Our Patron Saint: St Clement I, Pope and Martyr
St Clement, to whom our church is dedicated, was a Roman citizen of noble birth. Whilst in Jerusalem, he was baptized by St Peter, and is mentioned by St Paul as one of his “fellow labourers” (Philippians 4:3). Ultimately, he became Bishop of Rome, the third after St Peter. His distinguishing emblem refers to the manner of his martyrdom under the Roman Emperor Trajan (c.100AD): For his faith in Jesus Christ, St Clement was bound to a heavy anchor and thrown into the sea. Saint Clement is one of the patron saints of fishermen, so it is appropriate that he should be Patron Saint of Leigh, with the town’s long seafaring tradition and cockling industry.
A Brief History
Canon John Bundock writes rather romantically, “The crowning glory of Old Leigh is St Clement’s Church standing on its incomparable position with its massive tall tower overlooking the estuary, a beacon for those at sea and a sentinel over the village community.” There may well have been an earlier place of worship on the present site (we note that the register of Rectors recalls the first as in post from 1248), although nothing is now known of it.
The oldest part of the building comprises the present north aisle, dating from c.1400. Legend has it that the stones from which the church is built were taken from the ruins of Hadleigh Castle some way to the west, but this is wholly apocryphal.
Into the north wall of the present building are set some stone steps leading up to the long since removed Rood Screen. The ceiling of the north aisle seems to resemble the inverted hull of a ship, and it is thought that the boat builders of medieval Leigh may have constructed it.
Sometime in the next hundred years the centre aisle and tower were built, in the same Kentish rag-stone. To this was added the redbrick Tudor porch on the south side. The extension of the chancel eastwards in 1872 was the first major change to the ground plan for nearly 400 years. In 1897 the south aisle was added and the medieval south wall pierced with an arcade. 1913 saw the building of the Lady Chapel in memory of the saintly Edward King (1829-1910), Bishop of Lincoln, and brother of the former Rector, Canon Walker King, and uncle of the then Rector, Canon Robert King.
Attractive features of the church include the much-admired Poppyhead pews, each one thought to be of a unique design. The beautiful east window depicting the Crucifixion is of hand-painted enamel, rather than, as is often supposed, stained glass. It dates from c.1850, and is probably German. The lovely statue of Mary, in the Lady Chapel, was given to the church in 1914. In 1988, a superb copy of Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Holy Trinity was placed in the north aisle, a gift from its maker, the late Archimandrite David of Walsingham.
Church buildings require occasional reordering to meet the changing needs of the people. To this end, here at St Clement’s, the Chancel area was reordered in the mid-1990s and a Nave Altar introduced. The Lady Chapel also received some refurbishment, the work being completed in 1998. A handsome timber screen, made in 1915 by Essex craftsmen, was transferred from another church in the Diocese and placed in the arch between the chapel and the south aisle. Three pieces of beautiful wrought-iron work, by the renowned Victorian architect John Bodley, originally placed in St Matthew’s, Westminster, now form features of the chapel: the gates to the timber screen, the gates between the chapel and the chancel, and the bracket above Our Lady’s statue.
It is remarkable that in the whole of the 20th Century, only four Rectors served the parish. Canon Robert Stuart King succeeded his father in 1892 and served until his death in 1950. He was followed by Father John Head, Rector until 1973. Father Raymond Smith then served until 1986, and was succeeded by Father Stephen Jones who served until 2001. Fr Kenneth Havey was rector at St Clement`s from 2002 until 2013. We are currently without a rector awaiting appointment of a new priest-in-charge.