Samuel Morley at Leigh

The following 6 articles appeared in the Leigh Parish Magazine from Sept 2012/Mar 2013  

Samuel Morley – Part I

Samuel Morley (artist unknown)


A recent talk given at the Historical Society told us something about the life of Samuel Morley: born in Hackney and living at Stamford Hill before he arrived at Leigh in 1870, his family’s business was in the making and selling of hosiery – with factories in the Midlands, and there is a statue to him in Nottingham.

He was a non-conformist, who being prevented from attending university (this changed in 1870), attended a dissenters’ academy.  As an evangelical Christian and a chapel-going dissenter, he believed his role was to do God’s work on earth.  As such he objected to statutory discrimination against non-conformists, but he was not in favour of disestablishment and provided financial support to C of E schools. He spent generously in supporting non-conformist churches and the establishment of new churches.  He was also influential in the temperance movement – although it is not known whether he was teetotal, temperance had more to do with drinking in moderation.  In this respect he supported the Old Vic as a temperance music hall, which served only soft drinks.

He became a liberal, a chartist and supported the abolition of the Corn Law that kept prices high by making imported corn too dear.  In 1865 he was elected as one of the four MPS for Nottingham, but soon resigned his seat because of the antics of some of his supporters and instead from 1868 to 1885 he represented Bristol.  As a Gladstonian liberal he supported Irish home rule.  He fostered children’s education.  He also backed the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, by which women suspected of prostitution could be compulsorily examined for venereal disease, a cause for which the Victorian philanthropist, Josephine Butler, fought.  Samuel Morley’s work on housing conditions resulted in the introduction of damp courses:  interestingly, however, even earlier in the early 1860s (before Samuel Morley came to Leigh) the Constable family put in a quotation to the Vestry for the replacement of two cottages near the railway arch on Lower Green.  This estimate included work to provide a damp course for these new cottages.  They won the contract (these cottages were later pulled down).

Samuel Morley was also a director of the Daily News, widening its readership by reducing the price from 3d to 1d.  The paper ran a campaign against the ‘white slave traffic’ of young girls – children effectively sold by their poor parents to the continent.  He also helped to get the age of consent to 16.

Therefore, Samuel Morley led a very active public life – both in Parliament and in supporting causes dear to him. In his private life, the greatest event (according to Edwin Hodder “The Life of Samuel Morley by Edwin Hodder”  (written 1887) was in 1870 “his removal from Craven Lodge, Stamford Hill to the beautiful mansion at Hall Place, Tonbridge.  It was a neighbourhood for which he had long had an affection, and ten years before, in a letter to Mr Joshua Wilson, he had expressed the hope that some day he might make his home there”.

Of course, having said that he did pull it down and rebuild it – so perhaps it is his move to the countryside that was the greatest event in his private life – along with the new house that he built at Hall Place.  He lived at Hall Place Leigh from 1870-1886.  Leigh, as we know, was originally spelt and pronounced Lyghe and is located a mile and a half from Hildenborough – and in 1870 was on the  South-Eastern Railway, four miles west from Tonbridge, and six miles south from Sevenoaks.  In 1870, therefore, Leigh was accessible to London as it still is today.

Samuel Morley – Part II

The following articles (over the next few months) are based on extracts on Samuel Morley’s time at Leigh taken from Edwin Hodder’s book “The Life of Samuel Morley”, written in 1887 (full text of chapter to  be found at

When he arrived at Leigh and Hall Place, Samuel Morley “found its entrance situated close by the parish church of Leigh.  It was a building of flint and stone, in the Early English style; the drive, gradually rising through the park, and beside a broad sheet of water, leads to the house”.

At that time Hall Place was “a handsome Elizabethan mansion of red brick and stone, standing in a wooded park of nearly two hundred acres”.  The house was “covered with ivy, save where the purple clematis and other creepers throw their clustering flowers”.

“This old Elizabethan mansion stood near to the present site of the house, and was one of the principal attractions in inducing Mr Morley to purchase the property.  But the house had, however, been very badly built and required considerable alteration to meet modern requirements.  Finding at length that it could not be adapted, Mr Morley, after careful consideration decided to have it pulled down and an entirely new building erected.  But the ivy covering it has grown so rapidly, it is difficult to realize that the present Hall Place only dates from 1870”.

