ALEXANDER U HIGGINS -
THE ENTREPRENEUR OF LAPWATER HALL
Alexander U Higgins was born in 1840 in Butleigh, near Glastonbury. The U stood for Underwood—his mother’s maiden name. Alexander went to the National School in Butleigh and by 1861 he was a carpentry, like his father.
Alexander came to South Weald in Essex with his wife of 2 years and was now a qualified surveyor.
In 1891 the family were in Westerham in Kent where the development of Westerham Hill Estate absorbed his attention.
In Maidenhead, Alexander was responsible for the development of a large estate. At first he thought of the idea of the development of estates in connection with Jesse Collins' "three acres and a cow." (Jesse Collins was an MP and Mayor of Birmingham who was a great Victorian advocate of land reform). Alexander actually offered " three acres and a cow " for £100, finding plenty of customers, but the animals caused so much bother that he dropped that portion of the bargain and turned to land alone.
Lapwater Hall was originally an old farmhouse and when Alexander took possession in 1890 he transformed it. While retaining the beautiful old orchards, he extended the boundaries by converting the farmyard and a large area of meadow land into a perfect picture of rural beauty. The local paper said that the result was 'one of the most picturesque gardens one could wish to see', with orchards and tennis courts, long archways of roses (in the summer a perfect mass of bloom), winding walks and walls covered with apricots, peaches and plums.'
Leigh Park Estate, of which Lapwater Hall was a part (the house facing the road from Leigh to Hadleigh, which formed its northern boundary), comprised 190 acres. Alexander considered its situation to be ideal, with the sea frontage about a mile in extent, and the view of great beauty, embracing the broad sweep of the Thames Estuary, with Southend's giant pier to the east and, beyond, the ocean, the long line of Kent hills, and the mouth of the Medway to the south, and Canvey Island stretched out like a map to the west. The southern boundary of the Estate, was a winding lane running along the top of the cliffs. which the public had a right of way over. It was Alexander's intention to lay out the space between the lane and the Marine Parade, for a distance sufficient for the purpose, for gardens, with a bandstand and tennis-courts, for the use of the occupants of the houses on the estate.
To give the houses an individual touch Alexander designed them and for a rental of £40 a year, the occupant had a detached house standing in good grounds with four bedrooms and two sitting- rooms, a kitchen, scullery. larder and offices and a large garden. But not all was well. Alexander became insolvent and had failed to appear at a bankruptcy hearing. At some time between 1910 and 1916 Alexander and his wife went to live in South Africa which is where he died in 1916.
Whatever his personal difficulties Alexander did indeed shape the western end of Leigh with his development and entrepreneurial spirit.
H S Higgins was Alexander's son, Herbert Sidney