Leigh appears in variously ancient documents as Leah, Leyghe, Lyghe, Lega, Ley and Le ye.(Leah in Saxon English means ‘a wood clearing or glade’). Three 10c charters record grants of land in Leigh. In one dated 972 A.D., King Edgar confirmed a grant of land at Leigh to Pershore Abbey and defined the parish boundaries of Leigh and Powick. (Powick parish included part of Bransford and all of Newland, Madresfield and Malvern). Leigh parish ‘boundeth East on Powick, West on Alfrick, North on Cotheridge – divided thence by the river Teme – and South onNewland’.
The Domesday Book records two wood clearings at Leigh. The one held by the Abbot of Pershore would be where the Church of St Eadburga is sited, the other held by Urso the Sheriff is thought to be Braces Leigh. In the abbacy of Gervase (1224-1234) Henry III ‘gave to God, our blessed Lady and St Edburg of Pershore and to the abbot and monks thereof………..free warren in Leigh’. Henry de Caldwell, abbot of Pershore, died at his Manor of Leye, March 6th, 1289. The Abbots of Pershore continued to hold Leigh until the Dissolution of the Monasteries after which it passed to the Colles family who had to sell the manorial rights to Walter Devereux.
Mr. Martin of Barton, Cambridgeshire, was resident at Leigh Court at the Visitation of 1634. A descendant, Leicester Martin, of Leigh Court in 1729, married Anne, sister of the eighth Viscount Hereford. Their only daughter and heiress married her cousin, Price Devereux, in 1721, but died without issue. In 1742 the Cocks family procured the estate and held it until 1898. The arms of several of the families quoted above can be seen on the Mothers’ Union Banner in Leigh Church. The best known medieval native of Bransford is Wulstan de Bransford who became Prior of Worcester 1317-1338 and Bishop 1338-1349. He is known to have lived at Bransford Court and to have built Bransford bridge over the river Teme in 1338. Its reconstruction may have been undertaken by one of the de Bracy family at Braces Leigh the Manor of which was held of the Beauchamp’s barony of Elmley Castle. It passed through several different families (including Chambers Slaughter) until it was bought back by Lady Beauchamp early in the 19c. Sir Niklaus Pevsner lists a Roman tile kiln found at Leigh Sinton.
The Domesday Book states:- The Church itself held at Leigh 3 hides which pay tax. Of these, the Abbot has 1 hide in lordship. He has 2 ploughs; 12 villagers and 32 small holders with 29 ploughs, 2 slaves, 2 mills at 10s 9d; meadow 30 acres; woodland 3 leagues long and 2 leagues wide. Value before 1066 ｣20; now ｣16. Of the said land two riders held one and a half hides. Now Urso the Sheriff holds them. He has 2 ploughs; 2 villagers, 11 smallholders and 1Frenchman; between them they have 4 ploughs, 2 slaves, a mill at 4s. Value 50s. Urso also holds a third of this land at Bransford. He has 1 plough in lordship; 9 smallholders with 4 ploughs, a mill at 20s. Value ｣4. Of this hide the County states that it was the Church of Pershore’s before 1066; however, the Abbot of Evesham held it on the day of King Edward’s death, but they do not know how.
Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1540). With Henry VIII’s transfer of power from the church to the crown, the Manor of Leigh passed into the hands of the Sovereign and remained so until in 1576 Queen Elizabeth, by letters patent , granted the manor to ‘Christopher Hatton, esqr., and his heirs, for ever’. They did not enjoy this gift for long, however, for the Queen, by letters patent dated July 20th, 1590, granted to Edmund Colles, esqr., ‘the Manor of Leigh, tenths of corn and hay, the advowson, gift, right of patronage and free disposition of the Rectory and Rectorial Parish Church of Leigh with all their rights, members and appurtenances’.
The Colles family had been tenants of the Manor both under the Abbots of Pershore and under the Sovereign. They also held land in the parish of Suckley. Edmund Colles, who was High Sheriff of the County in the seventeenth year of Elizabeth’s reign, was described as ‘a grave and learned justice of the shire’. He died in 1606 and was succeeded by his son, William, who died in 1615, leaving a son and heir, Edmund, who ‘being loaded with debts which like a snowball from the Malvern Hill gathered increase’ thought fit to sell it to Sir Walter Devereux, Bart. (Edmund’s Manor of Suckley shared the same fate.)
Sir Walter Devereux. The panelled alabaster tomb on the North wall of the Chancel in St Eadburga’s indicates that Sir Walter Devereux expected to complete his life at Leigh. However, on the death of his kinsman, Robert, Earl of Essex, he succeeded to the title of Viscount Hereford and moved to Hampton Court near Leominster. Essex Devereux, his eldest son, drowned in the Teme during his father’s lifetime while boating with a friend, George Freke, on 20 February 1639. His second son, Leicester, succeeded as sixth Viscount Hereford. He was one of the six peers sent to invite Charles II to return in 1660. He was a Captain in Prince Rupert’s horse in 1676 and died in that year.
The Cocks family. Mr.James Cocks, M.P. for Reigate, bought the Manor of Leigh in 1742 but died in 1750. His unmarried son, James, was killed at St.Cas on the coast of France in 1758 and his estate passed to his uncle, John Cocks, the father of Charles, the first Baron Somers. His son, John, 1st Earl Somers, married Margaret the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Treadway Nash D.D., the Worcester historian who was Rector at Leigh from 1792 to his death at Bevere in 1811. They had Eastnor Castle built and the family moved there. The third Earl died without a male heir, the estate passing to daughter Isabel Caroline, by then Lady Henry Somerset. She instigated the sale by auction of many of the farms and their lands in 1898.
Bransford (Bradnesford, Brainesford, Brannefford, Braunceford) is said to have been given to the abbey of Evesham by Ethelbald, son of Alwi, King of the Mercians, in the year 716 but an alternative version attributing its acquisition by Ethelwig (abbot 1059-77) accords better with the Domesday record where it is suggested that he gave it to Urso in exchange for Bengeworth. The Beauchamp family are descendants of Urso. Bransford is also the birthplace of Wulston de Bransford who lived at Bransford Court. He became Prior of Worcester in 1317 and was Bishop from 1338 to 1349.
Leigh Sinton (Sodyngton, Lye Sinton or Syddington) dates to the second century. The Victoria County History of Worcestershire reports Leigh Sinton being held of the abbey of Pershore by the Andrews family from an early date. Richard Andrews of Leigh held it from the middle of the 13c and it remained with that family until 1542 when it is first mentioned as a Manor. Before his death in 1606, Edmund Colles had acquired the property. The Manor of Castle Leigh (Castlellegh, Castellygh) is thought to be that held of the Abbots of Pershore by the Pembridge family in the 13c. This Manor with its lands was also granted to Edmund Colles in 1605.