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Leighton (Tre’llai) is a small village near Welshpool in Montgomeryshire. It is set around the Leighton Farm Estate which is the best example of a Victorian model farm in Wales.

Leighton Hall and Home Farm Estate – a history

When the Great Exhibition of 1851 was still on Prince Albert’s drawing board, a Great House and model farm, in fact a small village, Leighton Hall and Home Farm Estate, was being built just outside Welshpool on the Welsh/English border in the upper Severn Valley.

Leighton village, as it is now known, lays at the foot the Long Mountain and in the shadow of Offa’s Dyke and is today a quiet backwater but then Leighton Home Farm Estate was to some extent a precursor of the Great Exhibition in demonstrating the practical use on a grand scale of Victorian “industrial” farming methods.  It pioneered some of the most innovative ideas of the time including the use of “indoor” animal husbandry and fodder storage with the barns linked by a broad gauge railway; the possible first industrial scale recycling of manure for use as fertiliser and the employment of water powered turbines for agricultural purposes.

Leighton Hall

Leighton Hall, now a grade 1 listed building, was built between 1850 and 1856 after the original building on the site was bought in 1845 from the Corbett family of Shropshire by Christopher Leyland, a Liverpool banker. Two years later he gave it to his favourite nephew John Naylor as a wedding present along with a gift of a reputed £100,000.

John Naylor, who was one of the richest men in Victorian England, rebuilt the house and built the Home Farm estate over a period of ten or so years at an estimated cost of £275,000. The hall and estate buildings were designed by Liverpool architect W H Gee, whilst the Hall’s interior design thought to be in the style of the Palace of Westminster is attributed to A W N Pugin. The great hall was designed as a gallery for Naylor’s art and sculpture collection and contained works by Landseer, Delaroche, Turner and Ansdell.

In the same period, 1850, the gardens at Leighton Hall were laid out by Edward Kemp a pupil of Sir Joseph Paxton. These were completed around 1870 and are thought to have incorporated some elements of the earlier, possibly medieval, garden in its Victorian layout which, including as it did ornamental pools and sculptures linked by raised walkways and bridges was a fittingly elaborate and expensive expression of the owner’s wealth. The gardens were still in largely their original state until about 1930 but sadly now both gardens and grounds are but a shadow of the original design.

The Hall has been recently restored to some of its former glory, but is now in private hands and not accessible to the public. However the house and its very impressive arched gateway can still be viewed from the road.

The Home Farm

Whilst not on the same scale as the Prince Consort’s farm in Windsor Great Park Leighton Park Estate was nevertheless a very ambitious project. Its scale can be judged by the fact that well over £200,000 was spent between 1848 and 1856 on the latest in Victorian farming technology in a bid to reduce labour and increase efficiency.

The estate of some 4000 acres (1.620ha) included Glan-Hafren Farm Barn and the Cil-Cewydd Corn Mill, the latter being powered by an innovative water driven turbine. Other advanced “industrial” works included a gas works, supplying gas to the Hall and some other estate buildings, a saw mill, wheelwright’s shop and smithy, all now defunct with the buildings being put to other uses. The farm buildings, now used for commercial purposes, are still standing although in disrepair and much of the infrastructure has gone as has the funicular railway that, it is thought, was intended to carry manure slurry from the farm buildings up to a storage tank at the top of Moel y Mab from where it could be pumped to the fields via underground pipes. However the Tank, Old Cable house and Top Cable House can still be seen though they are in private hands.

The estate workers religious welfare, always an important issue in Victorian Wales, was also catered for in the estate Church of the Holy Trinity which is still in regular use. This is a particularly lovely building with some good stained glass attributed to Forest and Bromley and can be visited.

The Park, which John Naylor had “ornamented” in parts as “pleasure grounds”, is now mostly populated with conifers. It also contains some historic redwoods, brought as seedlings in pots from California and the Pacific Northwest in 1857 and mostly now part of the Charles Ackers Grove of the Royal Forestry Society woodland. There are also the remnants of Naylor’s planting in the few Monkey Puzzle trees and other random shrubs and plants about the estate. There is an interesting, though somewhat the worse for wear, decorative water Cascade fed from a series of lakes sequencing down the Mab and a Victorian ornamental Poultry House, which has been restored by English Heritage and can be visited.

