History at White Lea Farm
Bassett Coat of Arms
The Ancient Ridgeway -:White Lea Farm lies on the Eastern slopes of the Morridge (Moor Ridge), a large 1200 ft hill to the North of Leek. These hills form the Southern end of the Pennines and the ridge also marks the Southern boundary of the Peak District National Park. The small ridge roadway ,originally called The Great Morridge Road, runs along the length of the Morridge and is recorded as existing as early as 1413 but probably originated  much earlier as a prehistoric ridge way. An ancient milestone appears at the Onecote / Bradnop crossroads a short distance from the farm gate.  Used as a pack horse route from early times, sections of the original hollow, sunken trackway can still be seen in the top fields of White Lea near to the ridge. A stone horse watering  trough still exists at the side of the old track way. The modern ridge road remained a rough stone track and was not surfaced with tarmac until the 1950’s. The ridgeway now provides spectacular views to the South and West of the Staffordshire Moorlands and to the Derbyshire Dales in the East.

 Manors & Abbey Estates-:  In 1197 the lands and estates around Mixon, which probably included White Lea, were granted by John Lestrange to his cousin Margery Lestrange and her husband Thomas Noel. In 1218  Margery Lestrange and her then second husband, Thomas of Whitchurch, granted what were termed the Manors of Bradnop and Mixon to a Henry de Audley. In 1223 Henry gave the lands to the Hulton Abbey which he had founded. Much of the lands around Onecote were owned by the Abbeys. The Croxden Abbey  had a grange near to Onecote village by 1223 and the Hulton Abbey had a grange near to Old Mixon Hay by 1237. Some land on Morridge was also owned by the Dieulacres Abbey. After a dispute in 1237 Dieulacres Abbey confirmed Hulton Abbey’s possession of Mixon. The first reference to White Lea Farm occurred in the 1330’s when a 90 acre estate believed to be centred on the farm was aquired by Croxden Abbey from Hulton Abbey. Croxden Abbey then owned White Lee for some 200 years and it is recorded that by the late 1530’s Croxden had two houses on the estate. 

 Dissolution Of Monasteries -: In 1543, with the dissolution of the monasteries, the White Lea estate was included in Henry the Eighth’s grant of the Croxden’s Onecote estate to Sir Edward Aston of Tixall. Sir Edward Aston acquired the Bradnop Manor in 1547. The manor and all lands eventually passed on to his son Sir Walter Aston.
Yeoman Farmers
 -: White Lea was one of the few farms in Onecote which were farmed by Yeoman farmers. All other farms tended to be rented. In 1610, the whole of the Bradnop Manor estates were sold up and half of White Lea was sold to a John Heaton along with the right to dig Peat for two fires and collect rushes from the common. Also granted was the right to mine for stone in ground at White Lea by the Onecote Brook where a natural fault line exists making it easy to extract large slabs of limestone. In 1614 the farm transferred to a James Whitehall.

Enclosure Act of 1769  -: The lands along the ridge of the Morridge were originally open common land and were referred to as the Great Wastes. In 1769, with the enclosure act, the common land came under the ownership of the Lord Of The Manor Of Bradnop. Individual parcels of land were walled off and used by adjacent farms on payment of a tythe to the Manor. Eventually around 1850 the tythes were commuted to a rent and later still in 1909 were purchased outright by the then farmer Samual Turnock. The original line of the common and the entrance to the farm can still be seen near to the top of the driveway, where it is marked by a waystone.  The White Lea enclosed common land originally continued over the ridge and down the Western side facing Leek. This land on the West side of the ridge was sold off in the early 1900’s. However land bought in from the neighboring Harvey Gate Farm has maintained the size of the estate at 91 acres.

The Bassetts -: The Bassetts were from a long family line dating back to the Normans and reputedly related to the Bassetts of Blore. The family tomb of the “Bassetts of Blore Hall” in Blore Church near Ilam is well worth a visit. Three generations of the Bassett’s lived at White Lea over a period spanning 1786 to 1890. They were responsible for constructing many of the traditional stone buildings and left their mark with initials and date marks. White Lea Farm was transferred to Thomas Bassett the elder in 1786. Thomas was the eldest son of Richard Bassett of Hume End. It was Thomas the elder who carried out most of the  building work creating the main farm house as we see it today, although the original lines of the smaller house from the 1600’s  can still be seen in the centre of the building along with the internal beams from that period. The Bassetts liked to date and initial their buildings and the original front door porch roof contains the words “Thomas and Hannah Bassett” and the date of “1786”.   Thomas had several children and in keeping with all Bassetts named their children in the same order for each generation. Thomas Bassett the younger took over the farm from his farther when he died  in 1840. It was he who built the lower eastern wing in 1846  and the rear farm building dated 1848 which is now White Lea Cottage. The long barn in the yard has a “king” type roof A frame beam dated 1812 but this may have been a replacement date.  The stable block has no date mark but is also believed to date from the same period.. In 1861 the farm was transfered to Ralph Bassett who died in 1892. He left the farm to another Thomas and Joseph Bassett who promptly sold the farm to Richard and Samual Turnock in 1892. This ended the Bassett family ownership that had spanned over one hundred years. Joshua the second son of Thomas Bassett the elder, left England in 1872 for America and lived there for the rest of his life. He fathered seven children and some of the 100 present day descendents of Joshua have returned to England to trace their roots and have visited White Lea.

The Quakers – : White Lea Farm had reputedly been a regular meeting place for Quakers during the late 1600’s.

Ice House -: An old early ice house has been retained and renovated. This stands to the right of the main yard gate. Partly underground and covered by soil and stone this small building was the cooling device used in the early 1800’s .Ice was packed tightly in here after it had been collected in winter from the flat stream areas just below. The insulated door, now missing was closed shut. The ice was removed through the year and placed in the floor area of the house cellar. On eventually melting the water would return from the small cellar, by a drain, back down to the stream.
Civil Wars -: In the English Civil war years (1641 – 1647),  whilst the rest of England was in turmoil the Leek area was generally a quiet backwater. The closest incident was a small skirmish near Reaps Moor above Warslow. The nearest Civil War memorials are at Hopton near Stafford,  Beeston Castle near Nantwich, Macclesfield and Alton Towers which was a Parliamentarian stronghold.

Bonnie Prince Charlie -: During the Jacobyte Revolution in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his men over Gun Hill and down into Leek spending a night there. It must have been a frightening spectacle to be farming on the top of Morridge and to see his troops and hear the sounds of the bag pipes for the first time as they marched down into the town. After the retreat from Swarkestone Bridge in Derby his troops retraced their steps back to Leek as a rabble. Prince Charles allegedly stayed at Royal Cottage on the Buxton Road and there was also an encampment at Royal-edge Farm at the North end of the Morridge.                          
To be continued.