Restoration of Leigh Church 1861

From an article by Lawrence Biddle in Leigh Parish Magazine May 1982

Leigh Church would have been in a very poor condition now if it had not been virtually rebuilt in 1861.

The Nave of a church belongs to the parish while the Chancel is the property of the Rector, and Leigh, since the Reformation, has had a lay Rector, Lord de Lisle.  When the restoration was proposed the Parish and the lay Rector employed different architects.  The Parish employed Charles Baily, a relation of the owner of Hall Place and the lay Rector employed George Devey who had at that date carried out much work at Penshurst Place and was later to design the present Hall Place.

In the case of the Parish Church, the work carried out involved the entire re-roofing of the Nave and the replacement of a wooden belfry by a stone tower.  The print, which shows the church in course of restoration, shows the porch still standing but it is likely that the upper part of the porch was substantially rebuilt (see opp. page 96 in Leigh in Kent 1550-1900 by L Biddle).

The work carried out by the lay Rector was the removal of the lean-to roof over the south chancel aisle and the erection of a new south wall to the aisle carrying an entirely new ridge roof.  At the same time the small octagonal tower was built as a private entrance for the lay Rector.  It now forms the Vicar’s vestry.

A watercolour in the church shows the interior after the restoration.  The box pews had been replaced by the present pews and the pulpit was nearer to the centre aisle with steps leading to it from near the vestry door.

In 1879 the present organ was purchased and in 1893 there was a public appeal for funds and the screen, the panelling in the chancel and the reredos were erected to designs by Bodley and Garner.  No doubt the parish was keeping up with Penshurst which had put up a rather similar screen also designed by Bodley in the previous year.

The clock was put into the Tower to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and in 1903 the present Vestry, also to Bodley’s design, was erected in memory of Thomas Sturgess, the agent to the Penshurst Estate, who had been a churchwarden for a great many years.

Since 1903 there have been many gifts to the Church including the gift of the sixth bell by Sir Robert Gower in 1931 but no substantial alteration to the fabric.