Leiston was a large and important village even in Saxon times, when it
swelled the great estate of Edric of Laxfield, whose name is of almost
constant occurrence in the survey of north-eastern parts of Suffolk.
In the reign of Edward the Confessor, Leiston (or Lehtun as it was then
known, Leestune in the Doomsday Book) was held as a manor with 12
caricatures of land, of which eleven were in desmene. There were five
acres of meadow, four draught horses, five cows, 112 sheep and seven
hives of bees. Three churches were then standing in the village jointly
endowed with 100 acres of free land valued together at £10. A
smaller manor was held by a free-man, consisting of 40 acres valued at
six shillings, and Edric held a third manor with an estimated value of
twenty shillings, besides some smaller estates. The whole of the
parish, reckoned to be three leucas in length, two and a quarter in
width, was granted by William the Conqueror to Robert Malet.
Since 1778 until just recently the town thrived around the Richard Garrett Engineering Works. The firm was established to make agricultural machinery but in fact they very much "made" Leiston, employing generations of residents on its eight and a half acre site in the middle of the town. The town benefited through the Company's provision of gas lighting in the streets and the drainage of much of the marshland between the town and the sea. The company expanded, taking over land alongside the Station more than doubling its workshops. It became world-renowned and was, amongst other activity, heavily involved in producing military hardware for the MOD during both World Wars. In later years the company endured a number of take-overs but ultimately closed in the early 1980's. Many artefacts of the firm and its principals abound in the area. The Long Shop Museum is now open on the former site of the town centre works for much of the year containing exhibits which demonstrate the fine heritage of a firm in the forefront of industrialisation, not only in agriculture but in many aspects of steam propulsion.
The town and its folk are becoming used to change, necessitated by the loss of its major employer. In 1966 the then Central Electricity Generating Board opened a Magnox nuclear power station at Sizewell and in 1990 a further PWR nuclear power station was commissioned alongside it. Whilst some felt that these quite large constructions detracted from the attractiveness of the beach and littoral at Sizewell, many locals do not now seem to notice their presence. The Board, and later Nuclear Electric and British Energy, have undertaken a commitment to retain many of the natural habitats, flora and fauna, and an area including an SSSI is now managed on their behalf by Suffolk Wildlife Trust.