Leigh Chapel

See also:
Leigh Chapel Burials
Band of Hope


The Beginnings

The history of Leigh Chapel goes back to the arrival in Leigh of Samuel Morley at Hall Place in 1870 who, as well as providing physical improvements in the village, was also concerned about the spiritual needs of the villagers.  In 1870 the main place of worship in the village was St Mary’s and its Vicar, the Rev. Thomas May, had been the incumbent since 1830 (and would hold the position until 1876).  He had been caring and conscientious in his role but with the arrival of the non-conformist Samuel Morley, St Mary’s would face challenges.

According to Edwin Hodder[1], when Samuel Morley came to Leigh, there was only one other place of worship there, a small room where the Associated Methodists met for religious services.  Lawrence Biddle[2]  also writes that there was in Leigh a ‘small meeting house’, a former slaughterhouse, where the Methodist Free Church Association held meetings.   This is also mentioned in the Village Messenger of February 1883[3]  where gospel work for some time “was done in the little old chapel formerly a slaughterhouse” but the congregation had not constituted itself into a church.   This would not be unexpected as there had been an interest in Methodism in the vicinity for over hundred years – in Sevenoaks since the mid-1700s, and a Chapel had been built at Weald between 1838 and 1843[4].

On the 1870 Ordnance Survey map, a building marked as the Ebenezer Wesleyan Chapel is clearly indicated – located where the slaughterhouse building was.  According to the Hall Place Sales Particulars of 1870, this stable and slaughterhouse was let to Edward Outram, the Leigh butcher, who at that time lived at the newly erected cottage on Church Hill (today’s Church House).[5]   Of course, although this property was let to Mr Outram, perhaps he sublet part of it.   Also of interest in the Sales Particulars is the reference to a Baptist Chapel, located at the back of the cottage between Chilling House and the Square[6] – described as ‘a Baptist Chapel in the rear, brick and tile and lean-to shed adjoining Board and Slate, let to John Young’.[7]

Therefore, although Edwin Hodder had referred to only one other place of worship in Leigh, there had possibly been two places at some point before 1870 – yet Kellys Directory prior to 1874 does not mention any chapel of any denomination at Leigh.

Samuel Morley’s eldest daughter, Rebekah Hope Morley, had been influenced by her father’s evangelical beliefs and his non-conformity as a chapel-going dissenter and she had previously undertaken Christian work at Stamford Hill, north London, prior to arriving at Leigh.   With the support of her father, she was now keen to look after the spiritual needs of the villagers and became involved with Leigh’s small Methodist group and began to organize meetings in the cottage of Mr J Kettle, the Head Gardener at Hall Place, where about 11 people met regularly every Sunday at 2.30pm.  The attendees were a mix of “Congregationalists, some Baptists, some Methodists and others ‘thoroughly undenominational’.”[8]

In the summer of 1871 she arranged the visit of popular evangelists to Leigh and a tent was hired which was pitched in Powder Mill Lane near the Girls’ School.  She invited a Mr Hurditch to hold a series of services in a tent.  Other evangelists were invited too – a Mr Passmore, Mr Strong and Mr Maxted; the latter made an impression.    “He, more than any other of the ‘evangelists’ who visited Leigh, seemed to be the right man to work among the neglected poor of that neighbourhood, and his services were, therefore, permanently retained.”[9]  There were also children’s services.  The tent was removed in the autumn of 1871 but there continued to be services and gatherings on Sundays in ‘the Reading Room’ under the oak (at Oak Cottage) from October 1871.  (This Reading Room had been provided by Samuel Morley to cater for the various workmen at Hall Place lodged in the village and to keep them out of the public houses!).

Therefore, with the determination of Rebekah Morley spiritual interest in the village increased and Samuel Morley decided to provide a Chapel, which formed part of what would eventually become the Leigh Village Halls site.  The work on the Chapel began in November 1871 and was completed by May 1872.[10]   According to Lawrence Biddle “there had been urgency about the Chapel, largely because the old site of the hall had to be cleared and the village drainage map of 1872 shows the Chapel completed with no building in rear of it and no cottage alongside it”[11] – although the text below from the Village Messenger of January/February 1883 states that the Chapel was opened on 9 February of 1872.  The builders employed were Hope Constable of Penshurst and the stonework for all the windows and the roof timbering came from the former Baronial Hall built in 1846 at Hall Place.   Samuel Morley also built a red-brick cottage at the rear of the Chapel, described as the Schoolhouse (the Sunday School Room), started in September 1872 and completed in 1873, now our Small Village Hall.  The builder this time was ‘Everest’ and again the stonework from the old Baronial Hall was used for all the windows; and a Baptistery was also built,[12] now the main Legion Club Room.

From the front of the Leigh Gospel Watchman and Village Messenger of 1 February 1880 there is a picture of ‘Leigh Chapel and Schools’ – the ‘undenominational’ Chapel, the buildings behind which comprised the schoolroom and baptistery, but there was also another building alongside, which is today’s Institute Cottage, whose role as far as Leigh Chapel was concerned is not clear, nor when it was built.  According to Lawrence Biddle it was also built from material ‘possibly’ taken from the Gothicised north front of the old Hall Place.[13]  It was possibly built for a caretaker to the Chapel but was not occupied by the first Minister there, Mr Maxted, as stated by Dick Wood under ‘Memories of Chapel Going’ below.  Mr Maxted would live at Lower Park Cottage (today’s White House).[14]  However, Kellys Directory shows that there was a caretaker – if not for the Chapel itself, for the Institute it later became.[15]  In 1913 and 1918 this was William Passingham; in 1922 it was Charles Bennett.  In the 1911 census William Passingham lived next to the complex at the ‘Institute Cottage’ although he is not described as the caretaker in the census.  With the arrival of Alfred Houghton in the village in 1925 as Estate Clerk at Hall Place, he took over the role of Secretary and Treasurer and there no longer appeared to be a caretaker.  All these buildings formed the original Chapel complex.   Land adjoining the complex became at some early point a burial ground for the Chapel, its first recorded burial being in 1873, and with the Burial Amendment Act of 1880, parishioners were entitled to be buried without a burial service of the Church of England.  The ownership of this piece of land would be disputed in due course.


