The Higgins Family, 1767-1800
The first definite mention of a house or property on the site is in the will, dated 1750, of John Higgins, a 'yeoman farmer of Leigh'. He had been given the copyhold land in 1711, whilst still a child, by his father, Francis Higgins who died in 1736. The Higgins family appears to have been an established family in the area by this time and records show members of the family at Havant and Leigh prior to the Parish Register of 1653.
However, a 'hearth tax' return for the tything of Leigh in 1665, records a Robert Higgins as paying tax on 3 hearths. It seems very likely that this may have been for the same property especially as it was customary in those days to transfer copyhold land (land granted from the lord of the manor which carried certain obligations) from father to son or to other members of the family.
John Higgins died unmarried in 1753 and the property passed to his great-nephew, another Francis Higgins who was a butcher in Middlesex. He then sold the 'revisionary rights' to a 'messuage (building), barn and gateroom, together with nine acres of land' to Charles Webber in 1767.
Charles Webber did not own the property for long as later the same year the property passed to Samuel Harrison of Chichester. A surrender document, undated but before 1792, refers to a 'house newly erected by Samuel Harrison'. The house that Harrison had built, after structural alterations by later owners, became what we now call the first Leigh House. What remained, if anything, of the earlier building of the Higgins family remains unclear.
Thomas Milne's map, surveyed in 1791, shows 'Ley' or Leigh in the possession of Harrison, with the house and enclosed grounds clearly visible.
In addition to the new house, Harrison also laid out the walled garden, the estate offices which included the bothy, stables and coach-house, all of which still survive. From this map and other illustrations, it is evident that these buildings were built in a mellow yellow brick, but the house itself appears from prints to be stuccoed.
Captain Thomas Lennox Frederick, R.N.
In 1792, after 25 years at Leigh House, Harrison 'surrendered' his copyhold property and estate to Captain Thomas Lennox Frederick R.N. (1750-1800), the son of Sir Charles Frederick, the Surveyor-General of Ordnance under King George III, and a cousin of Admiral Sir John Frederick Bt.
Frederick, who also owned property in London, appeared to let the house rather than live there himself. A John Allan is recorded occupying the property as a tenant. By this date, as well as holding copyhold land surrounding the house, Frederick also owned a further 14 acres freehold land (land owned outright) at Upper Durrants.
After the death of Frederick, his wife Anne, who inherited the property, 'surrendered' the copyhold estate and sold the freehold land to William Garrett for the sum of £480.
Birth of The Estate (1767-1800)
The settlement around Leigh House at the time it was acquired by William Garrett in 1800, was made up of a series of small copyhold and freehold landholders, some holding land no more than an acre in size. The biggest landholder was Joseph Franklin, whose holding amounted to 220 acres of copyhold and freehold land.
The majority of land in the tything of Leigh was under the control of the Bishop of Winchester until 1553 when the Manor of Havant was leased to a succession of Havant notables. By 1775, the Manor of Havant was granted by lease to Richard Bingham Newland, who succeeded his brother, James Newland, as lord of the Manor of Havant.
In December 1800, Richard Bingham Newland conveyed the Manor of Havant to his brother-in-law, William Garrett, on the same terms granted to him by the Bishop of Winchester. Garrett remained lord until 1820 when he sold the manor to Sir George Staunton.
William Garrett (1762-1831)
William Garrett came from a well-known Portsmouth family. His father, Daniel Garrett (1737-1805) at one time owned the nearby Belmont Estate at Bedhampton and was a partner with his father-in-law in a Portsmouth Brewery. Two of William's brothers also succeeded to the brewery business, but found success in other fields.
Henry (1774-1846) reacher the rank of vice-admiral as well as serving for many years as Governor of Haslar Hospital. Another brother, George (1772-1832) was a captain in the Portsmouth Royal Garrison and knighted in 1820.
In June, 1798, aided by his father, Garrett established the 'Loyal Portsmouth Garrison Company of Volunteers' commanding the company at the rank of major. By 1799, the company had increased to 180 men with a good reputation for discipline and zeal. Garrett relinquished his command of the Portsmouth company in 1803, when he took command of the 'Loyal Havant Volunteers' from his new home at Leigh.
The Estate develops
When William Garrett acquired the small Leigh estate in January 1800, he was probably living in Portsmouth with his wife, Amelia, who was the sister of Richard Bingham Newland, the lord of the Manor of Havant.
In 1802, Garrett employed the Southampton architect, John Kent, to remodel and enlarge the house. He set about purchasing the land surrounding Leigh House, including the purchase of 220 acres of land for £4,600 from the executors of the late Joseph Franklin in 1807.
By about 1808, Garrett had acquired most of the land around Leigh House and had enlarged the estate into one of the largest in the district. The 400 acres of land acquired by Garrett were enclose with park paling and for the first time, the name of Leigh Park appears.
It was Garrett who laid down the foundations for the magnificent park and garden, later to be embellished by Sir George Staunton. Garrett laid out the pleasure grounds surrounding the house, and converted the eighteenth century farm and buildings situated to the east of the house into a ferme ornee (ornamental farm).
Garrett also built hot-houses and greenhouses within the walled garden and the crinkle-cranckle (serpentine wall) wall along the south section dates from Garrett's occupation of the house. Cottages, formerly the homes of copyhold tenants were incorporated into the estate, one example being Silvester's cottage, situated to the north of the house and which became the home of the head gardener.
The Hampshire Telegraph records that Garrett lived 'in considerable state and he entertained parties of cricketers, being himself a cricketer of some fame besides being throughly well versed in field sports of all sorts'. Cricket was no doubt played at Leigh Park, matches were played on Stockheath common, and at a later date on the estate pitch at Front Lawn.
The Angerstein Connection
In May 1817, due to possibly family matters, Garrett negotiated the sale of Leigh Park to John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823).
Angerstein, of Russian extraction, came to England when he was fifteen, and was very influential in the establishment of Lloyds in London, becoming financial advisor to William Pitt. Legend has it that Angerstein was the natural son of the Empress Anne of Russia or Elizabeth Petrovna, the illegitimate daughter of Peter the Great.
It appears that Angerstein moved into Leigh Park House, and by the summer of 1818, a contract had been signed for the purchase of Leigh Park for £47,350.
Things began to go wrong when Angerstein brought a case against Garrett for not disclosing dry-rot. The case was heard in February, 1819 and the charges dismissed. The outcome was that Angerstein was not compelled to complete the purchase.
Angerstein was an avid collector of art, and after his death in 1823, the Government paid £57,000 for 58 of his pictures and a further £3,000 for the continued tenancy of his London home in Pall Mall, so that it could be opened as a public art gallery. This was the beginning of what became the National Gallery.
The end of an era
With the failure of the sale of Leigh Park to J.J. Angerstein, Garrett was left once again with the estate. Not to be deterred, Garrett with the aid of a Chichester land agent and auctioneer, Mr Weller, had a booklet published in July 1819 called 'Letters addressed to William Garrett, Esq. Relative to the state of Leigh House'. This booklet of twenty letters writted by local gentry, builders and local craftsmen, asserted the sound condition of Leigh House. Signatories to the letters included the Rev. M.A. Norris (the Rector of Warblington), Charles Loncroft, Captain Henry Leeke (the future Admiral Sir Henry Leeke of West Leigh House), Samuel Clarke-Jervoise of Idsworth and Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis of Gatcombe House.
On the 20th July, 1819, Sir George Staunton paid his first visit to inspect the estate and was duly conducted around by Garrett. After receiving a positive survey on the condition of the estate in August, Staunton was impressed enough to sign a preliminary agreement to purchase the estate on the 24th September, 1819.