This village of about three hundred and fifty households situated south-east of Reigate, close to the border with Sussex, has been known at various times as Leghe, Legh, Leygh, The Lea, Lye and Lee. Gatwick airport is 4 miles away. The river Mole is on the eastern edge of the Parish. The name means a clearing in the woods and the area is still surrounded by lovely woodland. The village is not recorded in the Domesday Book and little of historical importance seems to have happened in Leigh. Shellwood Manor which dates from at least the twelfth century belonged to powerful, but absent families or religious organisations. Leigh Place was the home of the Arderne family in the fifteenth century, but when they died out, was also passed round different noble families.
Down the years, Leigh appears to have been chiefly occupied with ironworking and farming. There was a nearby skirmish towards the end of the English Civil War, but otherwise the thick woods and heavy clay soil created a somewhat isolated community. Census records show that during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the village was self sufficient. It had its own windmill, a bakery, a grocer and a butcher while a policeman, blacksmith and dressmaker are among the services recorded. The Church (click the link to see the Historic Environment record) dates back to the fourteenth century and has undergone several transformations. Click here to see the catalogue of the St Batholomew, Leigh, Parish Records and Leigh Civil Parish Records (1579-1933) held at the Surrey History Centre.
In 1845, the Duke of Norfolk who had become the owner of Shellwood Manor, gave land for a school in the village towards which the dowager Queen Adelaide contributed 20, but a Christmas letter from the Vicar written in 1871, talked sadly of children not being able to attend because they had to work on the land.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, several newly rich families became involved in the village. James Freshfield, a successful solicitor, built Mynthurst, later bought by Henry Bell, the brewing family of Charrington built Burys Court and two Watney brothers of the coal producing side of the family, were connected to Leigh Place. These families became involved in the village as school governors and benefactors.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the school needed much repair and the records describe a child being paid a few pennies a week to empty the earth closet toilets. The Local Education Authority insisted in building a new school though Sir Henry Bell strongly objected. This opened in 1913 and flourishes to this day.
Over the years, Leigh has lost its shops and services, but the farming continues and the two vibrant pubs remain.