Monks Eleigh is a really pretty village on the north bank of the river Brett. Its village green has changed very little in the last few centuries, bordered by traditional Suffolk cottages on either side, with the church at its high point.
Despite the implication of its name, Monks Eleigh has never housed a monastery, although it has a long standing connection with Canterbury.
Step back to 991. The Earl of Essex died following the Battle of Maldon, his lands, including the Manor of Illeigh (Monks Eleigh’s former name, meaning Illa’s meadow) passed to Christchurch Cantebury. Then, with the dissolution of the monasteries in 1541, it passed to The Dean and Chapter of Canterbury.
Canterbury would have appointed a steward or bailiff to act as Lord of the Manor whose responsibility would include the collection of rents and supervision of the lands. Most of the land was leased to farmers, whose rent would include labour for for the Lord as well as a proportion of their produce.
The monks of Canterbury supplied a priest to take care of the parishioners. The present church dates from around 1350, but there has been a church dominating the village for over 1000 years. A spire was added to the tower in 1631 but was demolished in 1845. The interior of the nave dates back to the 14th century, the baptismal font to the 13th century, but the treasure here is the pulpit, with panelled sides and small flowers hanging from its lovely tracery; it is 500 years old.
Monks Eleigh reached its peak of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries through the cloth and wool trades. There is a beautiful hall house, Hobarts; built for a Suffolk gentleman in the early part of the C15th, it includes a magnificent crown post and beam dividing the high hall into two bays. Another fine crown post is to be found in The Guildhall situated in The Street. There are a number of other attractive and interesting houses and cottages along The Street dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
One of the most outstanding features of Monks Eleigh is the green leading up to the church. On the green is the village pump, which arrived in 1854 and remained in use until after the Second World War when mains water was installed – it still stands today. Before the arrival of the pump the village drank spring water coming from the Lavenham Brook.
The population has stood at around 400 for the last 100 years, but at the turn of the century there were 4 pubs in the village: The Swan, The King’s Head, The Bull and The Lion. Today only The Swan remains.
There were many shops along The Street, including the Post Office, two butchers, family grocer, tea dealer, tailor, undertaker, egg merchant, two blacksmiths, a thatcher and a water mill and you could hire a horse and trap. By 1920 there was also a petrol pump.
Today the Monks Eleigh ‘shopping mall’ consists of a community shop and Bridge Farm Barns where you can buy crafts, toys, plants. Great coffee shop.