The family archive, the biggest single collection deposited at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, was received in instalments from 1942. Those received up to 1958 have been catalogued under the reference DR 18, sub-divided into 32 sections. Additional family papers received since 1958 bear separate DR references, the most important of which are DR 339, DR 554, DR 662, DR 671, DR 762, DR 863.
|Administrative / biographical background:
The Leigh family originated from Shropshire but the first to achieve prominence was Thomas Leigh (d. 1571), a London merchant, who bought the site, and many of the estates, of the medieval abbey of Stoneleigh, as well as the manor of Adlestrop, formerly belonging to Evesham Abbey. Nearby Longborough lands were acquired through marriage. On his death these holdings were divided between two of his sons, Thomas II and Rowland, the former receiving the Warwickshire lands and Rowland those in Gloucestershire. Thomas II (died 1626) was created a baronet in 1611 and his grandson, Thomas III, a baron in 1643. A marriage in 1588 had added lands at Leighton Buzzard (co. Beds.) to the family estates, and Thomas II purchased lands in Ardington (co. Bucks.) and Hamstall Ridware (co. Staffs.). In 1705 a marriage into the Holbech family brought another significant addition to the estates, namely in Fillongley and Maxstoke. Land at Little Leigh (co. Cheshire), originally purchased in 1738 by a younger son, reverted to the main line on the failure of his issue. On the death of Edward Lord Leigh unmarried in 1786, the title, and the Warwickshire line, became extinct, and under the terms of his will, the estates eventually passed, in 1806, to the Gloucestershire branch of the family, descended from Rowland Leigh. The title was revived for Chandos Leigh in 1839. During the remainder of the nineteenth century further estates in Gloucestershire, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey were acquired. In 1873, the family was the largest landowner in Warwickshire, with an income from all its estates of £32,013. With each acquisition of land, title deeds and other papers were added to the family archives, in some cases reaching back to the twelfth century. Those which came with the purchase of the Stoneleigh estate included cartularies of the medieval abbey. At the same time, the administration of this ever-increasing estate produced a huge volume of business records much of which has survived. Many personal papers of individual members of the family are also well represented in the surviving family papers.