Leighton Park’s other claim to fame (or infamy depending on your point of view) is as the birthplace of the now much disparaged Cupressocyparis leylandii! It originated apparently as the result of a chance cross between a Cupressus macrocarpa and a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis both species of which still exist on the estate.

The Leighton Farm Estate was probably at its zenith in the mid to late 19th century but although after John Naylor’s death in 1889 his widow lived on for twenty years it went into decline following her death in 1909 when an extensive land sale gave rise to the break-up of the wider estate.

A second sale in 1931 when the house, park, estate buildings and woodlands were sold saw its final demise as a single entity. At that time much of what was the North West Park was broken up into large and small parcels of land and with their associated dwellings auctioned off in separate lots to private buyers. The Home Farm buildings and some associated pasture was purchased by the Montgomeryshire (later Powys) County Council and has since been farmed by a succession of tenant smallholders.

A period followed when some of the buildings were used by Forest Products manufacturing tent pegs, whilst the woodland was largely given over to timber and Christmas tree production. However over the years a lack of funds to improve or even properly repair the buildings and the succession of tenants has taken its toll until the local authority has given up the unequal struggle and more recently the Home Farm buildings and an associated acreage was sold to a private buyer. However he has undertaken to restore much of the property and it will take on a new life as a racing stable so that what was once a magnificent tribute to Victorian foresight may yet still be preserved for future generations.

By Derek R Smith

8 Comments so far

  1. colin brownhill wrote on Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 19:08:

    I have seen the remnants of the venicular railway and am curious to know how it worked

  2. […] History of the Leighton Village centred around the Leighton Estate. […]

  3. john hussey wrote on Sunday 29 December 2013 at 11:30:

    Dear Sir — I was interested in your history of Leighton Hall which was nicely written. However, I am curious to know something of the statues which were in the hall by Benjamin Spence and now in the Walker Art Gallery.
    Any information on the sculptures would be helpful
    Regards
    John

  4. cara campbell wrote on Monday 14 July 2014 at 14:03:

    I recently drove past the gorgeous agricultural mill that is on the main road, very close to Leighton hall and built in the same style as the agricultural buildings on the estate. Was this also the power centre of the water turbines you’ve described and was it part of the estate? It is a fabulous building.

  5. Almost everyone’s least favourite tree… | Parks and Gardens UK wrote on Saturday 17 January 2015 at 10:04:
  6. marlene hawkins wrote on Sunday 8 February 2015 at 21:49:

    I attended Leighton School from 1946 to 1952 and I remember the entire school went to the Hall to sing Xmas carols for Miss Naylor who was in residence there and was a very elderly lady.The highlight was when she presented us all with new sixpences,very shiny and bright.When she passed away some of her clothing was donated to the school for plays and dressup.
    You didn’t mention her but I assume she was the unmarried daughter of John Naylor.

  7. Peter H David wrote on Sunday 24 April 2016 at 17:39:

    Whilst sitting in my caravan in August 1984, I made a detailed pencil drawing of the majestic Great Barn at Glan-Hafren farm. It hangs on my office wall as a reminder of the many happy family days we spent at the farm. Having recently read that the wooden listed building burnt-down on 25th December 2005, I searched for any pictures or photographs of it before that sad day, but none seem to exist online. I would be happy to upload a photo of my drawing if anyone is interested in seeing it.

  8. Colin Snow wrote on Monday 9 January 2017 at 19:00:

    I new of Leighton Hall in the early 50’s when there was a Senator Rupert Davies, a Canadian News Paper owner, who came back to the area he was born in prior to his father emigrating to Canada. I think as a boy he had a newspaper round in Welshpool. He made his fortune in Canada and came back and bought the Hall, lived in it, was the High Sherriff for a time and generaly took a great interest in the area especially the St.Johns Ambulance. There is another interesting twist to this story. We lived in
    Montgomery and my father was a Captain in the Cunard Line. On one trip in the Queen Mary his steward told him there was a passenger on board bound for Welshpool, Montgomeryshire. It was no less tha the Senator.

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