Front page of Leigh Gospel Watchman 1880


The impressive Mr Maxted took up residence in the village at Lower Park Cottage as minister,[16] but his activities extended beyond the parish to other Chapels built by Samuel Morley following the successful establishment of the Leigh Chapel.  There were Chapels at Hildenborough, Weald, Speldhurst, Hadlow and Bough Beech as well as Mission Rooms at Cage Green, French Green and Ivy Hatch.  In addition, there were the strong congregational communities already established in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

The Village Messenger of January 1883 describes the ‘Gospel Work at Leigh and in its neighbourhood’ and some of the background.[17]

“In 1870 Miss Morley (the late Mrs Herbert W Taylor[18]) came with the family to Hall Place, and as she had done in London and elsewhere, at once gave herself like an earnest and faithful child of God as she was, to seeking to win souls to Jesus, as their Saviour.  This she did by personal conversation and visiting from house to house, bringing neither Church nor Chapel, nor any religion merely, but a Person even Jesus the Son of God, setting Him before them as God’s gift to them for their present and immediate Salvation, even everlasting life, shewing them how they might be thus blessed . . . 

“Her meetings for women will not likely to be forgotten, it is sufficient to say that her efforts were signally owned of God, both in reviving believers, and in the conversion of sinners.  She found a small meeting house in the village, where those called Methodist Free Church Association, held meetings, but there was very seldom a class meeting and still more seldom was the Lord’s Supper taken together by those who were considered ‘Members’.

“On the first Lord’s Day in January 1871, some Christians met in the cottage of Mr J Kettle, head gardener of Hall Place,[19] their purpose being to worship and remember the Lord in the ‘Breaking of Bread.’  In reference to these meetings, we find Miss Morley writing to a friend: ‘We meet every Lord’s Day afternoon at 2.30 in the gardener’s cottage, to remember the Lord’s death.  There are now eleven of us, and I believe the number will soon be added to.  We have such happy seasons.’

“These thus assembling, consisted of those holding Congregational, Baptist and Methodist’s views, as well as some who were thoroughly undenominational.  Their different views however were not allowed to interfere with communion and worship together, all differences were sunk, and ‘Jesus only’ their motto and such it has continued to this day…

 “She would write: ‘I would rather myself meet with three or four of the poorest, most ignorant Christians, without any gift of teaching or anything else, and with them simply remember the Lord’s death, than I would meet with hundreds of the most instructed and gifted, where some teacher or other, (however good and valuable in himself) put himself, or was put in the Lord’s place.  There might be great failure and much that one would dislike in the first, but the ground of meeting would be the true one, namely oneness with the same risen head (receive ye one another as Christ received you);  and the object of meeting would be the true one.’ 

“In the following summer, at her father’s expense, and with the aid of Mr R C Hurditch, Miss Morley secured a tent for preaching, wherein various evangelists, Messrs. Hurditch, Passmore, Strong, Maxted, and others conducted Gospel Meetings and Children’s services which were well attended, and resulted in some conversions. 

“The tent, which stood about where the girls’ schoolroom now is, was removed in the autumn, and preaching then carried out in the Reading Room under the Oak, which had been opened by Mr S Morley, for the use of workmen employed in rebuilding Hall Place.

“In this same room we had our Sunday School (commenced October 1871) and continued there until the Chapel was opened on 9 February 1872”.

The following month, February 1883, the writer continues under the same heading.

“Whilst the tent was in use it became evident that there was a need for a permanent meeting place.  Mr S Morley was ready to entertain the thought and decided to transfer to the village the Baronial Hall, which he found attached to the mansion, when he bought Hall Place.  This accounts for the ecclesiastical style as to windows, &c.  We never intended to call this building a ‘chapel’  but we found the people frequently spoke of Hall Place as ‘the Hall’ and so confusion was made, and would be if we continued to call our meeting place ‘the Hall’, hence we were reluctantly obliged to give it the name ‘Leigh Chapel’.

“The question may arise ‘Why wish to call it anything else?’  We answer, ‘Because we find no warrant for this ecclesiastical term in Scripture any more than for calling a building of bricks and mortar a ‘church’.  It is all the remains of Popery and the ‘traditions of men.’  A church is a ‘Congregation of faithful men.’


“The Chapel being finished, we opened it by calling together Christians of various denominations to join us in praise and prayer, praise for the help we had already experienced, and prayer for the best of all ‘Consecrations’ namely, that it might become the birth-place of souls.

“We had no programme, but the guidance of the Lord by His Spirit at the time, but had arranged for Mr Hurditch to preach the gospel in the evening, which he did with much power.

“Mr Maxted opened the afternoon meeting with the hymn ‘All hail the power of Jesus name,’ and reading John 17.  A large number of people being present.

“Tea was provided in the Reading room under the Oak, where we had experienced the blessing and power of God in gospel work since October, 1871.

“After tea the Chapel was crowded, Mr Morley, who had so generously given this pretty building to the village and neighbourhood, was present with his brother, but took no part in the proceedings, except as a listener, nor had there been any ceremony of laying the foundation stone.  The object being to bring souls under the sweet power of the word of God, and the love of Jesus, and to exhort to holiness of life.

“The Chapel was intended for gospel work, leaving those who were brought to follow the Lord, to meet for worship, &c, in a ‘Church’ capacity wherever they might choose.

“For some time this was done in the little old chapel, formerly a slaughter house.  After a time Mr Morley built the commodious school-rooms behind the chapel and one of these is let to the Christians for church purposes at a nominal rent.

“In other words, the (what some would call) ‘denominational meetings’ are held in the school room, and the Chapel is in the strictest sense unsectarian.  Although we consider the whole work unsectarian, if some do not.”

There seems to have been some confusion as to the teaching at the Chapel, but the last paragraph above reiterates that Samuel Morley, as a lifelong Congregationalist, deemed that the chapel should be undenominational.  However, the sympathies of Mr. Maxted, who became the unordained Minister at Leigh, were more in accordance with those of the ‘Open Brethren’, a branch of the Plymouth Brethren, and as  Samuel Morley considered that Mr Maxted was doing good work and did not want to interfere, and as there appeared to be no intention of ‘founding a Church’, Samuel Morley agreed that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper could be celebrated from time to time, but in the schoolroom, not in the Chapel itself.  He later yielded to the wish of the people and built the Baptistery at his own expense.  So although the Chapel was ‘undenominational’, the Sacraments were administered in a manner identical with those of the ‘Open Brethren’.[20]

The Reaction of Leigh Vicars to the Chapel

Inviting evangelists to the village and building the Chapel caused problems for the Rev. Thomas May who was “so concerned at the loss of part of his congregation that he wrote and had printed a 15-page address to the inhabitants of the parish and sent a copy to Mr Samuel Hope Morley.”[21]   Many of his congregation left St Mary’s for the Chapel and he was concerned that their faith in the idea of an ‘elect’ meant ‘teaching that Christ only died for a portion of mankind – the elect as they are called.’[22]    These ideas followed the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren and were espoused both by Mr Maxted and Rebekah Morley.

