Guy’s Cliffe

Researching and archiving the history of Leek Wootton & Guy’s Cliffe Civil Parish
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Leek Wootton & Guy’s Cliffe History: Guy’s Cliffe

Guy’s Cliffe was a longtime favoured haunt for hermits, the first recorded being an unknown Christian who afforded “spiritual comfort” to Guy of Warwick around 929 AD. According to legend Guy was a Saxon thought to have been born in Warwick or possibly Wallingford. He fell in love with Felice the daughter of Rohund, Earl of Warwick. He was told to prove himself before gaining her hand and so embarked on a series of adventures. He slaughtered an enormous dun cow which was ravaging Dunsmore Heath and a dragon which was terrifying Yorkshire. He fought Turks and brigands until it was finally agreed that he should marry Felice. However, after their marriage, he immediately set off for the Crusades and won countless battles against the Saracens.

Guy returned to England when the Danes were besieging King Athelstan at Winchester and demanding the surrender of England. It was agreed that the decision should rest on a single combat between the English and Danish champions. Guy, who had forsaken his previous bloodthirsty life and become a penitent palmer, agreed to one more battle against the Danish champion, Colbrand. Weary as he was, he fought and killed Colbrand and then resumed his life as a pilgrim. He returned to Warwick and received daily alms from Felice who did not recognise him in his penitent’s robes. Guy lived for some years in a cave in a hole in the rocks by the river bank at Guy’s Cliffe and, when he felt death to be approaching, sent his wedding ring to Felice, telling her that she would find him dead in front of the altar in the chapel of the hermitage. Felice followed his instructions and was so grief stricken upon realising that he was her husband and was now dead that she flung herself from the cliff adjoining the hermitage (Felice’s Leap).

‘Guy’s Well’ is an artesian spring which supplies clear water and has never been known to freeze.

Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, received a licence in 1431 for the maintenance of two priests and their successors. However, Henry VIII eliminated the hermitage during the dissolution of the monasteries, the priests and hermits were banished and the land was granted to Andrew Flamocke and his successors. Flamocke built what must have been a substantial mansion on land facing the present ruins, because there is evidence of extensive foundations on adjacent land now used as riding stables. The house, lands and mill were sold in 1701 by Dame Charlotte Beaufoy and by 1720 the house had disappeared, only the chapel remained.

The estate passed through the hands of a series of owners and lessees until on 9th August 1751 Samuel Greatheed, Whig Member of Parliament for Coventry, purchased the property and built a new house in the classical style at Guy’s Cliffe. Pleasure gardens were laid out, the chapel restored and the upper part of the tower built.

Samuel Greatheed died in 1765 but his widow continued to live there and befriended a young actress who had been sent to Guy’s Cliffe by her father in order to break off an unsuitable attachment. Thanks to the good offices of Lady Mary the couple were reunited and married at Holy Trinity, Coventry. The actress was Sarah Siddons and she was to visit Guy’s Cliffe frequently even after she became famous.

Lady Mary died in 1774 and Bertie Bertie Greatheed, her second son, succeeded to the estate. He was a man of science interested in the latest inventions; and a writer. He wrote a play called “The Regent” in which he persuaded Mrs Siddons to take the leading part, but she miscarried on stage and the play was withdrawn.

Bertie Bertie Greatheed’s only daughter, Ann Caroline, married Lord Charles Greatheed Bertie Percy and on her death the estate passed to the Heber Percy family who remained in occupation until 1939.

During the Second World War the house became a school for children evacuated from more dangerous areas. After the War there were plans to make the house into a hotel, and also plans for a housing estate on the site, but nothing came of these. The house fell into deeper disrepair and by the 1950s the mansion was in ruins. The final blow came in 1992 during filming by Granada Television when a fire scene got out of control and most of the remains of the house burnt down.

The house and chapel were leased by Freemasons of Coventry in 1974 and purchased by them in the 1980s.

The Mill
“Gibbeclive Mill” was the property of Kenilworth Priory in the 12th Century and remained in the possession of the Augustinian canons until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The mill stands on the banks of the River Avon.

In 1822 the mill was rebuilt with ornate “Gothick timberwork”, probably to present a pleasing view from the mansion. There was a succession of lessees in the 19th Century until Henry Summerton became the miller in 1892 and his family worked the mill until it closed in 1938.

In 1952 the mill and granary were converted into a restaurant and bar (the mill had been known as The Saxon Mill for many years by this time). The main waterwheel has gone but a smaller one still turns, and a solid wooden “spur wheel” is mounted on the wall just inside the restaurant.

Extracted from ‘Leek Wootton and its Hamlets’

Further reading:

The Guy’s Cliffe House Website