Leek town centre
An ancient borough, Leek was granted its royal charter in 1214, when 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.
Most of the town is at or above 600 feet and is surrounded by the even higher countryside of the Staffordshire Moorlands which is situated on the southern uplands of the Pennines. Leek itself is built on the slope and crown of a hill which is situated just a few miles south of The Roaches; a gritstone escarpment which rises steeply to 1,657 feet.
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 and now part of Co-Operative Financial Services has its headquarters based in the town and is a major local employer. Nearby Alton Towers employs a large number of people from Leek and the surrounding area.
Architecture and development
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 (born in 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.
Sights in an about the town
The surrounding countryside of the Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District makes the area a popular tourist destination.
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 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 Midsummer Day also attracts many tourists. This event, first recognised by Dr Plot, occurs when the sun appears to set behind Bosley Cloud, subsequently reappearing in the hollow of the hill's vertical northern side, before setting again. It occurs three or four days before the summer solstice. The best location for seeing the double sunset is said to be the grounds of the parish church. Dr Plot's detailed account can be found in his book 'The Natural History of Staffordshire.' The double sunset is represented on the borough's arms.
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.
Just outside the town is Blackbrook Zoological Park, which is renowned for its large collection of birds.
- . Retrieval Date: 29 July 2010.