Leigh Church – A vicar, why not a Rector?

The following article was written by Lawrence Biddle in the Leigh Parish Magazine May 1984

The neighbouring parish of Penshurst has a Rector, why should Leigh, which is the older church, have a Vicar?

To find the answer you have to look back to 1348 when, after a serious fire at the Priory and Convent of Tonbridge, Edward III granted the Tonbridge Priory a licence to appropriate the church at Leigh and thereby recuperate some of their losses.  Five years later the Bishop of Rochester confirmed the appropriation with the qualification that the Priory should provide a Vicar to carry out the duties at Leigh in substitution for the Rector and should build a Vicarage.  From the date of the appropriation the Priory was entitled to collect the tithes from the parish of Leigh and, subject to a small payment to the Vicar, they used the tithes as part of their endowment.

In 1525, at the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII possessed himself of the property of the Priory and Convent of Tonbridge including the Rectory of Leigh and gave it to Wolsey who applied it towards the endowment of Cardinals College at Oxford (now Christ Church).  When Cardinal Wolsey fell from favour, all his property, including the rectory at Leigh, was forfeited to the Crown and in 1563 Henry Sidney became the lay Rector and the lay Rectory, with the right to collect tithes, has been in the hands of the Sidney family ever since.

The lay Rector was not only entitled to collect tithes but he was also the owner of the Chancel while the parishioners owned the nave of the church.  When the church was restored in 1862 the parish employed Charles Baily as its architect to restore the nave while Lord de Lisle employed George Devey as his architect for the restoration of the chancel.  By Act of Parliament, during the 19th century, a tithe rent charge payable in cash was substituted for the old right to collect tithes which were a tenth part of the actual produce of the land.

Though the right to collect tithe rent charge disappeared under the provisions of the 1936 Tithe Act, the incumbent of Leigh is today the Vicar and not the Rector as a result of the grant by Edward III to the Priory and Convent of Tonbridge and the action taken by Henry VIII on the dissolution of the monasteries.

Lawrence Biddle (May 1984)