Samuel Morley, himself, did not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed by either the Open or Plymouth Brethren and remained a Congregationalist.  He occasionally attended the services at the Chapel and took Communion there but he also remained on good terms with the Rev. May and with his successor, the Rev. Hugh Collum, who took over in 1876, by which time many in the parish were ‘nonconformist’.    Rev. Collum became Chairman of the Leigh School Committee but he did not attempt to impose the Church’s teachings on children whose parents were opposed to it and tried to remain neutral in the now divided parish.

The Rev. Collum wrote to Edwin Hodder, the author of the Life of Samuel Morley, explaining his relationship with Samuel Morley and parts of the letter are quoted in that book[23] and some parts quoted here.  The Rev. Collum refers to the parish of which he is now vicar as being largely non-conformist but he got on well with Samuel Morley: “Mr Morley has, I am well aware, been censured by Churchmen for introducing and maintaining in their parishes, Nonconformist machinery and agencies.  His justification was, that, on coming to reside in this part of Kent, he did not find what he considered to be adequate machinery of a modern kind on the part of the Church for evangelizing and elevating the people – that there were ‘dark’ places where there ought to be abundant light; that there was abundant room for all workers.”[24]  In the letter he also speaks of Samuel Morley’s preference for a thoroughly unsectarian school system to which he, the Rev. Collum, adhered as mentioned above: Samuel Morley “gave his ready adhesion to the compromise, which had already been arrived at in the case of Leigh School, that the Conscience Clause should be loyally and fully carried out, and no attempt made by the clergyman to impose distinctive Church teaching on the children of those parents who might be conscientiously opposed to it”.[25]

Rebekah Morley’s time at Leigh was short, for she died in 1877,[26] but she had become well known in the parish and was well loved and was a great loss to the Leigh community. For in a short space of time – between 1870 and 1872 – from a small group meeting in the old slaughterhouse chapel, to meetings at James Kettle’s cottage, to evangelists coming to meetings in a tent organized by Rebekah Morley, to the use of a Reading Room on the Green, Samuel Morley had erected a Chapel for the growing congregation, employed a permanent Minister, built the schoolroom and baptistery as well as other chapels and missions in the area.

The Village Messenger

The Village Messenger, already mentioned above, was the voice piece of the non-conformist community in Leigh and the surrounding area.

The Leigh Historical Society is fortunate to have access to a book containing in one volume issues of the Village Messenger (and Faithful Words) from 1885 and 1886, produced by Leigh Chapel, Book and Tract Depot, Near Tonbridge, Kent.

The opening passage of the volume written by J G Start is headed ‘A New Book’ and starts by saying:  “One often hears of resolutions made ‘to turn over a new leaf’This New Year of 1885 will give us an exceptional opportunity, for here we have not only a new leaf but a new book altogether.  365 days, each with their 24 hours, all new leaves that we can turn over to good account if the Lord spares us.  How shall we fill them?  Now they are presented to us without spot, stain, or wrinkle, without a doubt to ruffle them, or a cloud to cast a gloom”.

The book contains lectures, sermons, prayers, Biblical passages, poems (of a biblical nature naturally) and much on the evils of drink, with reports on abstinence, and emphasis on temperance meetings and the activities of the ‘Leigh Total Abstinence Association and Band of Hope’ and later by the ‘Leigh Blue Ribbon and Band of Hope’.  Some lectures are written by John Maxted, his wife, and even his daughter.  There are lectures on Christmas Trees and Popery, and letters to the publication.  Herbert Wilbraham Taylor – the husband of Rebekah Morley – gave a lecture on the ‘Immortality of the Soul’ in the May 1885 edition, which ‘if the Lord permit’ was to be continued in the following edition – it was. In a lecture on how malt liquors are made, Mrs Maxted explains the process in detail and goes on to lecture on how much better use that barley could be put to make bread.  Her daughter, Jessie Maxted, wrote on the evils of smoking.  But as well as the preaching, there are also reports on outings of members such as the Band of Hope Excursion in 1885 and reports from the various other Chapels and Missions in the area and the entire October edition is devoted to the death of Samuel Morley.

Village Messenger: Band of Hope Excursion

In March 1885, under the heading Leigh Blue Ribbon Band of Hope, there was a meeting chaired by Samuel Morley.  Mr Maxted read a Scripture and led those present in prayer.  Samuel Morley called upon those present and elsewhere to renew their testimony and influence others in the kindest manner possible, refraining from all denunciation of men while showing the benefits of Abstinence.  It was at this meeting that Jessie Maxted gave her contribution on the subject of smoking.

“I have but one opinion about smoking.  It seems to me, to be a leading evil.  In my own special work amongst lads whose ages vary from 10 to 19 years, I find it the one obstacle to their receiving the benefit which it is my prayer and desire they may obtain.  I mean it stands directly in the way of their salvation, leading them into company such as tends to counteract every good influence.

“As a matter of experience I find it of little use to talk to, or plead with lads who habitually frequent public-houses; and smoking almost invariably leads thither.

“Then too I have noticed that should a lad be converted before he has laid aside his tobacco, he is almost sure to give it up afterwards.  As surely as the life of Christ begins in the heart, so surely do these hindrances drop off, as if the lads themselves feel in their hearts that smoking and Christianity do not set well together.  Then, if a Christian lad goes back into the world the root of his declension is so often found to be a pipe or cigar.  These facts lead one to look upon smoking as an enemy to spiritual life; and as such, the friends of ‘our boys’, must deal with it.”

