A pretty thatched cottage in Stoneleigh
A pretty thatched cottage in Stoneleigh

Stoneleigh is a pretty village in northern Warwickshire, about midway between Coventry and Leamington Spa. The village stands on the River Sowe just where it joins the larger River Avon. Immediately south of the village is Stoneleigh Abbey, a superb stately home built from the remnants of a medieval monastery. Part of the Stoneleigh estate now houses the National Agricultural Centre.

Stoneleigh was included in the AA/Reader's Digest Book of British Villages, an indication of just how idyllic it is. The village is notable for the large number of period cottages, some thatched, many built of timber-framing with attractive brick infill.

At the centre of the village is an old forge, indicated by a very large upside-down horseshoe on one exterior wall. Almost directly opposite is a row of late 16th century almshouses, established in 1594 by Alice Leigh, who later married Sir Robert Dudley and became Duchess of Dudley in 1645. They must have been a lot shorter in those days - you would have to duck your head quite low to pass through the almshouse doorways!

A short stroll from the almshouses, past an old rectory, is the attractive church of St Mary's standing in a low field beside the Sowe. The church is notable for its wonderfully carved north door, complete with a worn tympanum depicting a pair of dragons.

Inside the church is a beautifully carved Norman font, and a chantry chapel to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey. The best feature, however, is a wonderfully carved chancel arch. A path leads from the churchyard to a small bridge over the Sowe, past thatched cottages, and over the hill towards Stareton.

One of the things I noticed when wandering about the village was that there was no pub, which seemed odd. It was only later that I discovered the reason. Apparently, there were once three pubs serving Stoneleigh, but in the Victorian period, the daughter of Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey was ridiculed by some drunkards when she pedalled to church on a tricycle. In retaliation, Lord Leigh had all three pubs torn down.