Samuel Morley “found there was much work to be done” at Leigh when he arrived.  As we know he was a great philanthropist and as such took a great interest in the well-being of this parish.  Samuel Morley “did not, however, proceed at once to bring about certain changes which he thought would be of benefit to the neighbourhood, but gradually, and in the course of several years, he effected one improvement after another, until he wrought a transformation of the village”.

Edwin Hodder lists much of the work undertaken by Samuel Morley at Leigh:

“The drainage of the village was very imperfect: he had it put in a state of thorough efficiency, almost entirely at his own expense.  The water was not good or abundant: he had a well dug and machinery erected to pump and filter the water into a reservoir holding 13,000 gallons; he caused four fountains to be placed in the village, so that pure and good water could be within the reach of all, and a plentiful supply in a granite trough for dogs and horses”.

“He found that there was no proper recreation ground for the villagers: he caused one to be made and planted with trees, with a good road round it, and paths across it”.

“The cottages needed radical improvement: he had some reconstructed and new ones built of a model type”.

“The villagers had no ground to cultivate as gardens: he set aside a plot of land for the purposes, cut it up into sections, and let them at a low rate.  Cottage gardening was at a discount: he offered prizes for the best kept gardens and plants, and gave his gardener carte blanche to supply, free of charge, trees and shrubs to ornament the cottage gardens”.

In Edwin Hodder’s words “he found it a neglected village, and, as the gradual work of years, he transformed it into one of the neatest and prettiest in the country”.

We know that Samuel Morley was a keen evangelical Christian and chapel-going dissenter, and was keen to look after the spiritual needs of the villagers too.   In 1870 the vicar at Leigh “was a man of considerable age”, who had been Vicar there for nearly half a century, and who “prided himself in having only on three occasions been absent from his pulpit on Sunday during that period”.  This would have been Rev. Thomas May – son of Rev. Nathaniel May, (Vicar of Leigh 1811-1830).  The Rev. Thomas May appointed himself Vicar of Leigh in 1830, and held the position until 1876.  According to Lawrence Biddle (Leigh in Kent 1550-1900) the Rev. Thomas May was “a man of property who did not in any sense have to rely on his stipend as Vicar for his subsistence”.  He built what are today Kennards and Upper Kennards.  He presided over the restoration of the church in 1863 and paid for recasting the bells before they were re-hung in the new tower.  He had been a caring and conscientious incumbent at Leigh, but it appears that during the last years of his ministry difficulties arose following the arrival of Samuel Morley at Hall Place.

In 1870, other than the established Church there was only one other place of worship in Leigh – in a small room, where the Associated Methodists met for religious services, but they had not constituted themselves into a church.  “Among these people, Mr Morley’s eldest daughter cast in her lot, and nourished the little cause with help such as it had never had before.  In all her efforts she had the sympathy and support of her father, with whom her influence was very great”.

His eldest daughter, Rebecca, “had long devoted herself to Christian work, and at Stamford Hill, and elsewhere, her labours had been attended with remarkable success.  She had the rare gift of speaking straight to the hearts of people in simple but stirring language, and winning them into paths of righteousness.  Moreover, she had considerable literary skill, and carried on an important “ministry” by means of her pen.  One of the first steps to arouse the religious interest of the people at Leigh was to invite Mr Hurditch, a popular evangelist, to hold a series of mission services in a tent – a proceeding which raised gave doubts in the mind of the good vicar” (namely the Rev. May).

Samuel Morley – Part III

Samuel Morley’s daughter’s active enthusiasm for non-conformity and invitation to popular evangelists to preach at Leigh caused problems with the Rev. Thomas May.

Taking part in the meetings she organized at Leigh was a Mr Maxted.  “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.  In the course of time, as spiritual interest was aroused, and the gospel was accepted, those who professed to have become Christians naturally asked ‘What are we to do for the future? and what ordinances are we to have?’  These were difficult questions, but the first step towards an answer was to build a chapel”.

This is what did eventually happen – and a substantial “undenominational chapel” was built, “and behind it a red-brick cottage was added, in which were rooms for Sunday school purposes.  Chapel, schoolhouse, and grounds were made not only attractive, but really beautiful, and soon the buildings were adorned with ivy and climbing plants, and surrounded by flowering shrubs”.

In fact, according to Lawrence Biddle (Leigh in Kent 1550-1900), the Rev. Thomas May 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 . . .”.    For the Rev. May’s pleasure at seeing a more religious spirit growing up amongst the faithful of his flock was lessened by “finding a disposition amongst so many of you to quit my fold”.  He expressed particular concern at “teaching that Christ died for a portion only of mankind – the elect as they are called”.  This part of the address was no doubt inserted because Mr Maxted was influenced by the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren – views which Samuel Morley’s daughter appeared to hold also.

