South Leigh

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There is also a Southleigh in Devon.
South Leigh
SouthLeigh StJames south.JPG
St. James the Great parish church
South Leigh is located in Oxfordshire
South Leigh
South Leigh
Location within Oxfordshire
Population336 (2011 Census)
OS grid referenceSP3908
Civil parish
  • South Leigh
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townWitney
Postcode districtOX29
Dialling code01993
PoliceThames Valley
AmbulanceSouth Central
UK Parliament
WebsiteSouth Leigh
List of places
51°46′37″N 1°25′59″W / 51.777°N 1.433°W / 51.777; -1.433Coordinates: 51°46′37″N 1°25′59″W / 51.777°N 1.433°W / 51.777; -1.433

South Leigh is a village and civil parish on Limb Brook, a small tributary of the River Thames, about 2+12 miles (4 km) east of Witney in Oxfordshire. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 336.[1]


South Leigh was not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, but was recorded in 1190 as Stanton Lega.[2]

The manor house was built in the second half of the 16th century. It is now called Church Farm House.[3]

In the middle of the 17th century William Gore acquired the manor. The Gores consolidated South Leigh as a separate estate within Stanton Harcourt parish, but this led to a series of disputes over landholdings intermixed between the two.[4] When Stanton Harcourt's common lands were being enclosed in 1773, its enclosure commissioners suggested promoting a single Parliamentary bill to enclose both estates.[4] Edward Gore and his tenants in South Leigh disagreed due to the unresolved boundary disputes and consequent disagreement over what lands would be allotted to whom under the enclosure award.[4] Instead Stanton Harcourt's enclosure commissioners were empowered to settle a definitive boundary between the two estates.[4]

Church and chapel[edit]

Church of England[edit]

Interior of St. James' the Great parish church, showing the chancel arch, Doom painting and part of the north arcade

The Church of England parish church of Saint James the Great began as a chapel of the parish of Stanton Harcourt, and remained so until 1868.[5] The oldest parts of the church building date from the latter part of the 12th century. The present chancel arch was built about 1300, the tower arch was built during the 14th century and the south doorway of the nave dates from about 1400. The church building was extensively altered in the 15th century: the north aisle and chapel were added, the bell tower was completed, and new windows were inserted in the south and east walls of the chancel.[5]

In 1871–72 the architect Ewan Christian restored the chancel and C. C. Rolfe began restoring the nave. Rolfe's cousin H. W. Moore completed the nave restoration in 1887–88.[6] During the restoration extensive 15th century wall paintings were discovered.[5] They include a Doom painting over the chancel arch,[7][8] the seven deadly sins,[9] Saint Michael weighing souls,[10] the Virgin Mary (originally part of an Annunciation scene)[5] and a rare painting of Saint Clement.[11] Burlison and Grylls heavily restored the paintings, re-drawing the weighing of souls at twice its original size.[5]

St. James' tower has a ring of eight bells, all of which were cast by Mears & Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1907.[12] The church has also a Sanctus bell cast by an unknown founder in about 1399.[12]


John Wesley preached in South Leigh in 1771. A small Methodist congregation was established in the village by 1817, and met in private houses until it had its own chapel built in 1876. By 1968 the chapel was used for worship only once a month, and in 1969 it was sold.[13] It is now a private house.[14]

Economic and social history[edit]

Somewhen after 1773 the Gores sold South Leigh estate to John Sibthorp. In 1792, a generation after Stanton Harcourt's enclosure, two thirds of South Leigh's land remained unenclosed.[4] Sibthorp obtained an Act of Parliament that led to their enclosure in 1793.[4] About 1,663 acres (673 ha) were enclosed, of which the commissioners awarded 1,233 acres (499 ha) to Sibthorp.[4] South Leigh had coppices of pollarded elms to supply wood for various purposes. Between 1793 and 1795 Sibthorp had more than 3,000 trees around the estate, most of them pollarded elms, felled to make fences for the new enclosures.[4] Sibthorp wrote that in the first ten months after the enclosure award:

I have worked up between 2000 and 3000 trees to posts and rails for my enclosure, besides a great quantity of timber used in the general repair of the farmhouses and cottage. I have quicked near upon 100 furlongs and fenced with posts and rails one-half of it. Gates and gateposts on the enclosures. I had three teams of horses constantly employed during the summer, yet unequal to my work.[15]

The village hall, formerly the National School

The Sibthorps felled large timber trees as well as wood, and early in the 19th century there were two major auctions of ash, elm and oak.[4]

The Witney Railway was built through the parish and opened in 1861. South Leigh railway station served the parish until 1962, when British Railways withdrew passenger services from the line. BR closed the line to freight traffic in 1970 and the track was dismantled sometime thereafter.

St. James' National School was built in 1871 and was reorganised as a junior school in 1931. Declining numbers of pupils led to the school being closed down in 1946.[16] The former school building is now the village hall.

St. James' College next to the parish church was founded in 1875 as a preparatory school. By 1923 it had become an orphanage, Holyrood Hospital.

