The Heritage Centre stands in the Centre of the Old Town in
the old Smithy. Along with many other buildings in the Old Town
the Smithy was purchased by the Borough Council many years ago with
a view to a development which never took place and it was allowed
to fall into disrepair until the Leigh Society formed and decided
to rescue the building.
centuries the building had been owned by several people and
used for a variety of uses.
|Restoration of the Smithy
After the formation of the Leigh Society
in 1972, meetings were held in the front rooms of local residents
including the late David Atkinson, later MP for Bournemouth East, John
Pettit in his antique shop on Leigh Hill, Cllr Grace Robson
Grace bought a folding office and kept
all our files in her front room on New Road.
In 1979, Southend Council was approached
for a lease on any suitable building, and that was how Ron
Foyster, former Council Engineer for Canvey Island and Chairman
of the Society at that time, decided that the Smithy building in
Leigh Old Town, two old cottages numbered 13A, could be saved.
We had eight weeks to make it safe and get a demolition
order withdrawn. It was clear to the Society that this building
was important both as a Heritage Centre museum, and for its pivotal
position in the High Street.
Ron obtained some Acrow props to hold up the dangerous sagging
building that was stuffed to the ceiling with scrap metal
from the engineering shed on Strand Wharf, and a working party
was set up and removed about seven tons of metal from the
A scheme of temporary support was agreed, and the building
made safe at the end of 1979 by a local builder. The Leigh
Society won first prize in the 1980 Essex County Council Amenity
Societies Scheme for conservation work.
In 1980-1 the Society promoted fund raising
schemes for the restoration. Approaches were made to the Department
of the Environment, the Manpower Services Commission, Southend
Borough Council and various charitable trusts. In 1981 the
Society submitted a detailed estimate, based on plans drawn
by the Moss Prime Coombs architectural practice, for a Heritage
Centre, to the MSC under their Community Enterprise Programme.