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Stoneleigh was founded as a Cistercian Abbey by Henry II in 1155. The Stoneleigh estate passed into the hands of the Leigh family when Sir Thomas Leigh and Sir Rowland Hill puchased it in 1561 from William Cavendish for £1,950. Upon Sir Rowland's death, Sir Thomas Leigh inherited the entire estate, having earlier married Sir Rowland's niece. The estate was to remain within the Leigh family for over 400 years.
After the death of the 5th Baron in 1786 the male line of the first Lord Leigh ended. Following a protracted dispute over his will, the estate eventually passed to the Gloucestershire side of the family, specifically to James Henry Leigh (1765-1823) of Adlestrop. Records revealing James Henry Leigh's contribution to the furnishing of Stoneleigh, and those of other owners of the house in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are recorded in the Leigh family archives, now deposited at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon.
These records show James Henry Leigh and his wife directed extensive refurbishment projects at their other residences, Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, Grove House, Kensington Gore and two other London houses, one on Harley Street and one on Portman Square.
Seemingly undaunted by these ongoing projects, the Leighs planned a large-scale refurbishment programme at Stoneleigh. Several bills record the individual craftsmen who were employed: Daniel Frost provided furniture billed to 'the Honble. Mrs Leigh' for Stoneleigh between 3 April and 22 June 1787, costing £9 6s 4d. (G. Beard, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, London, 1986, p.323). Michael Thackthwaite also provided miscellaneous furniture for Stoneleigh, billed to 'the Honble. Mrs Leigh', at a cost of £142 17s 6½d between 9 June and 3 October 1786. One of Thackthwaite's commissions, described in his invoice a '5 foot Wainscot Bedstead on 3 wheel castors', charged at a cost of £36 17s 6d., the latter was sold in the Stoneleigh sale, Christie's, London, 15 October 1981, lot 150. Another example of an item possibly supplied to Mrs Leigh by Thackthwaite, or alternatively by Daniel Frost, as they were both supplying furniture for Stoneleigh concurrently, is lot 21 in the current sale, a pair of George III mahogany tripod tables. It is interesting to consider that as both these tradesmens' bills were addressed 'To the Honble. Mrs Leigh' it was she rather than her husband, James Henry Leigh who directed the refurbishment project at Stoneleigh at this time. The firm of G.S. Bradshaw and G. Smith also worked for Mrs Leigh at Stoneleigh between 1791-92.
It was during the early years of the nineteeth century that the Leighs commissioned large quantities of furniture for Stoneleigh. J. H. Leigh and his wife were invoiced a total of £13,664 13s 4d between 1813 and 1823 for new furniture, repairs to old furniture, plate, glass, china, pictures and wine (W. A. Thorpe, 'Stoneleigh Abbey and its Furniture - II', The Connoisseur, vol. CXIX, January-June, 1947, p. 20). One of the most prominent early 19th century bills to have come to light is that of 1816-1818 for J.H. Leigh from Jno. Johnstone of 67 New Bond Street. A likely example of the work this firm supplied for Stoneleigh is a Regency footstool sold at the Stoneleigh sale, Christie's, London 15 October 1981, lot 88. This stool was probably one of two described in Johnstone's invoice as '2 Ottoman Footstools on brass Balls stuffed and covered with Mrs L's Needlework'. A lot in the current sale, a Regency mahogany breakfront bookcase, lot 20, may also have been supplied by John Johnstone to the Leighs at Stoneleigh.
James Henry Leigh also purchased furniture from the renowned Lancaster cabinet-making firm Gillows. Though no bills or records of this commission are known to have survived, it is probable that lot 22 two stools, in the current sale was commissioned directly by him or his wife from this firm.
The other major work commissioned by James Henry Leigh for Stoneleigh was a quantity of furniture supplied by George Oakley who provided furniture for Stoneleigh between 1813 and 1819 - see lots 24-28.
THE PROPERTY OF THE LATE LORD LEIGH AND THE STONELEIGH CHATTELS SETTLEMENT
(LOTS 18 - 28)