Marton Village, Warwickshire

Local History Group: April 2017 Update

In March Sheila Woolf (pictured) gave the Group a talk about Cordelia Leigh. A summary of this talk is given below.

The next meeting is on 24th April at 7.30pm in the village hall. This is the AGM at which plans for the next season will be discussed. This will be followed by a talk by Group members about the Marton village building plans between 1900 and 1940, giving an insight to how the village developed during this period. All welcome, entrance is free and still includes a glass of wine!

Mary Cordelia Emily Leigh was born in 1866 at Stoneleigh Abbey, the youngest child of William Henry, 2nd Baron Leigh. Her family were among the wealthiest and most influential landowners in Warwickshire, with an estate of nearly 15,000 acres.

Despite his great wealth, Cordelia’s father proved a benevolent head of the Leigh estate, with a particular interest in education and the care of the poor. It was an attitude that clearly influenced his youngest daughter. Cordelia, who remained single throughout her life, devoted herself to helping others. She took an active interest in Stoneleigh and Ashow schools and ran a Young Naturalists’ Club there.

A well-known figure in the area, which she traversed on a Singer (later a Premier) tricycle, Cordelia and her tricycle indirectly explain why Stoneleigh lost its public house. Comments that she had received from Coventry cyclists who had been drinking in the village led to Lord Leigh promptly having the village pub closed down!

Cordelia Leigh was well-qualified at the outbreak of the Great War to be a wartime diarist, and the diaries she kept tell us much about her. On the one hand, she belonged to an influential family who were fully involved in the war effort; on the other, she also had a close knowledge of the local villagers on the Stoneleigh estate, including those who joined the armed forces. Her diary thus contains insights into these very different worlds and the impact of war upon them.

However, Cordelia was not content simply to record what she saw – she was also actively involved. Within days of the outbreak of war, she had published her own recruiting leaflet and encouraged the young men on the Leigh estates to enlist. Throughout the war she conducted a correspondence with many who did join up – often former members of her Bible class. She sent them presents of food and clothing and sometimes a ‘khaki Bible’. In turn, they wrote to her, recounting their experiences in the forces, and their letters were carefully pasted into the scrapbooks that Cordelia also kept. Her diary also records recruitment drives, rumours, the arrival of Belgian refugees, Zeppelin raids, increasing wartime restrictions, rebellion in Ireland and women doing men’s jobs – and much more.

Despite the many changes and tragedies that war brought, Cordelia’s belief in her country and in her faith, and her determination to serve both, never faltered. These core values, along with her keen interest in education, were to remain with her until her death in 1956, at the age of 89. For many years she had lived at 1,St Mark’s Road, Leamington, but returned ultimately to her beloved Stoneleigh Abbey. She is buried nearby, at Ashow.