This blog post was written by Bernard Shea, a volunteer at Trafford Local Studies.
Whilst researching war hospitals as part of the Trafford Local Studies First World War Volunteer Project, I came across the name of John Leigh, a name known in Trafford as result of the John Leigh Park. Investigating further, I found a story of a man who, touched by the horrors of the war, used his wealth and influence to contribute to the care of injured service men.
Tracing his family history was a challenge, as both his father and son were named John, but using genealogical sources and the resources held by Trafford Local Studies; I was able to piece together his story.
John Leigh was born in 1884 and educated at Manchester Grammar School. On leaving school, he joined his father’s firm in the cotton waste processing industry.
By the time war broke out in 1914, at the age of 30, he was a well-respected and successful businessman. When the ravages of the war became more evident, as seriously injured servicemen returned from the battlefields, John and his wife decided to do what they could to relieve the suffering they witnessed.
Their first major contribution was the purchase, for the Red Cross, of Townfield House in Altrincham. His wife personally supervised the fitting out and equipment of the hospital which was opened on 28thApril 1917 by Katherine, Duchess of Westminster. After Townfield House was opened, John Leigh continued to finance much of the maintenance costs which included the purchase of five ambulances, together with their on-going running expenses, for the use by the Red Cross.
John Leigh later donated his father’s former home, Woodbourne, Brooklands, together with eight acres of land, and personally financed the conversion and subsequent fitting out and maintenance of what became to be known as The John Leigh Memorial Hospital. It was specifically designed and equipped to help servicemen returning from battle who were suffering from severe shell shock and it was clearly recognised as a significant contribution to the war effort as it was opened on Saturday 15th June 1918 by Queen Victoria’s son, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Connaught KG. Once again, Lady Leigh supervised the equipping of the hospital and John Leigh contributed to the on-going running costs.
John Leigh also sought to acquire, and eventually purchased, a large area of land, adjacent to Townfield House in order to provide a recreational facility for the occupants of the then John Leigh Hospital. The land he purchased for the sum of £7,000, today known as the John Leigh Park, still provides an opportunity for recreation and relaxation for all to enjoy.
John Leigh was made a baronet in February 1915, and as Sir John Leigh of Altrincham, Cheshire, together with his wife, maintained his contribution to the relief of suffering for returning injured servicemen.
As a consequence of his generous financial gifts and personal involvement, together with his wife, numerous servicemen received the best available care, support and comfort they justifiably deserved as a result of their service to the nation.
Image 1: John Leigh – Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian Yearbook 1917-1918.
Image 2: Townfield House – Trafford Lifetimes TL4227.
Image 3: John Leigh Memorial Hospital – Original brochure held by Trafford Local Studies.