Leek

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Leek is a market town in the county of Staffordshire, England, on the River Churnet. It is an ancient borough and was granted its royal charter in 1214.

It is the administrative centre for the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council. King John granted Ranulph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, the right to hold a weekly Wednesday market and an annual seven-day fair in Leek in 1207.

Leek’s coat of arms is made up of a Saltire Shield. On the top is the Staffordshire Knot, either side is the famous Leek “Double Sunset” and below a gold garb. The crest is a mural crown with three Mulberry leaves on a Mount of Heather on top of which a Moorcock is resting his claw on a small-weave Shuttle. The motto ‘ARTE FAVENTE NIL DESPERANDUM’ translates to: Our skill assisting us, we have no cause for despair. The Coat of Arms was granted on 7 May 1956.

The town has had a regular cattle market for hundreds of years, reflecting its role as a centre of local farming. Following the industrial revolution it became a major producer of textiles, with silk working in particular coming to dominate the industrial landscape. Though this industry has declined somewhat, it has continued through the large number of clothing manufacturers in the town, and the prominence of dyeing and allied trades. The mills from the town’s textile era still remain. Many are currently being converted into houses. The town’s markets still remain active to this day.

Britannia, the former Building Society, has its headquarters based in the town and is a major local employer. Britannia is a trading name of The Co-operative Bank since the merger of the two companies in 2009.

Alton Towers is situated in the Staffordshire Moorlands district and therefore employs a large number of people from Leek and the surrounding area.

Most of the town is at or above 600 feet (180 m) and is surrounded by the even higher countryside of the Staffordshire Moorlands which is situated on the southern uplands of the Pennines.

Leek is built on the slope and crown of a hill which is situated just a few miles south of The Roaches; a gritsone escarpment which rises steeply to 505m.

Leek is situated at the foot of the Peak District National Park and is therefore often referred to as the Gateway to the Peak District, although the town is more often referred to as the Queen of the Moorlands.

Many Victorian period, and older, buildings still stand in the town, many built by the family architectural practice of the Sugdens. In 1849 William Sugden (b. 1821 in Keighley) came to Leek. He was an architect and his work on the design of the stations for the Churnet Valley Railway brought him to the area. In the following year William’s son, Larner Sugden, was born. After schooling in Yorkshire, Larner returned to Leek in 1866 to be apprenticed to his father as an architect, and thus was formed the famous Sugden & Son (Architects), whose influence on the town was to be profound. The firm had offices in Derby Street. The building still survives, the ground floor now being occupied by Boots the Chemist. Larner was a great supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and so Leek’s development was in sympathetic hands.

The architectural output from Sugden & Son was both prolific and varied. Some of the buildings designed by the Sugdens are as follows: the Congregational Church with its 130’ spire, (now Trinity Church), built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style (1863), Myatt’s Mill in Earl Street (1864), Mill Street Methodist Chapel and Ragged School (1870), the Cottage Hospital, in memory of silk manufacturer James Allsop (1871), their own houses in Queen Street, complete with monograms for William, Larner and for Larner’s French wife (1877), West Street School (extended in 1881), the District Bank, which exhibits a strong Richard Norman Shaw influence (1882) and the Leonard Street Police Station in Scottish Baronial style (1891). This last was probably the last joint venture of the father-and-son team because William Sugden died in 1892.

The Sugden masterpiece was, perhaps, the Nicholson Institute, built in the Queen Anne style, in 1882. The fact that this building is tucked away behind the 17th century ‘Greystones’ is a further indication of Larner’s regard for old buildings. Larner would not countenance demolition of the old building, and so, as the Nicholson’s owned the land to the rear, that is where the Institute was built. Larner cleverly incorporated the busts of Shakespeare, Newton, Reynolds and Tennyson into the building representing 400 years of artistic and scientific achievement from the 16th to the 19th century and embracing literature, science, art and poetry.

In 1899 came the Technical Schools and the Co-operative Society Hall. Although the original town centre cattle market was demolished and replaced with a bus station and shopping centre in the 1960s. The new cattle market was built on the edge of town adjacent to the railway station. Later, this was one of the stations closed following Dr. Beeching’s recommendations. It was later replaced with a supermarket now owned by Morrisons.

The Nicholson War Memorial was dedicated in 1925.

Leek was the home of James Brindley, the 18th century canal engineer. He built a water-powered corn mill in 1752. This watermill is now preserved as Brindley Water Mill and Museum.

William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, lived and worked in Leek between 1875 and 1878. He studied dyeing and it was Leek which provided his firm with silk. Local rumour suggests that he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 as a result of his successful campaign to prevent the demolition of the building that now houses Greystones tearoom, winner of the Tea Council’s Tea Room of the Year award for 2000. It was through the SPAB that he came into contact with Larner Sugden, the local architect, who went on to publish some of Morris’ speeches and essays in a series called the Bijour of Leek.

James Ford, English musical composer, record producer and musician in the band Simian Mobile Disco was born in Leek.

Nearby Rudyard Lake is a popular tourist attraction and home to the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway, running along its eastern shores. Other nearby local attractions are the local football club Leek Town F.C., Alton Towers, the cultural and leisure facilities of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and the Peak District National Park.

Leek’s “Double Sunset” on and around the summer solstice also attracts many tourists. This event, first recorded by Robert Plot, occurs when the sun sets behind The Cloud, subsequently partially reappearing in the hollow of the hill’s steep northern side, before setting again. Plot’s detailed account can be found in his book The Natural History of Staffordshire. Traditionally, the best location for seeing the double sunset was in the grounds of the parish church, but it is no longer visible from there. Currently, the best location to witness the spectacle is from the road to Pickwood Hall, off Milltown Way. The phenomenon and its possible observation points are described in detail in Jeff Kent’s book, The Mysterious Double Sunset..

In May of every year, Leek Arts Festival takes place, celebrating the cultural heritage of the town. According to the festival’s website, it began as a weekly event but soon expanded to last a whole month.

The surrounding countryside of the Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District makes the area a popular tourist destination. Just outside the town is Blackbrook Zoological Park, which is renowned for its large collection of birds.

Leek was served by Leek railway station which was opened by the North Staffordshire Railway on July 13, 1849, but has since been closed.

Leek is twinned with Este, Italy.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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