Mason Arms[edit]

The Mason Arms

The Mason Arms, a Grade II listed building which may date to the early 1700s, was named after the Mason family who were once a major landowner in the area. It was originally known as Ivy Farm. It seems to have started as a pub around 1879, but also continued as a dairy and wheat farm.

The pub's first known landlord was Thomas Harris, who was then followed by Mark Hopkins.[17] His son, Albert Thomas Hopkins (b.1880) and his wife Mary took over the pub in the 1920s. Hopkins ran both the pub and the farm, as well as a business as a coal merchant. Their niece, Dosh Murray, went to live with them in the pub in the late 1920s, and has provided some information on the Hopkins’ time there, including the fact that the pub did not serve food, though it did provide accommodation.[18] The pub's beer came from the Garne's brewery in Burford.[19]

Albert Hopkins died in 1963, and the pub was run for a period by Joan Lee.[20] She was succeeded by Tom Litt. After several months of renovation, during which the bar was located in a barn in the grounds, Litt re-opened the pub on 15 July 1964, with thirteen customers for dinner.[21] In 1974, he opened a micro-brewery at the pub, producing 72 gallons per week of Sowlye Ale.[22] In May 1982, Don Franks took over the pub and the micro-brewery was closed.

The pub's landlord from 1995 was Gerry Stonhill. He ran it as a gastropub that was commended by Raymond Blanc[23] and Marco Pierre White.[24] The Mason Arms had a number of celebrity customers and its facilities included a helipad for customers.[25] Michael Winner is said to have called it the tackiest pub in Britain.

Stonhill allowed his customers to smoke inside the pub in defiance of the ban on smoking in public buildings. In April 2008, he was successfully prosecuted and ordered to pay five separate fines and prosecution costs totalling £5,750.[26]

After Stonhill's departure in 2013, the pub was bought by a property developer and lay empty for a number of years. In 2015, it was listed as an asset of community value under the Localism Act 2011.

The Mason Arms was subsequently bought by Justin and Charlotte Salisbury, and re-opened in 2017 as one of their Artist-in-Residence boutique hotels.

Notable residents[edit]

South Leigh has had a number of celebrity residents, including the entrepreneur Richard Branson, the comedian Harry Locke and the poet Dylan Thomas. Thomas lived in the village from August 1947 to May 1949, and continued work there on Under Milk Wood. The radio journalist, Colin Edwards, came to South Leigh in the late 1970s and interviewed a number of residents about Thomas’ time amongst them.[27] These interviews have been transcribed, edited and published.[28]


  1. ^ "Area: South Leigh (Parish): Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  2. ^ Crossley & Elrington 1990, pp. 238–242.
  3. ^ Crossley & Elrington 1990, pp. 242–244.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Crossley & Elrington 1990, pp. 244–249
  5. ^ a b c d e Crossley & Elrington 1990, pp. 249–252
  6. ^ Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, p. 769.
  7. ^ Marshall, Anne (2000). "The Doom, South Leigh, Oxfordshire". Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church.
  8. ^ Marshall, Anne (2000). "The Doom at South Leigh, details, Heaven and Hell". Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church.
  9. ^ Marshall, Anne (2000). "South Leigh, Oxfordshire: The Seven Deadly Sins". Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church.
  10. ^ Marshall, Anne (2000). "St. Michael Weighing Souls, South Leigh, Oxfordshire". Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church.
  11. ^ Marshall, Anne (2004). "St. Clement: South Leigh, Oxfordshire". Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church.
  12. ^ a b Peter, Davies (14 December 2006). "S Leigh S James Gt". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  13. ^ Crossley & Elrington 1990, pp. 252–253.
  14. ^ "South Leigh". Oxfordshire Churches & Chapels. Brian Curtis.
  15. ^ Emery 1974, p. 143.
  16. ^ Crossley & Elrington 1990, p. 253.
  17. ^ For more on Harris and the two Hopkinses, see
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ See her obituary at
  21. ^ Tom Litt, radio interview with John Simpson, 1973, Oxfordshire History Centre.
  22. ^ M. Brown (2004) Oxon Brews: The Story of Commercial Brewing in Oxfordshire, BHS. Sowlye Ale 1040og was a dark hoppy brew available only at the Mason Arms.
  23. ^ Blanc, Raymond (29 September 2007). "Raymond Blanc on Le Gavroche – The Mason's Arms – Summertown Wine Cafe – Le Sud – Le Vin et l'Assiette". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  24. ^ Dixon, Rachel (27 March 2008). "Nibbles". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  25. ^ Jennings, Tom (22 May 2013). "Acclaimed South Leigh pub is put up for sale for £895,000". Oxford Mail. Newsquest. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  26. ^ Horne, David (13 April 2008). "Smoking costs publican a £5,700 fine". Oxford Mail. Newsquest. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  27. ^ See more on Edwards at
  28. ^ D N Thomas (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 vol 2. pp124-139, Seren. See also Dylan Thomas and South Leigh

Sources and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]