Many years ago my Dad started to tell me a story about how he should have been living in a manor. Apparently, he had “proof” of how he’d lost his ancestral home. Information about hidden graves of children who had no nameplates or plaques. A tomb behind a secretly blocked up crypt. Buried workmen crushed within the buttresses of a stone bridge.
Welcome to what could have been my home and playground, in Stoneleigh Abbey.
Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire
It was only when I was packing up my Mam’s house this week when I found these in the back of a cupboard. I posted a photo on Instagram and Catherine asked what it was all about. I realised that I’d probably never told this partial tale.
My Father had been told my his Grandmother, that he would have been in line to inherit Stoneleigh Abbey if everyone had played nicely. The truth is that in reality the family that had owned it had a bit of a colourful past that inspired a much bigger story.
In 1806 Rev Thomas Leigh, moved to his inheritance, with his cousin Cassandra Austen. She brought with her her two daughters Cassandra and Jane. Jane Austen being THE Jane Austen who wrote pride and prejudice.
Apparently, the Hoopers are related to the Stoneleigh Abbey claim via a bloodline through Thomas Leigh. This became one of my Dad’s obsessions. He traced the family tree all the way back (also apparently with a connection to Pocahontas!!). Following a family tree 40 years ago, wasn’t as easy as letting ancestory.com do it for you now. He used to visit genealogy centres and spend ages skimming through “microfiche” cards. To make things even worse and confusing. Between Rev Thomas Leigh and Alan Hooper are many many offspring called Thomas Leigh. It was a common thing to call your son the same as the Father. I guess that’a why I was Alan Jnr! He stored boxes of newspaper clippings and even traveled around the area to interview people and ask about the history.
If he was doing this now it would have been so much easier. As I started to write this I thought I’d Wiki the Abbey to see what was there.
In 2016, Judy Stove, an Australian researcher into the life and times of Jane Austen, published a book (The Missing Monument Murders, Waterside Press) which investigates a series of certain scandals at Stoneleigh Abbey in the first half of the nineteenth century. Inheritance contests led to claims about the removal of monuments from Stoneleigh village church, and it was even alleged that a number of witnesses might have been murdered in the period 1812-1815 – within the lifetime of Jane Austen herself. In 1848, Austen’s relative Chandos, first Lord Leigh of the second creation (1791-1850), a Romantic poet and Whig essayist, was charged with two of the murders.
My father died in 2015 and had seemed to give up on the story of Stoneleigh Abbey, but if he was still around, I’m sure he would have loved to get involved with this book and no doubt could have added to it.
I know it’s not the best photo, but this screen grab from Street View shows where my parents lived. The turquoise door was our home and you can just about make out the word in the window above it “Stoneleigh”. Although he gave up chasing the estate claim, he certainly never gave up the connection.
The Bottles of Liquid
Around 1996, Stoneleigh Abbey was transferred into a charitable trust. And is available to visit for heritage tours. I really want to visit one day to see what it’s all about. The Abbey went through a major restoration and as part of this also had an auction to raise some funds and sell on some of the items from the Leigh family. As soon as my Dad heard about this he had to be there for the auction. After all, they were selling off “his families belongings”.
While there he was interviewed by the Coventry Evening Telegraph. He never shied away from telling the tale. As he looked at the items for sale at the auction, there was nothing that was transportable or “worth buying”. It seemed a waste to have traveled all that way to come away empty handed. So he bid on these two bottles of Huntsmans Pink Coat Renovator.
The liquid is for redying your hunting jacket, when out fox hunting. The bottle of pure craziness brought back all these memories. Which I’ll probably never get to the bottom of the full story, or if there was, in fact, a real claim to the house. We do have a piece of Stoneleigh Abbey in our home. I mean we really do. While leaving the auction, he picked up a large sandstone brick and popped it in the boot of the car.