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Leiston is a town in eastern Suffolk, England, near Saxmundham and Aldeburgh, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the North Sea coast, 21 miles (34 km) north-east of Ipswich and 90 miles (140 km) north-east of London. The town had a population of 5,508 at the 2011 Census.
The 14th-century remains of Leiston Abbey lie north-west of the town.
Leiston thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a manufacturing town, dominated by Richard Garrett & Sons, owners of Leiston Works, which boasted the world’s first flow assembly line, for the manufacture of portable steam engines. The firm also made steam tractors and a huge variety of cast and machined metal products, including munitions during both world wars. The works closed in 1981 and the site was reused as a mixture of housing, flats and industrial sites. The Long Shop Museum, showing the history, vehicles and products of the works, remains as a heritage tourist attraction.
In the Second World War, RAF Leiston, 1 mile (1.6 km) north-west of the town in the neighbouring village of Theberton, sent fighter squadrons of the American 357th Fighter Group to fight the Luftwaffe. Famous American test pilot and fighter ace General Chuck Yeager (later, first to break the sound barrier) flew out of RAF Leiston. The Friends of Leiston Airfield hold a memorial service and flying display at the end of May each year, with veterans and their families attending.
In the 1960s, Leiston became famous as the home of the Summerhill School, founded by A.S. Neill in the 1920s as the first major “free school” – referring to freedom in education. Children are not required to attend classes and discipline is given by pupil self-government meetings. Summerhill has inspired a large “free school” movement and, more recently, democratic schools in several countries. The school occupies the former mansion of Richard Garrett, owner of Leiston Works.