Worship in Leigh 1876–1883

Christopher Miles, the Vicar of Leigh 1980-1990, has made a study of the service register for the period 1876-1883. The following are some of his findings.

Not only the pattern of worship in St. Mary, but also something of what was important and what was popular, can be seen from the registers. The typical service pattern was a Sunday morning service at 11 a.m. and a Sunday afternoon service at 3.30 p.m. or, as it is recorded, 3½ p.m. All services would have been from the Book of Common Prayer. Other than occasional communions, Sunday mornings would have had Morning Prayer (Mattins) and Sunday afternoons, Evening Prayer (Evensong). In 1876 communion was administered on 16 occasions with a total of 629 communicants, almost 40 per service. In 1881 a mission service was held in the Powder Mills, nine special services were held in barns for hop pickers by a missionary with an average attendance of 30. There were 170 services in Church with 127 sermons, 19 burials, 2 marriages, 27 baptisms and 20 churchings. Why weren’t more people getting married? Well, in 1882, 7 couples got married and burials dropped to 14, so perhaps the population was more than holding its own. In relation to the overall population, in 1882 there were 224 inhabited houses with a population of 1133.

Saints days were observed much more than nowadays, with a 7½ p.m. service on the major saints days. In 1876 Harvest Festival was celebrated at 7½ p.m. on a Friday, 29 th September, with the comment, ‘not a vacant place in the Church, Mr. and Miss Morley and family present’ [Samuel Morley was, of course, a non-conformist and did not normally attend St Marys]. On 4 th October, a Wednesday, at 4½ p.m. there was a ‘Children’s Service and Distribution of Fruits and Vegetables to the poor’. The text for the sermon was Luke 2 v 49 (work that one out!).

Collections were taken when Holy Communion was administered and were typically £2 to £3. In 1877 the Harvest Festival collection was £42.16s.5d. On 30 th January 1878 a special collection of £16.8s.3d was taken for the new organ (still the present pipe organ) which was formally ‘opened’ on 16 th April 1879 when the Archdeacon of Maidstone was the preacher; 16 clergymen and a large congregation attended. There was also a large congregation in the afternoon for an organ recital.

A few interesting notes from various years include: the introduction of a new hymnbook in January 1875; a particularly large congregation in July 1880 with 73 school children and 40 P.M. School (does this refer to the school at Powder Mills?); and, most mystifyingly, in November 1882 at a Friday Mission Service, ‘Rev’d J. Podmore thrown out of carriage at Gate Inn’.

Clearly worship was evolving, albeit at a slower pace then than now, with new instruments, new hymns and outreach to the village as a whole.

Parish Magazine Article: Sept 2005