Leigh, Dr Charles

Dr Charles Leigh was born in 1662 at Singleton Grange in the Fylde. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford, which he left in debt after graduating in 1679. He must have continued to pursue his studies for in 1685 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, while still in his early 20s. In 1690 he was at Oxford where he graduated MD, going on to develop an extensive medical practice in Lancashire.

He was greatly interested in natural history, presenting papers to the Royal Society, and going on to produce a number of works, most notably his Natural History of Lancashire, Cheshire, and the Peak in Derbyshire, published in 1700.

Neither these efforts nor his character impressed the Whalley historian Thomas Whitaker, who commented on Leigh’s history of Lancashire:

Had this Doctor filled his whole book, as he has done nearly one half of it, with medical cases, it might have been of some use; but how, with all possible allowances for the blindness and self-partiality of human nature, a man should have thought himself qualified to write and to publish critical remarks on a subject of which he understood not the elementary principles, it is really difficult to conceive. After all, his errors might have slept with himself, had not his vanity and petulance been at least equal to his want of literature.

Leigh appears to have been displeased by the reception accorded to his master work, as one commentator suggested in 1705, ‘I am told Dr Leigh, who writ the Natural History of Lancashire, has divers things fit for the press, but that he will not let them see the light because his History has not taken well.’ The comment suggests Leigh was alive at that time, although other reports have dying in 1701. [1]

Leigh married Dorothy, daughter of Edward Shuttleworth of Larbrick, who left shares in the manor of Larbrick, to Dorothy and to his other daughter, Fleetwood, who was to married Richard Longworth of St. Michaels-on-Wyre. Leigh appears to have been again in debt, for part of his wife’s share seems to have been surrendered to meet a debt of £100. [2]

Leigh was probably the Dr Lee, the physician practising in Preston in the late 17th century who occurs frequently in the diaries of Thomas Bellingham and Lawrence Rawstorne. He first occurs in the diaries on 16 March 1688 (Rawstorne’s) and makes his last appearance on 15 April 1690 (Bellingham’s). He was living in the town at the time, as Bellingham records on 21 January 1689: ‘Att night we play’d att cards at Dr Lees’.

[1] C.W. Sutton, ‘Leigh, Charles (1662–1701?), Rev. Michael Bevan’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Lawrence Goldman, online, 2010, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16377; T.D. Whitaker, An History of the Original Parish of Whalley, and Honor of Clitheroe (Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1818), 26–27, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=EO1EAQAAMAAJ.
[2] Henry Fishwick, The History of the Parish Kirkham, in the County of Lancaster (Chetham Society, 1843), 183, 187.