Although Samuel Morley was “in profound sympathy with his daughter, whose influence was so powerful for good”, he did not necessarily agree with the opinions of many branches of the religious community with which she was connected.  There was also the question of the sacraments to be settled: after all “Mr Maxted was not an ordained minister, and professed to be unsectarian, or, in other words, was in full sympathy with those known as ‘Open Brethren’.  Mr Morley saw that he was doing a good work, and, although in doubt ‘whereunto this would tend’, he did not feel himself free to alter a system of things which satisfied the people, and was leading them into a higher and better life.  Under these influences, and seeing that there was no intention of ‘founding a Church’, he consented that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated from time to time, but in the schoolroom, not in the chapel.  Later on, a discussion arose as to what is termed Believers’ Baptism, and, yielding to the wish of the people, Mr Morley erected a baptistery at his own expense.  And so it came to pass that, although to all intents and purposes, the chapel was undenominational, the Sacraments were administered in a manner identical with those of the ‘Open Brethren’.”

Edwin Hodder goes on to write that “Mr Morley was not in any sense of degree an Open or a Plymouth Brother.  He never swerved for a moment from his earliest belief on the question of Infant Baptism; he loved the orderly and usual method of administering the Lord’s Supper; and he remained, what he had always been, a Congregationalist”.

“He nevertheless attended the ordinary services at the chapel, and, occasionally, the Communion.  When asked why he did so, he would reply, ‘Why? because I like the simplicity of the meeting, that is all’.. .”

“ ‘Think and let think’ had ever been his motto with regard to the religious tendencies of his children, some of whom were Nonconformists, and some were members of the Established Church. He had never been anxious that they should be Dissenters, still less that they should espouse any particular form of Dissent”.  “He set before them his own life, and, when asked to do so, his own views, but he never by one word urged them to be either Nonconformists or Conformists”.   It appears that for Samuel Morley each had to follow the dictates of his/her “own conscience as in the sight of God”.   And also that it had gratified him “to be brought into contact with the Church of England through his own children”.

Samuel Morley – Part IV

At Leigh Samuel Morley pursued his non-conformity whilst accepting that his own children would make their own decisions as to religion.  Edwin Hodder writes “And many a time he declared that if the lifting up of his finger would have led them back to Nonconformity, he would not have done it.  In the selection of a minister his principal thought was for the poor – his family were now grown up, and could care for themselves” and “opposed as he was to the Church Establishment and caring very little for Church ritual, he was nevertheless on the most cordial and friendly terms with the old vicar of the parish, and entered into schemes of usefulness originated by the new vicar with the utmost liberality, thus acting in sympathy with another portion of his family circle”.  (Although as said before, there were tensions between the Rev. May and Samuel Morley over matters of conscience).

In 1876 the Rev. Hugh Collum took over as Vicar of Leigh for the next 30 years.  Edwin Hodder’s chapter on Samuel Morley’s time at Leigh gives in full a letter from the Rev. Hugh Collum (to the author) which gives some insight into Samuel Morley’s relations with the Vicar and the work he carried out on behalf of the Parish.

The Rev. Collum made the acquaintance of Samuel Morley immediately on arriving at Leigh. As well as neighbours, they became good friends despite the fact – according to Rev. Collum – that by this time the parish was “largely nonconformist”.

Hugh Collum became Chairman of the  school Committee, which met at Hall Place, when he describes his treatment by “Mr Morley” as courteous, although Mr Morley expressed “his personal preference for a thoroughly unsectarian school system” he did agree to compromise in the case of Leigh School “that the Conscience Cause 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”.  According to Rev. Collum “This modus vivendi being perfectly in accord with law, reason, and conscience, I expressed myself as fully satisfied with”

Rev Collum goes on to write that “during the ten years in which I was so closely associated with Mr Morley in the management of the Leigh Schools, though from time to time questions of difficulty and delicacy arose, owing to the ecclesiastically divided condition of the parish – questions requiring in their solution tact, judgement and good temper – I invariably received from my lamented friend the most loyal and generous support.  Over and over again he expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied with the impartial manner in which matters were conducted.  Though an admirer and supporter of the Board School system, he said there was ‘no need for its introduction into Leigh parish’”.

