East Grinstead Society

Michael Leppard MA – A Tribute

A Tribute to the Town’s premier Historian and Founder Member of the East Grinstead Society by James Baldwin – Chairman of The East Grinstead Society

Michael Leppard, who passed away on September 10th 2019, was without doubt the foremost and most respected authority of his time on the history of East Grinstead and the surrounding area. Michael’s many years of dedication to the Town represents a unique contribution to the community, not least for his key role in the establishment of the East Grinstead Society.

Michael was born in East Grinstead and educated at the former Grammar School in Windmill Lane. At Oxford he received an Honours degree in Theology from University College. Initially he taught at schools in Petersfield and Brighton before becoming a teacher at Sackville School in East Grinstead. He taught RE and was Director of Sixth Form Studies before his retirement in 2005.

Much of Michael’s work was achieved by extensive use of available literature and archive material, often requiring visits to Record Offices around the county and elsewhere. In the 1990s he bought a computer but this was used solely as a word processor: he never connected this to the Internet or sent or received an email! Throughout his life he studied the history of East Grinstead and the Sussex area, publishing his research in books and academic journals, but also popularising the subject through talks and articles in local newspapers.

Undoubtedly one of Michael’s fundamental achievements was his role with the East Grinstead Society, formed in January 1968 to protect the historic town centre, the wider Town and its environs, from detrimental building activity that could impact the unique local architectural heritage and the Town’s identity. The Society was established after one of the town’s 15th century medieval hall houses in the historic High Street was demolished to make way for a modern structure.

Michael was determined to ensure East Grinstead’s heritage should, wherever possible, be safeguarded in the future. His efforts have saved many of the town’s historic buildings from a similar fate. Michael was a guiding light in all the Society’s endeavours. He was the Society’s first Honorary Chairman, was Honorary President and served in other committee roles.

In the 50 years since the Society’s inception, he wrote and edited over 120 East Grinstead Society “Bulletins” with well-researched detailed information about historical aspects of East Grinstead and its environs. These “Bulletins” have now been digitised in honour of Michael and will be made available on the Society’s website.

Michael was the first Honorary Curator of East Grinstead Museum (1976) and founder-editor of “Compass”, a newsletter published by the Museum with carefully researched historical articles relating to the town and the Sussex area. He was a Trustee of the Museum between 2006 and 2011 with particular responsibility for the research room.

Michael’s deep knowledge of the Town was also put to good use for the Town Guide and as an Adult Learning Tutor. For over 40 years Michael provided the text for East Grinstead’s Town Guide for each edition published between 1968 and 2011. He also ran highly successfully evening classes about the Town’s history which introduced many people to the richness of its history and heritage.

Michael did not have a car and always either walked or used public transport. This led to his becoming the Honorary Public Transport Co-ordinator for East Grinstead. In this role he worked actively, specifically to represent young people, the disabled and the elderly for whom public transport is a lifeline.

Michael also had what maybe a unique hobby! In a BBC News Item in 1998 the following article appeared: “”Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck,” goes the old saying … and a retired schoolteacher from Sussex has certainly taken this lesson to heart. Since 1985, the year Michael Leppard started keeping exact records of his street treasure, he has amassed £460. Picking up spare change dropped by other people is a hobby for Mr Leppard, who donates all the proceeds to the East Grinstead Town Museum. Last year he collected £85.19, his largest amount in one year so far. Mr Leppard thinks there is a lesson in his hobby for everyone.” At his funeral a lifelong friend said that by 2004 Michael had picked up ‘…no less than £974, which had all been donated to the Museum.’

Michael‘s legacy will live on with his many published works, in particular A History of East Grinstead published in 2001 and 100 Buildings of East Grinstead published in 2006.

East Grinstead has lost one of its most well respected historians and in his last contribution to the East Grinstead Society’s Newsletter in April 2019 Michael said: “It is very gratifying that in its 50th year, the East Grinstead Society continues to flourish and enjoys a reputation beyond its membership. The Society continues to mean a great deal to me and is an important part of my life”.

Michael will be sorely missed for the profound effect he had on the Town and his life-long efforts to preserve all that is best in East Grinstead.