Since the 1870's Leigh's Village Halls have been at the heart of the community. Their use changing with the needs of the time but always as a place for the locals to meet and now, following a huge restoration project, your memories of them are needed for a book to celebrate their history.

The Leigh Village Hall complex is a hive of activity and, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, something’s usually going on.  Just as it has for the past 130 years.  The actual use of the buildings may have altered dramatically but they have always been at the heart of the local community, even if they started off a little controversially. 

Since the 14th Century, St. Mary’s Church has been the focal point of village worship, it’s stone walls filled with the prayers and teachings of the Church of England but in the 1870’s everything changed.  Samuel Morley, Liberal MP, hugely successful knitwear manufacturer and owner of Hall Place, commissioned the renowned Victorian Architect, George Devey, to build a non-conformist chapel, baptistery with full immersion font and a schoolhouse as a gift for his daughter, Augusta.  She held beliefs similar to those of the Open Brethren and was, in some eyes, working in direct competition to the local church.  Fortunately, the Vicar of St. Mary’s and the Morley family were able to find a way to make the situation work and for many years the two faiths worshipped alongside one another.   

Since then the Grade 2 listed buildings have been put to a number of uses; such as a Red Cross hospital during the first and second world wars, a school for evacuees, the second home of the ‘Leigh Reading Room and Institute’, the Royal British Legion, Doctors Surgery and a base for parties, dances and clubs.  It has also been a place to have a bath and the late Alfred Houghton recalled how ‘in the early days none of the village cottages possessed a bath and the two baths at the Institute were in demand. The trouble was that the bath close to the kitchen range was always hot, but the one at the rear of the small hall was installed in an added draughty, wooden hut and its remoteness from the boiler meant tepid water.  The late Charles Lambert Junior and I often ran from a football match on the Green to get the hot water.’

Sports clubs have also proved particularly successful and as early as December 1911 Badminton began.  At first it was only for men but a few months later women were admitted and by December 1913 records show that ten played in the evenings and sixteen in the afternoons.   In February 1923 the first Institute’s members formed their own evening club and Mr Houghton explained that ‘the difference between the renting players and the Institute players was that the former had tea and cakes during the interval.’  

Table Tennis also made an appearance that year following a proposal by the village schoolmaster, Mr Nethercott, that a ‘Table Tennis Set’ be provided.  Mr Tom Izzard duly made up a table in the Hall Place workshop and players started to compete against one another in the evenings.  A league for ‘friendlies’ was formed in 1936 and the subsequent formation of the Leigh Royal British Legion Table Tennis Club in 1950 has led to some incredible achievements for local members.   Looking through the records there are far too many ‘stars’ to list them all but the among the most notable are Juliet Houghton and her brother, Andrew.  Hugely successful together or as part of a team, Andrew played in England School Internationals whilst Juliet was selected for the England Juniors team at the age of 15.  She went on to play in the England Senior Side ‘friendlies’, win the Kent Ladies Singles title for 13 consecutive years and play professionally in Belgium for three years.  No mean feat by anyone’s standards. 

The Club has also helped several other players to reach county standard and Laurence Heally went on to became a County Umpire who officiated at an England v China International in 1987.  Hours of practice have undoubtedly allowed the Club to become so successful but it has also been brought it to a standstill as, during the prolonged winter power cuts of 1973, the police issued an official ‘warning’ over the use of the lights.

There can be no doubt that the Village Halls have remained a focal point throughout their history and now, following a major refurbishment, the Leigh Village Hall Committee would love to hear from you for a booklet they are planning.  What memories or pictures do you have of the Halls?

Perhaps you attended one the hugely popular children’s Christmas parties held by Eric and Daisy Batchelor?  Became a member of the Royal British Legion or played in one of the many sporting teams?  How did you get involved and what did you enjoy?  Whatever your connection Helen Everett, the Chairman of the Leigh Village Hall Committee, would love to hear from you. 

Further details

You can contact Helen Everett via email at helen.everett@btinternet.com or post via Wheelwright Cottage, Leigh, Tonbridge, Kent.  TN11 8QP.  Alternatively, you can hand in a letter, addressed to the Committee, at Leigh Post Office. 

Acknowledgements

I would like to say a huge thank you to Bill and Jill Caulstock of the Royal British Legion for showing me the hidden full immersion font and for allowing me to take and display images.  I would also like to thank Chris Rowley and Joan Montgomery for assisting in my search for archive images and Helen Everett for her time and permission to read and reproduce quotes from her records, particularly those compiled by Mr John Knock and the late Mr Alfred Houghton.  Everyone’s assistance was greatly appreciated.