Stoneleigh Abbey is an English country house and estate situated south of Coventry.
- Area:98.233 km2
- Elevation:341 m
- Local Government Area:Pyrenees Shire Council
Stoneleigh Abbey is an English country house and estate situated south of Coventry. Nearby is the village of Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. The Abbey itself is a Grade I listed building.
In 1154 Henry II granted land in the Forest of Arden to a group ofCistercians from Staffordshire. There are various traces remaining of the original Abbey buildings, most notably the 14th-century Gatehouse.After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the estate was acquired by Sir Thomas Leigh, Lord Mayor of London in 1558. Charles I gave Leigh the barony for his offering hospitality when the gates of Coventry were closed to the king during the English Civil War. A house was built (which now forms the north and east wings of the present house) on the site of the monastic buildings. It was the home of the Leigh family from 1561 to 1990. In due course the Leigh family became the largest land owner in Warwickshire.
Between 1714 and 1726 a new palatial four-storey fifteen-bay wing was built to designs by architect Francis Smith of Warwick. The result was an impressive baroque West Wing, built of silver-coloured stone, which was fashionable at that time. The Abbey's remarkable feature is the Saloon, one of the great interiors of Georgian England. Andor Gomme referred to it as "almost the swan song of baroque figurative plasterwork in England".
From the view over the River Avon we can see some of the changes introduced by Humphry Repton.During his time he was well known for his works at several large country houses.
In 1806 the estate passed to Rev. Thomas Leigh. He came to view his inheritance, bringing with him his cousin Cassandra Austen and her two daughters, Cassandra and Jane. Jane Austen writes of Repton as the gardener making changes to the grounds at the fictional Sotherton Court in Mansfield Park.When he undertook the works at Stoneleigh, he hoped to create an arcade on the side of the house overlooking the river.That never came to fruition, however he did redirect the river (Avon) and flood a section of the river to create a mirror lake. When viewed from a raised platform across the river, the house is perfectly reflected in the surface of the water.There were two small parterres in front of this side of the house where the grass is now, along with other features of the grounds that can be viewed by walking along the paths (wilderness, mill bridge, weirs, etc.)
The adjacent stables and riding school block and the conservatory are separately listed as Grade II*.
Up until the early 1800s, this side of the house would have looked out on a yard with sheds, pigsties, and other ‘unsightly’ outbuildings. It was during this time that considerations for the health of residents saw the outbuildings move away from the house.This opened up a good view from the new West Wing, and allowed space for the creation of a cricket pitch.William Henry Leigh's second son Edward Chandos was an avid cricket player, and was delighted when his father allowed the pitch to be built.It is said that Lord Leigh would give a silver sixpence to any boy who could break a window of the house with a ball.It is still used today by Stoneleigh Cricket club and has been voted the most beautiful cricket pitch in England by Wisden.
One of the rooms of the West Wing hosts the bust of Byron by Edward Hodges Baily. Chandos Leigh and Lord Byron were school friends at Harrow and dined together on the day before Byron left England for the last time in April 1816.
Queen Victoria stayed in Stoneleigh Abbey for two nights in 1858. Victoria was given a suite of five rooms with mahogany furniture painted white and gold, since William Henry Leigh was told this was the Queen's preference.
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