The year of the Queen’s coronation was a turning point for Leigh in many ways. It wasn’t just because of the national changes – the beginning of the boom after the years of war and rationing, the increase in cars and the consequent increase of work outside the village or even the start of the housing boom which has meant a large increase in the numbers of homes in Leigh in the last 50 years – both private houses and Council houses.
In 1952 the village had two main grocers, a butcher, a bike shop and a cobblers. It had three or four posts a day, a doctor in the village and a bat and ball factory to cycle to. There were few cars and men still went by bike to Hildenborough station in bowler hats. Not many people still worked on farms and the an era of King and Empire had come to an end already.
However, the biggest change starting to come in Leigh was to do with Lord Hollenden and the Morley family. Lord Hollenden and his father and grandfather had ruled Leigh in a kindly but paternalistic way for eighty years. In 1952 Lord Hollenden still dominated much of the life in the village. He owned a hundred properties in Leigh – not just houses for the less well off but the doctor’s house, the two village halls and the village green. He expected to be called Milord and have forelocks touched in spite of being friendly, knowledgeable about most of the families in the village and ever ready with donations. He would even express his annoyance with the “wrong” choice of hymns. Lord Hollenden died in 1977. By this time he had sold virtually all the family’s property in Leigh. He had given the village green and the village halls to the village and his heirs at Hall Place did not see themselves in the same all pervasive – and by that time very unfashionable – role. So this has been a major change in the 50 years.
Perhaps the most surprising thing when you look at Leigh in 1952 and 2002 is the number of things that have stayed the same. The teachers are still excellent – although more of them and the school continues to flourish. We still have a marvellous village shop with a post office. Church attendance is higher rather than lower. We probably have more village clubs and societies that we did fifty years ago and the village continues to have a wide social mix – although with young people brought up in the village still finding it difficult to afford a house here. Those brought up in the village look back on the 1920s and 1930s and even the 1950s as a golden age when the sense of community was strong, but they still think that Leigh is the best place to live.
In a recent planning survey, each household was asked to describe the village in one word. Unprompted, 80% said “friendly”. So there’s not much change in 50 years there.
Parish Magazine Article: June 2002: by Chris Rowley