Leek Visitor Guide
...Queen of the Moorland
Let's Stay Peak District brings you its introduction, overview and guide to Leek, on the south westerly edge of the Peak District National Park.
Leek, centred on its cobbled market place and situated at over 600 feet/180m on the western Pennines, is known as The Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Formerly famous for its silk and cotton mills which were supported by no less a figure than the famous William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, it is the undisputed capital of the western moors.
Between 1875-78, Morris made frequent visits to the silk works in Leek to experiment with organic dyes. Many of Leek’s silk products featured Morris designs, and although the textile industry has declined, there are still dyers and clothes manufacturers in the town. Morris also influenced much of the art and architecture of Leek, and there is a self-guided William Morris town trail, available from the information centre.
Today, Leek is perhaps best known for the large number and great variety of its shops, particularly antique shops. The town centre is watched over by the imposing 80ft/24m-high Portland stone tower of the Nicholson War Memorial – known locally as ‘the Monument.’ Reputed to be the tallest tower in the country with four clock faces, it was built in 1925 by Sir Arthur and Lady Nicholson in memory of their son and other local men who died in the First World War.
The former Britannia Building Society had its headquarters in Leek, and is still a major local employer. The Britannia is now part of Co-operative Financial Services, since the merger of the two companies in 2009.
WHERE IS IT?
Leek is on the A53 Buxton to Stoke on Trent road, 12 miles south of Buxton.
The presence of two Saxon preaching crosses in the churchyard of the parish church of Edward the Confessor shows that the history of Leek goes back well into the so-called Dark Ages.
Leek has been the commercial capital of the Staffordshire Moorlands area for at least eight centuries. Earl Ranulf of Chester was granted a charter to hold markets and fairs there in 1208, so we can be pretty certain that the Wednesday Leek Market has been held in the Market Square ever since.
The so-called Father of Britain’s canals, James Brindley (who was born at Wormhill, near Buxton) built his first water-powered corn mill at Leek in 1725. Now known as Brindley’s Mill, it is now restored and houses a fascinating museum to his memory. Nearby on the River Churnet is the Cheddleton Flint Mill, where flint was ground for use in the Potteries, and the popular Churnet Valley Railway.
William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, lived and worked in Leek between 1875 and 1878. He studied dyeing and Leek which provided him with silk. Local rumoursuggests that he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 as a result of his successful campaign to prevent the demolition of an old building in the centre of Leek.
Many of Leek’s Victorian buildings were designed by the family architectural practice of Sugden & Son. William Sugden (born in 1821) came to Leek in 1849 to work on the design of the stations for the Churnet Valley Railway (see below). William’s son Larner became to be apprenticed to his father in 1866, and so the famous architectural firm, whose influence on the town was to be profound, was formed. Larner, working with William Morris, was a great supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Larner went on to publish some of Morris’s speeches and essays in a series called the Bijour of Leek.
PLACES TO GO
The Parish Church of Edward the Confessor dates from the 14th century, but has two Saxon preaching crosses in its churchyard. The south aisle of the church has other Saxon cross fragments, mostly dating from the 10th century. The interior is marked by a huge gallery, which Pevsner claims is “like an escalator.” The north aisle features a stained glass window by Edward Burne-Jones, which was made in the workshops of William Morris. His influence is also seen in the altar frontals made by the Leek School of Embriodery.
The Victorian All Saints Church at Compton, is a large church with a squat tower, reminiscent of Yorkshire churches. It was built by Norman Shaw in 1887 and the interior is unexpectedly light and airy. The splendidly-decorative green marble font and chancel panelling and reredos are by Lethaby, painted by F. Hamilton Jackson.
Brindley’s Mill (Tel: 01538 483741), where James Brindley built his first water-powered corn mill in 1725, was restored in 1974. It is still a working mill, showing exactly where and how Brindley’s extraordinary skills as the greatest engineer of his age were developed.
The adjoining James Brindley Museum has displays which illustrate the life and work of the great man, including one of his notebooks and the surveyor’s level, which was his principal tool in planning the routes of the 3,000-mile canal network which he masterminded. Brindley’s pioneering canals were to transform the country and herald the start of modern Britain.
