Leigh Church during the Incumbency of Rev. Hugh Collum
During the course of recent work in the church it was necessary to move the wall memorial to Rev Hugh Collum from the north wall of the north transept to the west wall of the transept. It is a simple stone plaque and the lettering is of exceptionally high quality which leads me to wonder whether it could be by Eric Gill or more likely one of his many pupils.
Hugh Collum was Vicar of Leigh from 1876 for 30 years which is much longer than the incumbency of any of his successors. Though the church had been restored in the time of Rev. Thomas May he made many improvements to the interior from which we benefit today.
When he arrived he found a vicarage which was old, surrounded partially by a moat and very damp and his first step was to organize the building of a new vicarage. The building was on the higher site and the house which is now known as “The Old Vicarage”. The foundation stone of the new vicarage was laid on 5 March 1877 by Samuel Morley in the presence of 300 parishioners and neighbours and 200 children. The building was completed and occupied in the following year.
Soon after his induction he raised the money for the purchase of the pipe organ which was installed in 1879 to replace the harmonium which was moved to the school. In 1892/3 he organised the refurnishing of the Chancel, moved the font from the cross aisle to its present position in the Tower. He remounted the pulpit on its present stone base and moved the access stairs from the north to the south side of the pulpit. In 1901 the vestry was built as a memorial to Thomas Sturgess. For all this work George Bodley, the leading church architect of that period, was employed.
Fortunately we have an account of the church in this period written by Florence Martin who was born in 1871 when her father was tenant of The Goat’s Head, now Porcupine House, and who became first tenant of the Fleur-de-Lys shortly afterwards. Her father died comparatively young, leaving a widow, Harriet with eight children. On her husband’s death she was appointed cleaner of the church, a post which she held until her death thirteen years later. As a girl of five, Florence remembers being taken to church. “The services seemed long especially the sermons in Rev Thomas May’s time”.
When she first knew the church, the Hall Place pew was on the north side of the chancel and “the younger members of Hall Place attended church regularly”. Of course, the older members of Hall Place, such as Samuel Morley and his wife, were lifelong Congregationalists and would have attended the Chapel he built and not the church.
The Sunday School boys sat on some very old forms and the Sunday School girls had “two long pews down the south aisle.” “The Sunday School was held at 10.00 am and 2.30pm every Sunday in the school and was well attended, the older children marching to the church for the morning service and coming out before the sermon.”
Harvest Festival was on Friday and repeated on Sunday and she remembers “seats all down the aisle and people up in the chancel.” “So different now (1942), those days people loved their church.”
After her mother’s death, Florence and her brother took over as cleaner and verger. “We did it together and loved it, perhaps not always.” “We were young then and there were a great many more services in the week and we had to attend, not leave it to others.” “It was in Rev. Collum‘s time that surplices and psalm singing were introduced.” Presumably before that time the psalms were spoken. Even in those days there were objectors. “When surplices were introduces in the choir Isaac Ingram, his brother William and Frank Martin refused to wear them. They continued in the choir but remained in their seats when the robed choir walked out.”
“We used to have a lady organist.” This would have been before Geoffrey Hitchcock’s father took over as choirmaster. Florence Martin records that when the organ was forest installed the organist “sat with her back to the altar.” This means that the organ was at a right angle to its present position with the organist sitting under the furthest east of the two arches between the chancel and the south chancel. We know that in 1893 the organ was moved into its present position at a cost of £12! From the point of view of the organist the original position would be far better than the present position. She mentions that the small table in the vestry was the original Communion Table. I understand that the top of this table now forms the top of the chest of drawers now in the south chancel. It is a very unusual top made of squares of wood and is clearly much older than the chest which it covers.
Florence Martin wrote her account in 1942. She and her mother worked as cleaners for 53 years. The Rev. Thomas May and the Rev. Hugh Collum served as Vicars for a total of 74 years.
(Parish Magazine article: February 1996 by Lawrence Biddle)