In the edition of May 1885 we hear of Leigh Easter Monday Believers’ Meeting’s fourteenth annual gathering of believers, when about 350 from the stations connected with the Mission met for fellowship and communion, being joined by a few friends from London and elsewhere.  The Meeting was held at Hall Place as it refers to the park and greenhouses being open by the kind permission of Mr Samuel Morley as usual.

Also in this edition, there is a report on Vegetarianism:

“On Saturday Evening March 21 a public dinner was given to the villagers of Leigh by Mr S Morley.  It consisted wholly of vegetables, and was served under the auspices of the National Food Reform Society.  More than 20 responded to the invitation.  The meal consisted of three courses – a soup, a savory, and a sweet, and cost with cooking, 6d per head, the prime cost of the articles alone only being threepence.  Mr Morley, who presided, making a speech at the close said that he had invited them to attend in order to have a practical demonstration of the vegetarian diet.  He had been accused of wanting to deprive the working man of his beer, and now he might accused of wanting to deprive him of his meat.  Everything that he had seen and tasted that night led him to believe the subject of vegetarianism was worthy of consideration.  The food was good, and it had this advantage, that it could be produced at about half the cost of meat.  It was, therefore, of the greatest importance and worth considering by fathers and mothers if they could have their children properly nourished at half their present cost.  Looking at the question from the thrift point of view he saw that it was stated that a pennyworth of oatmeal was equal in nutriment to a pound of meat.  If that was so, it was well worthy of consideration to-day, when many had such a job to make both ends meet.  Then it was said that those who were thoroughgoing vegetarians were invariably total abstainers, and to his mind this was a very great charm.  They ate so much fruit and vegetables that they did not need the drink which some people felt they could not do without except in the shape of intoxicants.  With respect of the housing of the poor, he believed that if the system was generally adopted it would cause the decrease of a great deal of misery in London, because so many people would be engaged in the growth of fruit and vegetables.  He believed that a system of fruit and vegetables farming would pay better than corn growing, owing to the foreign competition in the latter article, besides which it would enhance the wages of the labouring classes.  Several well-known vegetarians also addressed the meeting.”

In this edition, there is also report of an Abstinence meeting held at Leigh:

“. . . April 14th, and was fairly attended although the sowing season makes all busy.  After a hymn, Mr Pitter read Psalm cxxx and prayed, when Mr Maxted said, ‘We must seek during the summer to not only hold our own, but advance the cause.  The hot weather induces many to drink, but let it be seen by the bit of blue, wherever we are, that we do without that drink, which we know, appears to give help, but never really strengthens anybody.’” 

This is followed by Mrs Maxted talking about alcohol and the question of moderation:  “Let your moderation be known unto all men,” she quoted but went on to say that this “certainly does not apply to either moderation in eating or drinking, but to that gentleness and forbearance so becoming to all, but specially to Christians.”   She continues: “There cannot be moderation in a bad thing; now alcohol, as a beverage, is in its nature a bad thing, and if taken even in small doses, does harm.  And doing harm moderately does not make harm good.  Lying is lying whether one lie, or a thousand be told.  Thieving is theft in the same way, and taking Alcohol is bad for the same reason.”

There were several Total Abstinence Meetings during 1885, not only at Leigh but at the other chapels and missions where it was reported in May 1885 that “on the whole, the attendance has been good, and many have been induced to give up the drink, and also the habit of smoking.”  There is also a table showing the number of abstainers, being in Leigh 61 adults and 95 children.

In the June 1885 edition, there is a report on a marriage at Leigh, solemnized in the Chapel on April 22nd, between Mr Richard Barden, of Leigh, and Miss Clara Wheatley of Southborough.  Mr Maxted performed the Service and said:

as this was the first wedding in the building, he had much pleasure in accordance with a good old-fashioned custom, in presenting the Bride with a copy of the Holy Scriptures and pointed out their importance in leading to the knowledge of the Saviour, and in guiding, helping, and strengthening for the new life just entered upon.”

In January 1886 at Leigh, there is a report on a Teachers’ Conference and old scholars’ meeting.  Teachers from Hildenborough, Sevenoaks, Ivy Hatch, Bough Beech, Bidborough and Cage Green had joined those at Leigh to hold their Annual Conference on Wednesday December 9th. And after a hymn and prayers and praise, Mr Maxted opened the conversation.  Points discussed included:

The teacher (who should thoroughly study the lesson), must seek to keep up the interest in the class, standing so that all in it can be kept in sight.
Reading story-books to the scholars was condemned as a habit, and should be done very seldom.
The International Series of Lessons was useful to some, also the Helps published by the Sunday School Union.
The whole of the Scriptures should be taught – especially the New Testament.
Libraries were useful counteracting the bad magazines now so plentifully sold (perhaps referring to the then ubiquitous Penny Dreadfuls)
Great care required to preserve order and reverence at the opening and closing of school and see that all the exercises are short. 

In April 1886 there is a report of the wedding at Leigh on 4 March 1886 of Miss Ada C Maxted with Mr F J Hetherington.  It includes two pages on the service and the presentations and on ‘an illuminated card’ an inscription followed by a list of subscribers.

Village Messenger: Marriage of Ada Maxted p.26


Village Messenger: Marriage of Ada Maxted p.27


Village Messenger: Marriage of Ada Maxted p.28


Village Messenger: Marriage of Ada Maxted p.29
Village Messenger: Marriage of Ada Maxted p.30

There was also a presentation from the YWCA, of which Miss Maxted was the Secretary.  It was made by Mr W Anderson (the Leigh shop keeper on the Green) and a set of tea trays from the children of the Leigh Chapel Sunday School.

From such lists as the subscribers and attendees one gets to know the name of many who were members of the Chapel.

The October 1886 edition, the pages of which are ‘encircled’ in black, was devoted to the late Mr Samuel Morley, who had died on 5 September 1886.  It talks of his Christian way of life, his character, generosity and benevolence.   There are lists of the attendees at his funeral, of the organizations he was involved with – deputations of religious and other bodies from all parts, which included those of the Band of Hope unions, Baptist Total Abstainers’ Association, Baptist Union, YMCA, British and Foreign Bible Society, British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.  The list goes on with organizations from Hackney, Lambeth, Bristol, the National Temperance League, the Welsh Congregational Union.  The Leigh Chapel Mission was represented by Messrs A Pitter, Leigh; G Gillingham of Ivy Hatch; G French of Sevenoaks Weald; E Wells of Hildenborough; F Woodward of Hadlow; Jas Towell of Bough Beach; J Webb of Bidborough; J Start of Speldhurst, A Clark  of Cage Green.  Evangelists: Messrs J Collett of Sevenoaks and G Heath of Hildenborough.   On September 12th, there was a separate Memorial Service at Leigh Chapel.

