Architect in Leigh: George Frederick Bodley (b. 1827-1907)

An architect in Leigh Church

The village of Leigh is fortunate in that the course of its development in the 19th century was controlled by a series of very capable architects, Charles Baily (rebuilt nave of Leigh Church), George Devey, Ernest George (Forge Square, South View and The Square) and George Frederick Bodley.  Of these by far the best known for ecclesiastical work was Bodley.

He was born in 1827 in Hull, the son of a doctor, and at the age of eighteen he was articled to Gilbert Scott who had the largest ecclesiastical practice in the country.  There was a family connection in that Scott’s brother had married Bodley’s sister and this may have helped him to obtain articles in such a prestigious practice.

By 1854 Bodley was in practice on his own and between that date and the end of the century he was building churches all over the country but strangely enough there is not a single church in Kent built to his design.  He was probably best known for his work on church interior furnishings and in Leigh he designed the screen, the linen-fold and other panelling in the chancel, the oak panelled pews in the south chancel and the alabaster reredos.  All this work was carried out in 1892 and nine years later he designed the vestry which was erected as a memorial to Thomas Sturgess who lived at Parkholt and was agent to Lord de L’isle.

There is no other church in Kent with so much of Bodley’s work and it is interesting to note that two years after this work was completed, Penshurst was to follow suit with a rather more ornate chancel screen also designed by Bodley.

The nearest church erected completely to Bodley’s designs is in Sussex at All Saints, Danehill and if you are driving on the road south from Forest Row and Wych Cross towards Lewes it is worth stopping to look at Danehill Church which is strongly reminiscent of Leigh.  One thing, however, is different: Bodley put the organ on top of the screen, not a solution likely to be readily acceptable in Leigh.

(Parish Magazine June 1993: by Lawrence Biddle)