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Medieval Leek

'Leek was probably an ecclesiastical centre c.1000.  In the later 12th and early 13th century it was a stopping place for the earls of Chester, the lords of Leek manor, who may have had a house there.  Standing at the junction of several roads, the town was a commercial centre by the 13th century.  In 1207 the king confirmed to Earl Ranulph a weekly market and an annual seven-day fair, and the earl established a borough probably about the same time.  In 1214 he founded Dieulacres abbey beside the Churnet a mile north of the town and in 1232 granted Leek manor to the monks, who renewed the borough charter.

Until the 19th century the town consisted mainly of the area round the market place and of the streets leading off it, presumably the plan of the early 13th-century borough.  Originally the market place probably extended to the west side of what is now St. Edward Street, thus forming the north-west corner of the town.  The convergence of roads on the north-west, southwest and east sides of the town and the pattern of property boundaries suggest that the medieval town may have had a hard boundary, perhaps an earth bank pierced with gates.  The town was ravaged by fire in 1297, but that presumably did not alter its plan.

There was also settlement along the road to Macclesfield on the north-west side of the town and the road to Newcastle-under-Lyme on the south-west.  The first gave access to a mill by the Churnet, and the stretch by the mill was known as Mill Street by the earlier 16th century when a suburb had grown up there.  The steep part down from the town, also known as Mill Street by the earlier 19th century, was simply 'the hollow lane' in the later 17th century.  Abbey Green Road, which branches north from the Macclesfield road to cross the Churnet at Broad's bridge, was presumably a road leading to Dieulacres abbey in the Middle Ages.  It formed part of the road from Leek to Buxton (Derb.) until the later 18th century.  A way evidently ran from the area of St. Edward's church down to Abbey Green Road along what is now Brow Hill footpath parallel to Mill Street and may have been another medieval route to the abbey.  There was probably a medieval road to Westwood 1 mile west of the town, where Dieulacres had established a grange by 1291.  Another probably linked the abbey and the grange along the present Kiln Lane, which continues Abbey Green Road across the Macclesfield road.

The Newcastle road, which crosses the Churnet at Wall bridge, was presumably the medieval Wall Street, where there was a burgage in the 13th century and where several people were living in the 1330s.  There may have been settlement at Woodcroft on the west side of the Newcastle road by the early 13th century, when there was mention of three bondmen at Wildecroft in the earl of Chester's fee of Leek.

Moorhouse south-east of the medieval town may have been an occupied site by the 13th century.  By 1503 the house had passed by marriage from the Bailey family to John Jodrell of Yeardsley, in Taxall (Ches.), and it was still the home of the Jodrell family in 1700.  In the area south of the town there was evidently settlement in the area of the present Ballington wood by the early 13th century, when Ralph of Baliden was a tenant in the fee of Leek.  Further south Dieulacres had established a grange at Birchall by 1246.  Lowe Hill was probably an inhabited area by the earlier 14th century.  There was a farm at Kniveden to the north by 1535, when it was held of Dieulacres by Thomas Smith; having bought it in 1562, the family remained there until the 1840s when they moved to the nearby Dee Bank Farm.  At the Dissolution Dieulacres had a farm called Sheephouse on the Cheddleton road near the southern boundary.' 

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