Some further pages from the Village Messenger are reproduced below.

Village Messenger: Waste of Food by the Liquor Traffic


Village Messenger: Christmas Trees
Village Messenger: How malt liquors are made.


Village Messenger: How malt liquors are made p.2

At the end of the Village Messenger monthly editions, the book moves on to the section ‘Faithful Words for Old and Young.  The Index shows the subjects in this section.


Index to Faithful Words
Preface to Faithful Words.


Amongst the ‘words’ are sermons, stories, Bible stories and stories on the history of Christianity.  There are pictures of Bible stories, of moral lessons, of homely scenes, of families in grief.

Faithful Words: The Shepherds Sermon

Faithful Words: The aged stone breaker


1886-1952 – The Decline of the Chapel and What Happened to the Buildings

The Village Messenger gives insight into the teachings at the Chapel at that brief time when it was thriving.  But with the death of Rebekah Morley in 1877 and then of Samuel Morley in 1886, support began to diminish.  Mr Maxted had left the village by 1891, when we find him at Tottenham and in 1901 at Folkstone.[27]

In the Will of Samuel Morley of Hall Place, dated 12 August 1881 the following was stipulated:

“Whereas I have purchased several plots of land and have built thereon Chapel or other places of Public Divine Worship and other buildings connected therewith at Leigh, Hildenborough, Bidborough, Hadlow, Sevenoaks Weald and Bough Beech, all in the County of Kent, NOW I hereby devise the said plots of land with the Chapel places of worship and other buildings respectively erected thereon to my Son in Law Herbert Wilbraham Taylor and my son Henry Hope Morley their heirs and assigns and I hereby bequeath to the said H W Taylor and H H Morley the sum of £3,000 free of legacy duty which I direct shall be paid during the period of three years succeeding my death by yearly instalments of £1000 each and I direct that the said sums shall be applied for the support of the Evangelists for the time being connected with the said Chapels or places of worship or such of them as may be existing at my death in such manner as the said H W Taylor and H H Morley or the survivor of them may in consultation with Mr John Maxted of Leigh aforesaid think best.

Samuel Morley, therefore, had put in place some support not only for the Chapel at Leigh but also for the other established chapels after his death, but without his presence support for the Leigh Chapel itself declined by the end of the century.  By 1908 the complex was changed into an Institute and Library,[28] with a caretaker and an honorary secretary.[29]   There are records for the Leigh Institute from 1903: on the Leigh website in an article entitled Leigh Institute by John Knock and in Chris Rowley’s “We Had Everything …”,[30] the role played by the Institute in the village is discussed.  It was a ‘club’ that had started in an upstairs room at 9 The Square and was known as the ‘Reading Room and Institute’ – its origins were possibly in the Reading Room under the oak started by Samuel Morley in 1870/71.  It was paid for by both annual donations from the local gentry and by members’ subscriptions.   The Committee of the Institute consisted of the well-known village dignitaries, men such as Dr Fraser, Mr Boby, Rev. Walton, Mr Hedges MP, Mr Goodwin, Mr Russell, although it appeared that membership was not restricted – except initially women were not allowed.  But this gradually changed over the years, with women even being allowed to join the Committee in due course!   The Institute offered sporting activities, games, a library with newspapers and periodicals, even employing a ‘librarian’ and its money was spent on the games, equipment, on heating and lighting.   It was Samuel Hope Morley who decided in 1907 to allow the Chapel complex to change from its former use and be used by an expanded Institute and so by 1908, this move had taken place.   The 1911 census summary books for Leigh describe it as being a Village Hall – reading room, library and billiard room, plus the Free Church Iron Room.  Kellys Directory begins to list the ‘Institute and Library’ from 1913 onwards and later, by 1930, the complex is described as a ‘Village Hall and Institute’.  It lists its caretakers and its secretaries.[31]  After initial popularity, the Institute also went into decline and was wound up in 1938.  After the Second World War, the newly formed British Legion Club leased the building that had been the baptistery fifty years earlier.  The other buildings continued to be used as village halls for many of the same activities that went on under the ‘Institute’: their status would change in 1952.  The cottage – Institute Cottage – was also no longer for a caretaker but a rented house, which would eventually be transferred into private ownership.[32]

The Tin Chapel

With the Leigh Institute taking over the Chapel complex, the question now was how to serve the dwindling chapel congregation.  Samuel Hope-Morley (1st Baron Hollenden) wanted to continue his father’s wishes in retaining some form of chapel worship in the village and, therefore, had a small, corrugated iron chapel erected at the rear of the former Chapel complex where non-conformist services could continue.

There is a letter from Hall Place dated 19 November 1907 to Mr Hills  (possibly the Minister of Causeway, see Dick Wood’s memories below) where Mr Samuel Hope-Morley writes in respect of the building of the tin chapel to replace the now redundant chapel buildings.

“Dear Mr Hills

I have been carefully considering your letter and this will to a great extent account for the delay in answering it.  I am afraid it will be impossible to comply with your request that lease should be granted, as my father having established the custom of declining to lease any of the Chapel he built, I feel it best to follow in his footsteps .  I cordially welcome you to use the building I am about to erect and hope that you may all be spared with God’s blessing for many years to use it for your services.  I propose to continue to give my support as I have hitherto done.”

And when in 1925 Hon Geoffrey Hope-Morley (2nd Baron Hollenden) succeeded to the Hall Place Estate from his father, the Settlement dated 29 October 1925 included the Chapel.

According to Alfie Houghton,[33] who became Estate Clerk of Hall Place in 1925, the dimensions of the Tin Chapel built at the rear of the Legion, were thirty five foot by twenty, plus a ten by eight foot vestry with a porch and a lavatory   The roof was covered by twenty-four gauge corrugated iron and the interior had ‘matching’ on the walls (a thin tongue and groove boarding) and one inch flooring.   Further details of the tin chapel are given below by Dick Wood, a Leigh resident.