Rev. Hugh Collum goes on to tell some of the works carried out by Mr Morley for Leigh: the building at his own expense a new infant department, costing some £300 and contributing towards an “admirable play-room for the children”.  He also had the idea of establishing penny dinners for the benefit of the children coming from outlying districts.

Mr Morley also gave at Hall Place an annual autumnal school treat for the children and teachers and friends.  “He had a shake of the hand, a friendly greeting, a kindly look for all.” He would distribute prizes at the event.  He would welcome anyone, whether Churchman or Nonconformist, and to give them an opportunity of addressing the children.

Another Society in which Samuel Morley was involved at Leigh was on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society, whose meetings he always attempted to attend where possible.  The meetings were particularly interesting when the African missionary, Dr Moffat attended.  (Dr Moffat lived at Leigh from 1879 until his death in 1883 at Park House:  his daughter had married David Livingstone.)

Mr Morley also contributed to the building fund for the new vicarage house, which was much needed and to the new organ at the Church.

Samuel Morley – Part V

In the last article, we were looking at a letter written by the Rev. Hugh Collum to Edwin Hodder about Samuel Morley:  we continue with extracts from this particular letter below.

Hugh Collum wrote that Mr Morley always made a point of being present at the Harvest Thanksgiving Festivals of the church at Leigh – for he took a lively interest in this and other services, meetings and temperance meetings, always generous “with his purse, and likewise with his presence, when he could make it possible to attend”.  He even attended and presided over a vegetarian supper, under the auspices of the London Vegetarian Society – as part of the cookery classes held at Leigh.

He also (as mentioned previously) improved the drainage and water supply of the village, was involved in the school penny bank and library schemes.

At the beginning of each year, Samuel Morley gave a substantial tea to the workmen he employed at Leigh, and their families – some 150 and presented a present, consisting of useful articles, to each one who worked on the estate.  On such occasions as these the Rev. Collum attended to say a few words.  Of course Samuel Morley also spoke on causes dear to him – the evil of intemperance as productive of pauperism, domestic strife and misery, and the advantages of total abstinence – of the happiness of honest and conscientious toil.   Rev. Collum wrote: “He was wont, on such occasions, to say, that he himself worked harder and more constantly than any of those whom he addressed, though in work of a different kind to theirs, and that his, unlike their work, was never finished.  He said he wished the connection between them to be not a mere matter of work and wages – that he desired that they should regard him as their friend and counsellor, to whom they could freely come for advice and help in any difficulty. . “

There were anomalies involved in the existing union between the Church and State of which Samuel Morley disapproved and could not reconcile with the New Testament, such as the nomination of bishops by the Prime Minister of the day – on the negative action – he considered, of the bishops in the House of Lords on questions of liberal policy and social amelioration and progress.  But he admired the services rendered to civil and religious liberty and the evangelization of the people by Nonconformists.  Rev. Collum writes: “He once asked me ‘Where would Christianity have been in Cornwall if it had not been for the Methodists?’  At the same time, he was painfully conscious that both the Church and the Nonconformists had signally failed in touching and getting a hold of multitudes of people who were leading practically heathen lives.  He more than once spoke to me about the utter insufficiency of church and chapel accommodation if all who might attend some place of worship were suddenly to make up their minds to do so.  He was deeply impressed by the serious character of the times”.

Rev. Collum writes that Mr Morley had been censured by Churchmen for introducing non-conformity into their parishes – but 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”.  It was his faith that ensured his benevolence and philanthropy went hand in hand.   The Rev. Collum believed that “Mr Morley’s idea evidently was, that so long as the people are reached by personal sympathy and friendly contact, rescued from sin and won to Christianity, it mattered comparatively little by what particular ecclesiastical agency or means the result was obtained.  He was accordingly thankful if church or chapel, lay or female agency, freelance or delegate of some recognized body, succeeded in this”.

The Rev. Collum goes on to write that “Not having made a special study of ecclesiastical history, he (Mr Morley) did not seem to appreciate, or attach any special importance to, what Churchmen would call the Divine origin, historic character, and claims of the Church of England, as a true and living branch of the Catholic and Apostolic Church.  ‘You know’ he was wont to say to me, ‘I am a thorough Non-conformist’.  He once said to me, ‘All my life long I have stoutly protested against the claims of authority in matters of religion as against the Divine right of private judgment and conscience.  I am a firm believer in personal character and personal influence.  I am ready to yield all due deference to that, but am not prepared to yield to ecclesiastical authority as such’ . . .

