The Monks Eleigh History Group now has an on-line archive which contains many photographs, documents and census information. This will be updated as more information becomes available and is digitised. Many thanks to Arthur Grosset for providing the new site and for digitising the original documents and photographs. Please visit the archive site here.
If you are interested in local history then you may like to join The Monks Eleigh History Group
Monks Eleigh is a most picturesque village on the north bank of the river Brett with a village green, bordered by houses on either side running up to the church.
A visitor to Monks Eleigh can be forgiven for inquiring as to the origin of its name and as to the whereabouts of the monastery. There never has been a monastery here and the short answer, but not one that is immediately informative, is to say that for nearly 900 years our village has been a peculiar of Canterbury; a peculiar being a parish which is controlled outside its normal territorial jurisdiction.
To understand the long and remarkable connection of Monks Eleigh with Canterbury, we need to go back to 991. In that year a Saxon noble Brithnoth, Earl of Essex, died fighting the Danes at the Battle of Maldon. He had succeeded to lands which included the Manor of Illeigh, the name Illeigh meaning Illa's meadows, Illa being thought to be the name of a local landowner. Aelfflaed, Brithnoth's widow survived him and in her will she bequeathed this Manor amongst others to Christchurch Canterbury and there they remained down the centuries. Although there have been a number of variations to the name of our village over the years including Monks Iilith, Monks Iileigh, Monks Illy and Monksylly, Monks Eleigh it finally became.
With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1541 King Henry VIII decreed that the lands and manors held by the monks of Canterbury, including Monks Eleigh, were to be transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral. The Dean and Chapter remained Lords of the Manor, with the exception of the period of the Commonwealth, down to 1863, when they were transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
This means that for many centuries the lands, farms and houses in Monks Eleigh belonged to The Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. Canterbury would have appointed a steward or bailiff who would have acted as Lord of the Manor. Most probably in the 14th and 15th Centuries the Steward or Bailiff appointed by Canterbury to collect in the rents and supervise the lands lived at The Hall, with the main farming being run from The Manor Farm, a moated hall house up the road. Most of the land was leased to farmers and their labour for cultivating the land was a fixed quantity of the produce as well as a rent. Detailed records of the tenancies down the centuries can still be inspected today in the Library and Archives situated in the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral.
The monks of Canterbury, in addition to receiving a good income from the village also supplied a priest to take care of the parishioners. It is thought that a church has stood on the present site for over a thousand years. The present building dates from around 1350 and dominates the village. It is believed that Canterbury may have paid for a large part of the cost and that it is named after the monastery of St Peter's in Canterbury. A spire was added to the tower in 1631 but was demolished in 1845. The west doorway at the foot of the tower displays 15th century flint and stone carving. Inside the roof of the nave dates from the C14th, the baptismal font is from the C13th, but to quote Arthur Mees "Suffolk-Our Farthest East" the treasure here is the pulpit, with panelled sides and small flowers hanging from its lovely tracery; it is 500 years old.
The United Reform Church along the Street dates from 1870. It was on the same site that William Faiers in 1824 converted his barn as a place for divine worship of Protestant Dissenters.
Lying 4 miles East of Lavenham, Monks Eleigh reached its peak of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries through the cloth and wool trades. Typical of that period is Hobarts in Back Lane, a hall house with wings built for a Suffolk gentleman in the early part of the C15th. One of the outstanding features of the house is the magnificent crown post and the beam that divides the high hall into two bays. Another fine crown post is to be found in The Guildhall situated in The Street which was built about the same time as Hobarts. There are a number of other interesting houses and cottages along The Street dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The first school, a Parish school appears to have been established in 1834 on a piece of ground taken out of the Workhouse yard up Church Hill. In 1836 the then Rector obtained a 99 year lease of the Workhouse. The old schoolroom existed until 1872 when it was pulled down and another building erected at a cost of £485.The school has remained a Church of England Primary School ever since, but a new building was constructed in Churchfields in 1961. A swimming pool was constructed in 1962 with funds provided jointly by the Local Educational Authority and Parents.
Between 1846 and 1852 the village had its own fire engine, purchased for £57 and manned by local volunteers. According to Revd. Northcote (see below) the engine was used occasisonally as the need arose but was eventually sold in 1874.
A police house was built in Churchfields in 1962 but was sold to a private buyer in 1979.
One of the outstanding features of our village is the green leading up to the church. On the green is the village pump which arrived in 1854 and still stands there today. Before the arrival of the pump the village drank spring water coming from the Lavenham Brook. The pump continued to be used until after the Second World War when it was replaced by water from the mains.
Much of what is written here is derived from "Notes on the History of Monks Eleigh" written by Revd The Hon. Arthur Northcote. He was the third son of a noble family and as such automatically went into the Church.
He was Rector of Monks Eleigh between 1900 and 1932. He was a very scholarly and knowledgeable man and also greatly loved by the community. His book is at present the only authoritative history of the village. Physically the village was virtually unscathed by the two World Wars, but like so many other villages it suffered in terms of human sacrifices.
Between 1914 and 1918 a hundred and eight men from the village went to the war; twenty two of them were killed in action. Of the 52 men and women who served in the Second World War, 3 never returned. The names of all who died are recorded in the Roll of Honour in St Peter's Church.
The population of the village peaked in 1831 when the census return shows 733, but for the last 100 years, and still so today, it has been around 400. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 4 pubs in the village: "The Swan", "The King's Head", "The Bull" and "Lion". Today only "The Swan" remains. At the beginning of the 20th century there were many shops along The Street, including the Post Office, two butchers, family grocer, tea dealer, tailor, undertaker, egg merchant, two blacksmiths, a thatcher and a water mill and you could hire a horse and trap. By 1920 there was a petrol pump on the Street. Today the garage and most of the shops have gone and our shopping mall consists of a community shop (see below) and Corncraft a popular craft /coffee shop.
The village has over recent years demonstrated a strong sense of community. Monks Eleigh was in 1965 and again in 1981 winner of the best kept village in Cosford rural district. In the Fisons Trophy for villages of four hundred or more, Monks Eleigh came third in 1981. In 1991 there was a special celebration for 1000 years of recorded history of the village with 3 days of events. In 1994 the village staged a fully costumed Regency Fair.
The Queen's Golden Jubilee was celebrated with three days of events 1st - 4th June 2002 with collections of memorabilia relating to the Queen's Coronation and previous Royal jubilees. In 2003 the village won third place in the Calor Suffolk village of the year, with special praise for Monks Eleigh's new Millenium Green project. In 2004 the village overcame closure of its post office and village shop with the opening of a community shop, made possible" by the community for the community". This project earned the Best Post Office Branch award for the South East of England as well as a Community award.
June 2006 George Hodgkinson, Recorder and Chairman of The Monks Eleigh History Group