Much has been written about the history of Leigh-on-Sea, it’s well documented that Leigh has a mention in the Domesday Book, and for good reason. From ancient times to now Saint Clement’s has been at the heart of Leigh, a thriving fishing community and the last port stop before London. Today it’s the home to artists, local business people and commuters alike. If you come to Saint Clement’s you will see the history of Leigh through the centuries.
Our Patron Saint, Saint Clement, was Pope and Martyr. He was a Roman citizen of noble birth, baptised by Saint Peter in Jerusalem. For his faith in Jesus Christ Saint 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 is the Patron Saint of Leigh, with the town’s long seafaring tradition and cockling industry.
Many books have been written about this rich history, including Leigh Parish Church of Saint Clement, by John Bundock, (can be bought at Saint Clement’s) and Joscelyne’s Tales by the treasured local storyteller, Arthur ‘Sonny’ Joscelyne.
Of the current church the oldest part of the building is the present north aisle, dating from c.1400. Legend has it that the stones the church is built from were taken from the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, although this is wholly apocryphal. Into the north wall are set some stone steps leading up to the long since removed Rood Screen. The ceiling of the north aisle resembles the inverted hull of a ship, and it is thought that it may have been constructed by the boat builders of medieval Leigh. Much has been added to the church building over the centuries, as the town and population of Leigh grew, as chronicled in Bundock’s book.
As the world has changed through countless major events, Saint Clement’s has stood atop Leigh Hill, it’s tower a beacon on the River Thames route to London. There is a vast amount of history within and around Saint Clement’s with many remarkable, indeed unique, features, for instance the creation of the Trinity House Masters, which started at Saint Clement’s.
The church gazed down on the coming of the railway, bringing visitors from London, and creating easy passage to town for work. Standing at the heart of the town of Leigh-on-Sea Saint Clement’s witnessed the tragedies of WW1 and WW2. The community felt deeply the tragedies and sacrifice made by made local people in the world wars, and the Resurrection Chapel, an important feature of the church, contains memorials to all of those lost. Most recently ceramic poppies from the Tower of London are being added to the memorials here. Longer established memorials include the the plaque from the town of Dunkirk to each of the Little Ships that took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. One of Leigh’s cockle boats was lost, there are moving memorials to the fishermen aboard in the chapel and in the church grounds.
A visit to Leigh-on-Sea is always a pleasure, a visit that includes Saint Clement’s church is unforgettable.