Probably better known as an important engineering centre rather than through its historical associations, Leiston can yet claim to possess many of the latter, for, despite the fact that the great works which made Leiston and gave it a certain fame-a fame spread practically over the whole world-have changed the outlook of its inhabitants and given employment to numerous people, Leiston has many episodes of the past well worth the recording. This industrial town, in fact, set in country surroundings,so that the smoke-blacked chimneys seem almost out-of-place amidst the greenery and pleasant woodland of the rural neighbourhood, is a place not only important through its commercial activities, but also because of the religious air which permeated the district in the days of long ago and which has recently been resuscitated.

For some distance from the town itself are the remains of the famous Abbey, which are left to tell the story of a past full of those devotions one associates with the monks of medieval England, and the ruins which still exist seem to breathe that fragrant atmosphere which recalls to the imagination the peaceful life of the religious recluse in the days when our country was in more or less a state of turmoil. Here is an ancient herb garden, where solemn brethren of their Order planted' the simple remedies which preceded the drugs; of the modern medical man, and in its pleasant and restful appearance one can almost visualise the scenes of former days.

Originally founded in 1182 by Ranulph de, Glanville, for the Premonstratensian Canons- so named after Premontre, in the North of France-and dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, the first abbey was erected between the marshes and the sea,but this becoming more or less untenable a new building was built in 1363 by Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, on the present site. This, however, was doomed to last only a few years, as in 1389 the place was razed to the ground, and the ruins which exist at the present time are all that remain of the edifice which took its place. But these almost sad relics of a glorious past have suffered little during the last century or so, for an illustration bearing the date 1781, shows them practically as they are to-day. A stone missing here, perhaps, a slight change somewhere else; and yet to all intents and purposes the architecture remains almost the same as when the artist left the pictorial record these many years ago.

In point of fact, Leiston Abbey must have been a building of magnificence in the days which followed its erection, for the length of the church alone-erected in the form of a cross -was some fifty-six yards, whilst twenty-one feet was the breadth of the middle aisle. Its exterior was decorated with freestone and black square flints, part of the latter still remaining,whilst the mixture of the Norman and Early English architecture in part of the building seems to prove that the present affair contains a considerable amount of material used by Ranulph de Glanville in his original effort.

Fortunately, there are still many portions of this fine old building in existence, including a splendid gate-tower, which formed one of the two on either side of a porch leading to the cloister, whilst the remains of mighty walls surround the peaceful appearance of age-old verdure, so that the whole place seems pregnant with the wondrous air of those restful days when the monks told their beads and more or less cut themselves adrift from the cares of the outside world. Leiston Abbey, in fact, appeals to the imagination and to the soul-chiefly the latter-as nothing else can, and in the solemn grandeur of its present there seems more than a hint of an even more solemn past, when its canons served the spiritual needs of Leiston and Theberton, and were held in the highest esteem, as the records well bear out.

And yet, its days, unlike many similar places, can scarcely be said to have vanished beyond all recall; the opposite, indeed, is the case, for within recent years they have to a certain ex tent been rescued from the abyss of time. For, although since the Dissolution the ancient walls have been utilised to form part of the buildings connected with the splendid oak-beamed farmhouse erected at that period, the erstwhile granary-formerly the Lady Chapel, and situated North of the high altar-received a certain amount of restoration and became a place of prayer once again so that Holy Eucharist was offered here some eight years ago for the first time after a lapse of three centuries.

