Oh my gourd!...
Updated: Apr 17, 2021
We take a look at the history of SOMERLEYTON MEADOWS which sits on the original site of ST. MARGARET'S HOUSE in Herringfleet.
The house was built c. 1822AD for the Misses Harriet Elizabeth Leathes (ob. 1852 aet. 68) and Louisa Mary Leathes (ob. 1855 aet. 76) two sisters of John Francis Leathes who built the house for them.
Standing on the Dove House Close in 2.0.7a. of land, after their deaths, the house was occupied by Capt. Hill Mussenden Leathes 1859-64 when he took over the estate on his father's death.
From 1864 Capt. Leathes (known locally as the Colonel) was a familiar figure round the parish with his pony and wicker trap, and later his three-wheeler cycle and knobkerry stick. After 1859 extra rooms and stables were added.
Below is a lithograph print, by Thomas Picken, of John Francis Leathes.
The print, which is housed at the British Museum, shows him with a gigantic gourd. The inscription reads: "GOURD. 196lb in weight & 7ft 3" in circumference, raised in the garden of John Francis Leathes Esq. Herringfleet Hall, Suffolk 1846, from seeds from the Hotricutral Society."
St. Margaret's House ( now called Somerley House ) took its name from St. Magaret's Church. After the building of the free standing round tower, there arose c. 1080AD what is now the Chancel - the Norman Chapel probably replacing an old Saxon-Viking wooden building.
In the early days of the Fitz Osberts in the 13th. Century, the nave was built to connect the Norman chapel with the tower; the old west doorway of the Norman chapel being placed in its present position in the south wall and made the principal entrance, while the east side of the tower base was opened up with a larger doorway. The northern doorway into the nave has for some time been bricked up. In the late 16th. Century the tower received a new brick parapet, the original height being slightly lowered, and a brick canopy was given to the window in the south chancel wall, though it is conceivable that these works were done by John Francis Leathes.
It was however in the 1820s that important changes were made - the east window, the crowning glory of the church, a kaleidoscope of fascinating glass with even more interesting subjects, was put in by Henry Mussenden Leathes whose memorial you will find on the north chancel wall. In the Royal Horse Artillery, he fought in the Peninsular War (1807-1813) and at Waterloo, for which he received medals and clasps.
In the Peninsular Campaign he was in Sir John Moore's celebrated retreat and the Battle of Corunna, and in the Waterloo Campaign he served as First Lieutenant in Capt. Mercer's Troop (G. Troop). When only 13 he was a Gentleman Cadet (1st Nov. 1803) - at 15 years 11 months he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on the 12th July 1805. In the Waterloo Roll it is recorded that he resigned his commission in 1819 after earning for himself the description "he was distinguished for his benevolence and philanthropy and was equally loved by rich and poor, young and old, soldiers and civilians".
He died at Lowestoft 16th. Dec. 1864 for although his manorial residence was Herringfleet Hall, he actually occupied a house in Lowestoft for many years, where his charity for the poor of the town was outstanding. He was deeply interested in the welfare of the French Fishermen visiting the port, and in cases of sickness his house became a hospital for them. He received the French Gold Medal of Honour First Class from the Emperor Napoleon III. In June 1827 at the age of 38 he had married Charlotte, daughter of John Fowler of Gunton Hall.