Reflections of a Parish Clerk 1956-1984

The following article by Fred Whibley was included in the Leigh Parish Magazine October 1984

The Vicar has asked me to record my impressions of the last 28 years and this is not an easy task as so much of the work of a Council Clerk is routine, but from time to time situations arise which appear quite momentous at the time.

On looking back I am struck with the changes which have occurred in the Parish, the improvement in the standard of housing for instance.  Many of the cottages owned by the Parish have disappeared or have been replaced by purpose built flats and bungalows for the elderly, for example, Saxby Wood.  The appearance of houses now is much more colourful and I have Powder Mills in mind.

One major project was the Tonbridge-by-Pass which completely altered the appearance of the eastern end of the Parish.  Here the Council was alive to the risk to footpaths and although one or two minor paths seem to have been lost, the main path from Kennards to Meopham Bank was saved, although the cost of building the bridge was colossal, but it is agreed now that it was vital to retain the path on its original route.

The high speed rail link was universally opposed in the village and we like to think that the well organized opposition went some way to make the railway drop the scheme.  This was a most frightening project with an express train every six minutes.  I attended a meeting at Edenbridge school on the proposal and as a railway engineer was explaining just how quiet modern rail transport is, a train chugged by.  The noise of the train drowned the speaker and the laughter of the audience drowned both. I fear that we have not heard the last about a high speed link of some sort.

The building of the Flood Barrier has completely altered the character of the area near the Weir.  Acres of agricultural land has been turned into lakes to provide materials for the dam and here again I found myself in Edenbridge at a meeting to discuss the effects of the flood precautions on the town.  I have never felt that I was particularly deprived in not knowing much about the land upstream from Edenbridge and on a wet cold winter’s evening, I found it difficult to take much interest in a long discussion on how long earthworms and moles could survive in a flooded field.  The meeting was held in Church House and in the next room, Edenbridge Town Band were holding a practice session.  For about an hour the brass instruments played scales with short breaks for discussion.  I could not help recalling Sterndale Pennett’s song “When they played forte it sounded like a hundred”.  To judge by the development taking place in Tonbridge by the river, it must be thought that the barrier scheme has solved the problem of flooding; in Leigh I am not so sure.

Footpaths are a continual interest to Parish Councils and Leigh is well served by a network of paths.  We have a map of paths dated 1909 and almost all the paths listed are still in existence and diversions have been few.  I remember remonstrating with a farmer once on the way he ploughed too close to paths and mentioned the width of 4 feet.  He assured me that the law quoted no distance but says that a couple should be able to walk side by side and converse and he felt that only courting couples walked his paths and eighteen inches was plenty.

The building of the public conveniences on Leigh Green was a project which took a lot of time and much argument.  The Tonbridge Free Press printed a single sentence one week: “In future the Leigh Parish Council would like to be known as the Privy Council.”  I was never able to find out who inspired that item but I knew that a very well known person in the village was very friendly with the Editor.

These are a few of my thoughts on 28 years as Clerk to Leigh Parish Council.  I have met many interesting and helpful people and I am most grateful for the friendship and help shown to me on many occasions.

F. F. Whibley (Oct 1984)