In the Rev. Collum’s view, Samuel Morley was a born leader of men and “what his reason and conscience dictated, that he was prepared to carry through, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles”. 

Samuel Morley – Part VI

But, of course, like all of us, in his life at Leigh there were joys and sorrows.  Samuel Morley’s children were grown by the time he moved to Leigh – many had already moved on to take their places in life.

“In 1872, two of his sons, Howard and Arnold, made a tour in America, and it was with no little interest he received from them long filial letters, telling him, as frankly as in days of yore, all that they had seen and done and heard”.

Also in 1872, his eldest daughter (Rebekah) was engaged to be married to Mr Herbert Wilbraham Taylor.  Referring to this in a letter to his daughter Augusta, Mr Morley said:-

Wood Street, March 29, 1872

I cannot think at present about her leaving us without a feeling of desolation, which I can hardly describe, but I am sure will yield to further thought, and especially as I see so clearly her Heavenly Father’s hand guiding in the most important step.  I feel thankful in the conviction that there will be a union of service as well as of affection.

Rebecca and Herbert W Taylor married on 16 May 1872.  “It proved to be a union of affection as well as of service, and in all parts of the country there were those who traced the beginning of new life to her loving ministrations.  But the period of work in her new sphere was limited and in November 1877, shortly after the birth of her fourth child, her life-task was done”.    Edwin Hodder writes ” It was their joy to believe that for her ‘to depart was far better’, but the very strength of this belief made those who were left behind more painfully conscious of their loss.  The fact that she was so ripe for heaven, made the survivors all the more desirous to have detailed her awhile longer on the earth”.  Mr Morley wrote many letters at this sorrowful time.  She had been actively involved at the meeting house at Leigh, where she was so well known and loved, and was a great loss to the community.  This strength of feeling endeared the “undenominational chapel” as yet more and more to Mr Morley, who engaged actively in establishing similar organizations in other villages near Leigh, where he felt a need existed.

Thus, Samuel Morley continued to “advance the interests of the neighbourhood in which he dwelt, he did it heartily.  He accepted the Commission of the Peace; he performed all the duties of the Squire of the parish; he rendered valuable assistance to the Liberal cause in that part of the county of Kent, and on the alteration of the parliamentary divisions, brought about by the Redistribution Bill, he took a most active share in the reorganization of the Liberal party in the Tonbridge Division, besides assisting the candidates who sought the suffrages of the electorate”

Referred to earlier (in Part IV) was the Rev. Dr. Moffat.  In 1879 “the venerable missionary took up his abode in the village of Leigh, in a picturesque little house known as Park Cottage, embosomed in shrubs and evergreens.  On his arrival a warm welcome awaited him from Mr and Mrs Samuel Morley, whose tenant he had become, and their thoughtful attention to the comfort of the grand old hero never wavered from that day until he had ‘finished his course’.  He attended the chapel regularly every Sunday morning and often in the afternoon, and was always glad to help in the services.  It was curious to see, in that remote little village meeting-house, two such men as Samuel Morley and Robert Moffat – men whose names were of world-wide repute”.

Those years at Leigh formed a calm and happy time for the aged missionary.  His biographer – his son –  (The Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat p. 400 by John S Moffat) writes “He was so pleased to show his visitors Mr Morley’s beautiful grounds, upon the charms of which he would expatiate with all the zest of a connoisseur”.   In May, 1883, the Rev. Moffat went up to see Mr and Mrs Morley at Hall Place and spent two hours with them.  However, a few months later, as the Rev. Moffat lay dying “he was very pleased to receive a visit from Mr Morley, whom he truly loved and thanked him warmly for sparing time from his many engagements.  He talked with wonderful vigour of the mysteriousness of Providence, and was evidently clinging to the hope of the restitution of all things, but wound up with the words, ‘It is all a mystery.  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

“A few days later, Mr Morley stood beside the grave, at Norwood Cemetery, of his friend and neighbour, the great Apostle of South Africa”.


Samuel Morley died in 1886 and is buried in the family vault of the late John Morley of Hackney, in Abney Park Cemetery (Stoke Newington).  The inscription says Samuel Morley of Hall Place, Tonbridge  ‘A Servant of Jesus Christ’. 


Parish Magazine Articles: Sept 2012/Mar 2013: by Joyce Field