Leigh – The Parish
Leigh (at various times spelt Lye or Lyghe and meaning a forest clearing) lies in the Weald of Kent to the south of the Sevenoaks Ridge and north of the River Medway. It is a village in a rural environment close to a major London commuter railway and to the built up areas comprising Sevenoaks, Hildenborough and Tonbridge. It is however, still physically separated from all of these towns by open farmland and woods and retains a strong sense of its own separate identity.
The civil parish of Leigh also includes the hamlets of Charcott and Moorden to the west and Powder Mills to the east. The village itself still has a Post Office/General Stores which provides a wide range of vital goods and services, and also a garage, hairdressers, a public house and several small businesses, which include a garden machinery shop and the country’s leading Corvette dealership and workshop, Dart Motors. The parish also includes the Environment Agency office for the South East including the organisation for the Leigh Barrage. Charcott has its own public house and, along with Moorden, is served by a Post Office/General Stores at Chiddingstone Causeway.
There has always been a well developed community spirit in the parish and in 2004 Leigh was awarded the Large Villages winner in the Community Life category, runner up in the Older People category and highly commended in the Business category in the Kent Village of the Year Awards.
Although the origins of the village are difficult to determine, a hamlet existed by the latter part of the 11th century being part of the Lordship of Tonbridge and by the end of the 12th century it clearly had a significant population as three moated farmhouses date from this period.
In the 14th century the stone Parish Church was built and large areas of land surrounding the village were acquired by the owner of Penshurst Place, Sir John Pulteney. The estate passed from him to the Sidney family (originally the Earls of Leicester and later Viscounts de Lisle and Dudley) in 1533 and they retained ownership of parts of the land around Leigh until the early 20th century when much of it was sold. Several houses in the village built by the family in the 19th century have plaques bearing the family crest of the Bear and Ragged Staff.
Three events in the 19th century changed the nature of the village, the first being the acquisition of Hall Place by the Baily family in 1820 and the second its purchase by the Morley family in 1870. Both families undertook substantial building works in the village employing talented architects, Charles Baily, George Devey, Ernest George and George Bodley, each of whom, by the use of local materials and distinctive vernacular design, gave the village many of its most distinguished buildings and design characteristics, including Hall Place, East and Old Lodges, The Square, Forge Square, the Village Hall and the School Master’s House. Samuel Morley also employed Robert Marnock, probably the best known landscape gardener of the Victorian era to lay out the extensive gardens around Hall Place.
The third significant event was the construction of the Tonbridge to Redhill railway in 1842 along the southern edge of the village. This not only brought an influx of new residents, but also its embankment created a natural physical boundary effectively preventing any expansion of the village further south.
The original core of the village is designated as a Conservation Area which, in broad terms, extends from Park House and Kennards in the north east to the entrance lodge to Hall Place in the west and includes the area surrounding the Green, the Church and the area immediately to the south of it, the High Street and land to the east of Kiln Lane. Within the Conservation Area are 49 Listed Buildings or structures.
Until the mid 20th century the predominant source of local employment was agriculture although the village also had a brickworks along with a number of shops and a forge. A large number of villagers were employed at the nearby cricket ball factories and gunpowder works, and others at Hall Place.
Increased mechanisation resulted in a drastic reduction of agricultural jobs, and the closure of the other small industries has meant that traditional jobs have virtually disappeared. Most residents now commute to jobs in West Kent or London, but there is still some local employment in small light industrial estates within the parish, and an increasing number of self-employed people work from home.