district named St. Luke's, with a computed population of 3300, was endowed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in June, 1845; and a church is now in course of erection, of which the estimated cost is £4795: it will be in the decorated style, and will consist of a nave, chancel, and aisles, with a tower at the west end. The living is in the gift of the Crown and the Bishop of Lichfield, alternately. At Endon, Meerbrook, Onecote, and Rushton, are other incumbencies. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyans; and a Roman Catholic chapel, adorned with some fine old paintings brought from a convent at Lisbon, by the nuns of Aston Hall, near Stone. A school was erected at the expense of the Earl of Macclesfield, in the beginning of the last century. Eight almshouses for single women or widows, not under 60 years of age, were endowed by Elizabeth Ash, in 1676, with a rent-charge of £40, and additional benefactions make the total income £78 per annum. Very munificent donations have been made from time to time in aid of the poor, now amounting to the annual sum of £290. The union of Leek comprises 19 parishes or places, and contains a population of 21,307. There are some remains of Dieu la Croix or Dieulacres Abbey, which was founded by Ranulph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, in 1214, in honour of St. Mary and St. Benedict, for Cistercian monks, and was valued at the Dissolution at £243. 3. 6. per annum. The ruins have been dug up and used in erecting barns and stables; but the shafts of the chapel columns are left standing to the height of several feet: the exterior walls of the farm-buildings are decorated with many fragments of arches and capitals, and in one of them is a stone coffin with a crosier and sword carved upon it. Thomas Parker, first earl of Macclesfield, who became lord high chancellor, and president of the Royal Society, was born in 1666, at Leek, where his father practised as an attorney.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.