CHURCH HILL - THE LITTLE HILL
Church Hill is nearly 170 years old and is still one of the most loved and photographed parts of Leigh. The Hill is in fact public footpath and as such it is the right of the inhabitants of the town to pass along it on foot only.
So how did its existence come about – well we have a former Rector of St Clement's to thank for that, although he wasn’t thanked at the time.
The Rector was the Rev Robert Eden. He had built the National Schools at his own expense and also the new rectory (now the Library), and laid out its grounds, but in so doing deprived the locals of a well loved route from the Old Town, strewn with cockle shells to keep it clean and with seats for the traveller to rest. It was also the usual route to the Church for wedding parties and funerals. To stop this use Rev Eden positioned posts across the path so that funerals of adults from the Old Town had to go up Horse Hill (Leigh Hill).
Funeral corteges of children were carried up this hill but for adult funerals the hill was too steep to take the greater weight.
Henry William ‘Antiquary’ King, a local worthy who wrote about the properties in Leigh in Victorian times wrote
‘to gratify the intense selfishness of the wealthy Rector appointed in 1837 the public lane usually called Chess Lane was closed and laid into the Rectory grounds thus excluding the whole of the inhabitants from their immemorial highway and promenade overseeing the town and extending almost its entire length and commanding the Thames and the further shore of Kent for many miles. All engrossed to the gratification of the man and his neighbour. The Church Hill forming the western boundary of Normans Field and the only ascent and descent from and to the town which took advantage of the best levels was abolished and laid into the property on the west of it and the steep and dangerous footpath through Normans Field was merely [ ? ] and fenced off in substitution, four paths from the town were permanently closed and corpses were required to be borne thenceforth by the longer steeper and more circuitous main road.’
So that’s how Church Hill came to be and by the time they were getting ready for the railway to come through Leigh in the 1850s the Map related to the London, Tilbury and Southend Extension Act of 1852 clearly shows its present position.