Memories of Chapel Going

With the Tin Chapel erected, the 20th century saw the continuation of chapel worship in Leigh.  As we have seen, although the Chapel had originally been intended to be undenominational, its practices had very soon fallen in line with those of the Plymouth Brethren.  And it was these practices that are recalled by some Leigh villagers.   The Leigh Historical Society has the memories of Leigh residents who spoke to Chris Rowley for his book[34] and has also been contacted by former residents who had memories of the Chapel during the pre-Second World War period.

According to the Fautly sisters,[35] Church and Chapel used to play a big part in the lives of villagers and the Chapel itself was well attended for many years.  They recall that the Wells family[36] was big in Chapel affairs.  At Harvest Festival the Chapel would have a sale and give money to good causes.

Dick Wood[37] goes into greater detail about the Chapel, which he called the Leigh Free Church and said that the British Legion Hall, the Village Hall and the adjoining stone cottage were built to serve as a chapel, a Sunday School and Minister’s house by Samuel Morley to promote “his own brand of religious non-conformity” but their role declined as places of worship and religious instruction after his death, when the large Chapel became the Village Hall and the room which had been used for total immersion baptism (and still has the font under the floor) became the Clubroom and Library of the Men’s Institute with a portrait of the founder opposite the fireplace.  The schoolroom had sunk so low as to become a billiards room (part of the Legion); while the cottage “where once dwelt the Reverend Mr Maxted, the resident Minister, now housed the caretaker of the buildings.”  However, this slightly contradicts other information which implies that the schoolroom was our Small Village Hall and the Reverend Maxted never lived on site but at Lower Park Cottage (see earlier).

However, Dick Wood continues: “the remnants of a once thriving congregation were relegated to a corrugated iron building well behind the magnificent main halls.  It was known generally as The Chapel and by the irreverent as The Tin Tabernacle.”   He describes the tin chapel: “Within the walls and pitched ceiling were of well-knotted varnished match boarding.  At the west end was a low platform and reading desk, and a table for celebration of ‘The Lord’s Super’.  Above the platform on the wall was the inevitable portrait of Samuel Morley, flanked by framed texts.  Beside the platform was an American organ.  The rest of the furnishing consisted of wooden benches with backs and a large Tortoise stove which consumed coke, and gave forth sulphurous fumes like until those which some of the preachers reminded us was the atmosphere of the final destination of sinners.  Coconut matting covered the floor and necked gas lamps jutted from the walls.  Services were held each Sunday morning and evening.”  He remembers one minister, “a Mr Downe, tall, grey and of benevolent appearance.  At the given hour he would emerge from the vestry by the door at the side of the dais and take his place at the reading desk to lead the congregation in hymns and prayers and to give an address.  The hymns were those of Sankey and Moody, stirring ones like ‘When the Roll is Called up Yonder, I’ll be there’ and sentimental ones such as ‘Shall we Gather at the River’.  Miss Hilda Snachell accompanied the hymn-singing on the American organ.  Prayers were long and impromptu. ‘Shall we ask Brother Burfield to lead us in prayer?’  says Mr Downe, and Bro ‘Bob’ would offer praise, penitence and petition, with often the most embarrassing and confidential references to other members of the congregation.  The address was invariably on the theme of ‘Are you Saved?’ and ‘Is there a Sinner here tonight?’ which sent at least one poor soul away with a very guilty feeling.  ‘There were ninety-and-nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold,’ we had been singing ‘But one was out on the hills away, far off from the gates of gold.’  They made me feel pretty sure that I was that ‘one’.”

He also recalls some of the visiting preachers, a benevolent Mr Coulstock and dark and handsome Mr Fred Taylor, a gentle but feeble Mr Hills from Causeway who sometimes played the American organ and he names other members of the congregation: Mr and Mrs Bob Burfield , Mr Jack Burfield, Mr Snachell and his daughters from Cinder Hill and members of the Taylor and Wells families.  The three elderly Crowhurst sisters (who lived in one of the parish cottages where Saxby Wood is now), were staunch chapel supporters.

The caretakers of the Chapel – acting a cleaners and verger were a Mr and Mrs George Hoath and on one Sunday morning Dick met George furiously chasing up the High Street to the fountain in the wall.  “In trouble George?” he enquired.  “Forgot to get the bally holywater!”, shouted George hotly.

Dick describes the burial ground – as a small triangular plot adjoining the Chapel which is today pathetically overgrown and neglected but was once beautifully maintained.  Every grave was carefully tended, and many were adorned with those semi-spherical glass gloves coating a collage of china and metal flowers, leaves, angles and sentimental texts, protected by a galvanized wire cage and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” would be sung at the graveside.

Alfie Houghton,[38] the Estate Clerk of Hall Place, spoke of the “Free Church Chapel” behind The British Legion which had been erected in 1907 by Samuel Morley (Samuel Hope-Morley) – his description of it is recounted earlier – and he says that “the last Minister in the mid-seventies was Rev. A M Martin who was really in charge of The Assemblies of God Chapel in Tonbridge.  During the winter of 1975/76 the Sunday services were stopped due to lack of support and not long after the Friday evening Bible classes were stopped too. The Estate sold the Chapel in 1977 and, as you know, it got burnt down in 1984.”  He also confirmed that the Hall Place Estate never owned the Chapel burial ground which had been used since 1875.

