A Whirlwind Tour of Old Leckhampton
By Eric Miller
Leckhampton was originally the vegetable farm (‘leek-hampton’) for the Anglo-Saxon royal manor of Cheltenham, and you can still see traces of ‘ridge and furrow’ resulting from medieval ploughing. The old village was situated close to Leckhampton Court and the church, both built in the 14th century by Sir John Giffard, the then Lord of the Manor. Later the Court was enlarged by the Norwood family, who added the half-timbered Tudor wing.
Several local roads recall the names of the interrelated families that lived in the Court - the Giffards, the Norwoods and then the Tryes. It was Charles Brandon Trye who at the end of the 18th century developed the quarries and built a horse-drawn railway to carry the stone into Cheltenham. One section of track passed behind a pillar of harder rock left by the quarrymen - ‘the Devil’s Chimney’. The hill and quarries were later bought by Henry Dale, who fenced off the footpaths, against often violent local opposition, which came to a head on Good Friday 1906, when the Riot Act had to be read and eight men were arrested and sentenced to hard labour. Public access to the common was assured in 1929, however, when it was bought by Cheltenham Town Council.
In 1894 the Court was bought and enlarged by John Hargreaves, who is said to have entertained the future King Edward VII there. During World War I the building housed a Red Cross Hospital and in World War II barrack huts in its grounds were occupied by US servicemen, before the D-Day landings. From 1945 to 1948 German POWs were billeted there, mostly working on farms. They got on well with Leckhampton’s inhabitants and several married local girls. From 1956 to 1969 the Court was given over to a preparatory school, after which the building fell into disrepair until it was bought and restored by the Sue Ryder Foundation as a Care Centre.
The earliest parts of St Peter’s church include the tower and spire, but there are remnants, including the font, from an even older building. One of its first priests was fined two shillings by Archbishop Thomas à Beckett for not paying his dues. The church contains effigies of Sir John Giffard and his wife and a memorial brass to Elizabeth Lygon, wife of William Norwood. The pulpit was carved from an oak tree grown in a nearby field.
The oldest person buried in the churchyard is Richard Purser, aged 111. There are memorials to three VCs and to Dr Edward Wilson, who died on Scott’s Antarctic expedition, and graves of a score of army generals and men with careers in the Indian Empire as well as other eminent Cheltonians.
In the ‘newer’ part of the village, the original school (now the dining hall) wasprobably built in 1840, and the Village Hall was opened in 1897. The war memorial occupies the site of the old village well.