This wondrous place, in fact this mighty relic of medieval times, this alluring monument whose dim, religious presence seems to provide a restful haven in the blare and glare of to-day, is fulfilling a purpose its founders would undoubtedly bless. For here is one of those "Retreats" which the world would be the poorer without, and as these are none too common in this part of the country, because of their splendid influence upon the lives of many they deserve to be better understood.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, a house of retreat provides that communion with thing, spiritual which, amidst the bustle and hurry of modern life, the world is in sad danger of forgetting or ignoring. Here one goes back to the affairs that really matter, forgetting all the gross materialism, and spending a quiet time in reflection and in the aspiration towards a nobler, fuller life. This is gained by silence and mediation, by the study of uplifting books, and by prayer and services, an a week-end spent in this manner cannot fail to soothe the soul and awaken that elusive something which too many are content to ignore and almost ashamed to recognise. And, naturally, a place of the antiquity of Leiston Abbey, containing such a glorious association with religious matters, is an ideal site for such a purpose, and those who avail themselves of the shelter of its mighty walls cannot fail to feel the benefit and to seek thee ideal which

the material world has endeavoured to destroy. In this connection the Visitor is the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
The canons of this Abbey received certain privileges from the Pope, including absolute freedom in the election of their Abbot, whilst they were not obliged to pay tithes on their goods and chattels. At the time of the Domesday survey the Manor of Leiston was held by that mighty Baron, Robert de Malet, but one of his successors falling foul of Henry the First the latter seized the estate, and it was granted by the second Henry to Ranulph de Glanville, the same who founded the Abbey. In 1312 the Abbot obtained the privilege of holding a market and fair at Leiston, but these were discontinued some two centuries ago.

At the Dissolution, when only eighteen canons remained, the Manor and Abbey were granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, whose family had been patrons of the house fur many generations, and it afterwards came to Robert Browne, a Baron of the Exchequer, whilst in the time of James the First it passed to that celebrated and romantic figure George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. From thence it went to the Herveys, and in 1760 or there abouts was purchased by Sir Joshua Vanneck ancestor of the present Lord Huntingfield.

After visiting the Abbey, Leiston Church itself, dedicated to St. Margaret, seems a little disappointing, although why this should be the case is somewhat uncertain. For here is a building of truly magnificent proportions, with a fine massive tower, almost hidden by luxurious trees, and although much or it was rebuilt in 1853 there is nothing of the garish about its interior. Modern to a certain extent it is, of course, but so much of the older work remains and so well has the difficult task been undertaken it retains many traces of the beauty and elegance which only age can satisfactorily bestow.
A building in the Gothic style of flint with stone dressings, and containing chancel, nave, North and South porches, transepts and the splendid Western embattled tower already mentioned, the religious edifice seems well worthy of the somewhat important town it serves. In the churchyard is the figure of Christ on the Cross-a memorial to those who fell in the Great War - whilst against the South porch is an ancient stone coffin. Entering the church itself the beauty of the old is somewhat dwarfed by the new, but, despite this, there still remain several items which belonged to the original building, including the fine Early English font, a round bowl on a trefoiled arcade, and one of the best specimens of its kind, whilst an ancient chest is also preserved.

Like some of the choir-stalls, the roodscreen has excellent carving, but this was only erected in 1915 to the memory of a former churchwarden, whilst, as already stated, practically everything is so new that there is little to describe, although the general effect is distinctly pleasing and spacious - a modern but noble work of distinction, as it were, founded upon the ashes of the old.

There were three churches in Leiston at the Domesday, and even now its choice of religious edifices is fairly numerous and varied. Amongst these are a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and a Meeting House for the Society of Friends, a place for the United Methodists and another for the Cangregationalists, with a Mission Hall in the centre of the town.

Despite a11 this, however, and (even considering the parish church itself, chief interest will invariably be centred upon that famous Abbey, which for years withstood the buffetings of storm and weather, and eventually faded away through the action of a King, only to he resurrected - at least,in part-by the public-spirited actions and deep religious convictions of the stalwarts of the present, a striking example that little which is good and precious can ever fade into utter oblivion. To-dav, Leiston is, of course, a town where the axe of industry has bitten deeply, and such is all to the good. Yet, amidst the green pastures and fresh fields the remains of the grey old Abbey stand, and in its sheltered seclusion can be found the peace and the quietude, the restfulness and the spiritual consolation which will ever appeal to the jaded soul when worldly success and earthly attractions have lost their pleasures, so that one instinctivaly seeks those simple truths which give strength and courage in the ever-raging battle of life.

Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury, August 10th, 1928.