Another Leigh resident was David Phipps who lived in Leigh from 1927-1939 as a boy.[39]  His mother, Julia, was daughter of a Baptist minister and his father, Robert, from independent, radical, non-conformist stock and they were very much pillars of the Leigh Plymouth Brethren Chapel – his father was one of the Elders.   His grandmother, Hilda Rose Phipps, was buried in the Chapel graveyard – the first on the right by the gate, along with his sister, Pat, who died of meningitis aged two, next to her.  According to David Phipps, the majority of Chapel families were quite well off and they were quite sure not only of their place in Heaven but their place in the terrestrial world.  His parents were very strict Chapel people and whatever his mother and father wanted the children to do would coincide with what God had decreed.   In his family, there was a service before breakfast every morning, which the maid and children’s nurse attended.  There were long hymns; prayers to say thank you to God and to ask Him to bless and help the drunkards in the village.  There was a Bible reading from a little book that had a special text for each day.  Those attending Chapel were mainly Leigh families, such as the Wellses, the Lucases and the Lamberts, but there were also people from Penshurst and Hildenborough.   On Sundays, there was Sunday School in the tin chapel at 9.30 am after breakfast.  At Chapel, no one usually led the actual service.  Sometimes the words of the hymns would run out before the music or vice versa.  There was no musical accompaniment – that would have been sinful.  But inevitably there would be those men spouting fire and brimstone.    After Sunday lunch, there was another Sunday School at 3.30 pm and then the Evening Service at 6’ish.   In addition, there would be a Cottage Meeting at various Brethren’s houses on Wednesday evening.  And there was also the Plymouth Brethren Mission that would arrive once a year in the summer.  It was held in a tent, which was erected in the meadow on the left before the railway – what is now the start of Well Close.  It was called ‘The Young Life Campaign’ and of course the Phipps family all went.  You could watch cricket on a Saturday but certainly not on a Sunday – it would be a sin.  There was a kind of Minister – a Mr Mitchell – who came from Hildenborough – particularly to administer Communion.  He was quite a disciplinarian with the children.   As a faith – everything was completely clear and straightforward: there were to be no variations: no thought.   For the Plymouth Brethren everyone else was wrong.

David Phipps’s father and mother were great givers to charity but did it quietly because the children never heard about it directly.  They had box with money in it for giving to poor people.  It had ‘For The Lord’s Work’ on it; and they always gave 10% of their income to charity.

Joyce Juggins[40], daughter of Bert Juggins, (LINK) who worked at Leigh Bakery and lived at Elvanin, moved to Leigh in 1935.  Every Sunday Bert and his wife went to Chapel.  They were devout chapel goers.   In those days Chapel was well-attended.  On Sundays no baking was done and no food was cooked in the house either.  There was a children’s service early on Sunday; later in the morning there was communion; then an afternoon service.  And finally an evening service, plus extra services such as funerals.  Joyce had to go to all of them.  Mr Juggins played the organ in the Chapel.  “It was quite large – Father looked quite small playing it.”  There was no permanent pastor or vicar and whoever felt the call would address the meeting.  However, there was an elder who came to administer communion.  Joyce wondered if people tried to take the biggest piece of bread, and was puzzled that they all had alcoholic wine in the service when she had frequently been told that people who drank alcohol were sinners.  It always seemed strange, too, when she talked to nice, kind people in the village and later she saw them come out of the Fleur.  Were they really evil as she had been told?  To this day Joyce has not been inside St Mary’s although she did watch a wedding from the outside.  Joyce had a straw bonnet – the old fashioned kind with a brim at the front only – which she only wore to Chapel.  It had yellow roses under the brim.   Just as outside speakers used to come to the Chapel, so her father used to go and be the speaker at other Chapels in the district.  And as she got older she was allowed to accompany her father which she always liked.  “They used to have lovely food, all beautifully laid out on tables”.

After the Second World War, according to Leigh resident, Margaret Allison, when she lived in the village from 1968-1972 at Pump Cottage, the Tin Chapel had two services each Sunday with 15-20 people attending the corrugated iron ‘tin chapel’ or ‘Tin Tabernacle’ as is was sometimes called, which was darkish green on the outside and inside had murals on the walls of mainly Biblical subjects – all very colourful – with its little porch and wooden pews.  It was narrow and long.  According to Margaret, during the 1960s and 1970s the services were congregational.

The end of the Chapel and the future of the Halls

On Wednesday 11 June 1952, the Leigh Free Church (Tin Chapel), the Village Halls and Institute including the premises occupied by the British Legion, the Scouts headquarters and the Allotments, all in the parish of Leigh, and the Chapel on Sevenoaks/Tonbridge road, all complete with fixtures and chattels, were conveyed to a charitable trust which was designated The Morley Charitable Trust.  Its inaugural trustees, besides Lord Hollenden, were L A Biddle, L R Brooker, Geoffrey Hope-Morley, A Houghton and C V Ingram.   For Lord Hollenden this was a way to assure their future.  The Trustees’ role would be to preserve these amenities for the village.   Then in 1983, the Morley Charitable Trust, under powers given to them by the 1952 Conveyance, transferred the Halls to the Village Hall Management Committee with the Parish Council acting a Custodian Trustee.[41]   The Royal British Legion was leased the clubroom and flat.   Under the new management, the many activities of the former Institute and many new activities continue today.

The Tin Chapel itself, however, had by the mid-1970s fallen out of use.  The last three pastors were Mr E J Lewis of Tunbridge Wells, a Mr Goodchild, and Mr A M Martin of Tonbridge.[42]  The Minister, Mr Goodchild, apparently retired without reference to the Trustees of the Morley Trust and when his ministry was investigated in December 1975 it was found he acted on behalf of the Assemblies of God, with headquarters in Nottingham and a chapel in Tonbridge.  During the winter of 1975/76 the Sunday services were stopped for lack of support, and although Friday evening Bible Classes continued for some time, these too eventually stopped.  Mr Martin wrote on 11 March 1976 that “due to lack of any physical interest on the part of adults in the village of Leigh to the Special Meetings which we have recently held, and the low numbers of children attending the Friday meetings, we have decided to discontinue our outreach in the village and therefore from the 11th March we will no longer require the use of the hall.  We wish to thank you for the usage you have allowed, and trust that it may continue to be used in God’s service.”[43]   The Morley Trust met on 27 August 1975 and decided that as there was no longer support for the Chapel in Leigh it would be closed down and the contents sold.  Prall Champion & Prall of Tonbridge undertook the sale which produced £144.50 on 14 January 1977 and the freehold was sold to Mr R G Hillier of Tunbridge Wells on 5 May 1977.

