St Clements Church is located off Leigh Hill on the upper cliffs overlooking Old
Leigh. This section of these cliffs is the only part in Leigh that has not suffered
from subsidence; this interesting fact can only be explained in one of two ways...
significant hindsight on the architecture's part, or it is being looked after by
a greater power - you decide!
A church building has been present on the site since about the 13th century, however
this is no longer in existence. Currently the oldest part of the church is its ground
design from the 15th century and a bowl of a piscina. The piscina is a stone basin
near the altar in Roman Catholic and pre-Reformation churches for draining water
used in the Mass. It is also Latin for fish. The parish church was dedicated to St.
Clement, who was martyred by being bound to a heavy anchor and thrown into the sea
during the rule of Emperor Trajan; given the church's close location to the sea a
fairly appropriate and honourable name.
The church now only consists of a graveyard, tower, nave and North isle, though technically
the rectory (Leigh Library) used to be church property. The church has none of splendour
of the "great" churches of the eastern counties it is simply a small village church.
This said, even today the grounds and building whisper hundreds of years of strong
emotion and hard-work of a small English community.
Directly outside the church porch is a tomb with the inscription - "Here lies the
body of Mary Ellis, daughter of Thomas Edis and Lydia his wife of the parish. She
was a virgin of virtuous courage and very promising hope, and died the 3rd of June
1609, age 119" The sandstone top of the tomb has been worn down by village-folk
sharpening their knifes on this soft stone. It should be said though, that many Leigh
folk believe a more sinister story - that the knifes being sharpened were those of
the navy press gangs, awaiting to snatch men leaving church for a enforced career
Leigh did not escape the religious controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1556, two spinsters, Joan Kent and Agnes Stanley where charged with speaking heretical
words... "that in the sacrament of the Eucharist after the consecration thereof there
is nothing but bread and wine only"? The church "suitably" punished these women.
St. Clements today still represent the centre of Leigh-on-Sea with its 80ft tower
and centuries of history - indeed most will use the church when describing directions.
It would be misleading to say that all Leigh people regularly go to this church,
the community is now much more cosmopolitan, but at times such as Christmas, it does
once again become a community focal point.