Severn Trent Water’s Tittesworth Water reservoir (01538 300400) is beautifully situated near Meerbrook about three miles easst of Leek. There is a well-appointed visitor centre, opened in 1998, which features award-winning, fully-accessible toilets, a childrens’ play area and adventure playground, a crafts and gift shop and an 80-seat restaurant, plus picnic and barbecue areas overlooking the water.
Tittesworth is also popular with bird watchers and the reservoir supports a wide range of wildlife which can be observed from several hides by the waterside. It is also well known for its trout fishing, which is available to the public either from the banks or from hired boats.
The RSPB’s steep-sided Coombes Valley Nature Reserve (Tel: 01538 384017) three miles south east of Leek, is a great place to get close to nature. Although orginally set aside for its ornithological interest – redstarts, wood warblers and pied flycatchers are typical breeding summer visitors – it claims to be about much more than birds. This is a fine site for badgers, and the Coombs Valley also supports a wonderful variety of butterflies and wildflowers, including orchids in the spring.
Cheddleton Flint Mill (Tel: 01782 502907) is a fine example of a water mill which ground flint for the pottery industry in nearby Stoke-on-Trent. The site includes two water mills, a small museum, a period cottage, the Cauldon Canal and many other exhibits. The mill is dependent on public donations and is run by volunteers from the Cheddleton Flint Mill Industrial Heritage Trust, formed in 1972.
The Churnet Valley Railway operates steam trains from the Cheddleton Railway Centre, near a museum established in the mid-1970s by the North Staffordshire Railway Society, displaying artifacts from the original North Staffordshire Railway Company.
The first passenger services run by the Churnet Valley Railway began in 1996, and now extends to Kingsley and Froghall, giving a current operational length of about five miles. You travel through one of the longest tunnels (531 yards/485m) on any preserved railway near the Leekbrook Junction.
Leek Market has been held in the Market Square every Wednesday for close on eight centuries. There are also indoor markets at Leek on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, a Fine Food Festival Farmers’ Market where the best of local produce is on sale on the third Saturday of each month, and an Antiques and Collectors’ Market which is held every Saturday.
THINGS TO DO
There is fine walking country just outside Leek to the north off the A53 Buxton road, where the serrated skyline of The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks provides an excellent, high-level promenade, with views extending across the Cheshire Plain towards Tittesworth Reservoir and beyond, the distant River Mersey.
The Roaches are among the major rock-climbing areas not only in the Peak but the whole of Britain. It was here, on routes like Valkyrie, The Sloth and The Mincer, that the two working-class heroes of the 1950s rock-climbing revolution, Joe Brown and Don Whillans, pushed the sport to new levels of difficulty on the abrasive Staffordshire gritstone.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Peak Weavers Rooms and Restaurant in King Street, Leek (01538 383729), is an award-winning restaurant which also offers B&B accommodation in a 19th century former convent, named after the industry which shaped Leek.
Primo Piano in Leek’s Sheepmarket (01538 398289) is a friendly Italian restaurant in the centre of Leek, while the child-friendly Guava-Guava in Getliffe’s Yard, (01538 373344) offers Mexican and Latin food in a contemporary setting.
Locally-brewed real ales including guest beers can be enjoyed at the Wilkes Head in St Edward Street (01538 383616), a cosy pub named after the 18th century politician John Wilkes. And there’s an unexpected Belgian bar named Den Engel (The Angel) on Stanley Street (1538 373751), where about 10 Belgian beers are kept on draught.
- Buxton, spa town and shopping centre
- Stoke-on-Trent, the Potteries city
- Chapel-en-le-Frith, ancient market town
- Biddulph Grange Gardens, amazing Victorian gardens
- Little Moreton Hall, black-and-white, half-timbered masterpiece
Tourist Information Centres
Leek Tourist Information Centre, 1 Market Place, Leek, Staffordshire ST13 5HH; 01538 483741; open daily
Buxton Tourist Information Centre, The Crescent, Buxton SK17 6BQ; 01298 25106; www.highpeak.gov.uk; open daily
Doctors: Health Centre, Fountain St, Leek, ST13 6JB, 01538 381072;
Moorland Medical Centre, Dyson House, Regent St, Leek ST13 6LU, 01538 399008.
© Let's Stay Peak District
Last Updated: 22 Jun 2015