The sad end to the Tin Chapel building came in 1984.  On 25 January 1984 it was destroyed by fire.  This was reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier on 10 February 1984 when arson was suspected but not proved.[44]

What happened to the Burial Ground

The final part of the Chapel story comes with what happened to the burial ground.  This does still exist, at the side of the British Legion Club, below Wheelwrights Cottage.  The last burial took place in 1979.   There is a list of burials from 1873 – 1979 (LINK).  The local press reported the dispute about the burial ground between 1977 and 1982.[45]    The problem was that no one really knew who owned the piece of land when it was given to the Chapel back in the early 1870s.  While the Chapel was still functioning, there had been no dispute and it had been maintained by the Chapel members.  But following the Chapel’s demise, Alfred Houghton, Lord Hollenden’s agent, insisted that the graveyard belonged to the village and that the present Lord Hollenden and the Morley Trust had never been involved in its ownership.  As it was not a Church of England graveyard, there was no obligation for any local authority to look after it.   The Parish Council had been offered the burial ground in 1977 but had declined to take it over and by the 1980s, due to the then state of the burial ground and the cost of fencing in the land and of clearing it up, the Parish Council was not prepared to take it over.   The dispute ran on until eventually the Parish Council gave in and in June 1985 the executors of Samuel Morley transferred the Burial Ground to the care of Leigh Parish Council.


The Chapel or the Free Church in Leigh lasted for a hundred years but eventually suffered the fate of many such small chapels and non-conformist congregations in rural and village areas where there were no longer enough practising non-conformists to sustain them in small communities.  With the demise of Leigh Chapel, some may have returned to the established Church – which would have pleased the Rev. May – or were prepared to travel further afield to local towns where some non-conformist chapels – Baptists, Methodists and others – continue their good works for their members and the community to this day.

JOYCE FIELD (March 2017)


Lawrence Biddle “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900”
Notes by David Phipps in Leigh Archive
Notes by Joyce Juggins in Leigh Archive
Chris Rowley “We Had Everything . . .”
Edwin Hodder: The Life of Samuel Morley
Epitome of Title in Leigh Archives, in Leigh Archive
Excerpts from The Village Messenger 1883, 1885-1886
1870 Sales Particulars for Hall Place
1870 Ordnance Survey for Leigh
Kellys Directories 19th and 20th Century

[1] Edwin Hodder “The Life of Samuel Morley” p.374
[2] Lawrence Biddle “Leigh in Kent” p. 111
[3] Village Messenger Feb. 1883 (in Leigh Archive)
[4] Weald, Wesley and the World: article in Leigh Archives
[5] By the time of the 1871 census, Edward Outram is no longer living at Leigh.
[6] Looking at the Sales Particulars plan and comparing it to the 1870 Ordnance Survey, there is a cottage between Chilling House and the cottages located at what is now the Square – today this is ‘The Cottage’ on the High Street.  The Sales Particulars clearly shows outbuildings behind this ‘dwelling house’ which was divided into two tenements, plus harness maker’s shop and Baptist chapel at rear.
[7] According to the 1871 census, John Young was a cricket ball maker, who lived next to the Bat and Ball, where the Leigh shop is today.
[8] Lawrence Biddle “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900”, p.111
[9] Edwin Hodder “The Life of Samuel Morley” p.375
[10] Lawrence Biddle “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900” p. 129
[11] Ibid. p. 83
[12] Ibid. p.129
[13] Ibid. p. 129 but no date is given of construction.
[14] 1881 Census for Leigh (District 16)
[15] See Kellys Directories: 1913, 1918, 1922, 1930, 1938
[16] 1881 Census Leigh: Lower Park Cottage:  John Maxted, 49 Minister Undenominational b. Ramsgate; wife Emma aged 47 b. Holborn, and children: Ada 22 b. Cornwall; Jessie M 19, b. Cornwall; Edward 13, b. Dorset; Arthur 11 b. Fulham; Herbert 9 b. Fulham, Edgar 7 b. Leigh; Edith 5 b. Leigh.   Other censuses name three other children:  Emma b Coventry ca 1856; John b. Somerset ca 1863; George b. Dorset ca 1866.  John Maxted himself was the son of Henry Maxted and Elizabeth, baptized in Wesleyan Margate Hawley Square Chapel.  As a missionary and later Minister, the birth places of his children reflect how he travelled around in this role and after Leigh he would move to Tottenham, North London (1891 census) and Folkestone (1901 census).  He died in 1907.
[17] Village Messenger Jan/Feb. 1883 (in Leigh Archive)
[18] Rebekah Morley and Herbert Wilbraham Taylor married in 1872, but Rebekah died in November 1877 following the birth of their fourth child.
[19] 1871 Census:  James Kettle aged 47, gardener and born Suffolk, Wherstead and wife, Elizabeth aged 49 of Suffolk, Copdock, living at Hall Place.
[20] Edwin Hodder, “The Life of Samuel Morley” p. 377
[21] Lawrence Biddle:  “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900”  p. 71
[22] Ibid. P 71
[23] Edwin Hodder, “The Life of Samuel Morley” p. 379-385
[24] Ibid. p. 384
[25] Ibid p. 380
[26] See note 14 above.
[27] 1891 and 1901 censuses.
[28] Kellys Directory 1913 refers to the undenominational chapel erected in 1871 but that in 1908 it had been formed into an Institute and Library and a smaller chapel was erected by Lord Hollenden in the same year.
[29] 1913 and 1918 Kellys:  Leigh Institute Caretaker: W Passingham; Hon. Sec. was Hon. G Hope Morley.  1922: Caretaker is Charles Bennett.  1930:  Leigh Institute Hon. Sec and Treasurer:  Alfred Houghton, but the text says that it was now a village hall and institute.  In 1938 Alfred Houghton was still in this role.
[30] Chris Rowley “We Had Everything …” ps. 147-149
[31] See notes 24 and 25 above.
[32] In a document entitled Epitome of Title in respect of conveyances of properties and lands formerly owned by Hall Place, there is reference to a Deed of Discharge dated 7 February 1958 by Rt Hon Claude Hope hope-Morley and Lawrence Austin Biddle the Trustees that they were discharged from the Trusts of the Settlement as far as the following properties were concerned:   property no. 2 in the list is Institute Cottage.
[33] Chris Rowley “We had Everything …” p.163
[34] Chris Rowley “We had Everything…”
[35] Ibid. p 16
[36] 6 members of the Wells family were buried in the Chapel burial ground – see Chapel Burial registers
[37] Chris Rowley “We had Everything …” ps. 117-119
[38] Ibid. p163
[39] The full transcript of the memories of David Phipps are on the website and in the Leigh Archives
[40] The full transcript of the memories of Joyce Juggins are on the website and in the Leigh Archives
[41] Information from typed notes in the Leigh Historical Society archive by Alfred Houghton
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Kent & Sussex Courier 10.2.1984: article in Leigh Archives
[45] In Leigh Archive