Leigh-on-Sea was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Legra, where it is described as a "one horse town". Located next to the sea, Leigh has been primarily a fishing village for most of its history. However, its sheltered position at the mouth of the Thames gave it some success as a port, with international trade and a shipbuilding business.
Due to its good position on the shipping route to London, it began to grow and by the 16th century had become a fairly large and prosperous port. Ships of up to 340 tons are recorded as being built in Leigh including many that would have been built for the local fishing fleets. With its location at the mouth of the Thames, Leigh was often used by the navy against threats from pirates and the French, Spanish and Dutch Navies.
By the 18th century ships had become larger and trade changed. At this time Leigh’s deep water channel silted up and the importance of the town diminished. It then gradually reverted to a fishing village, supplying the London market by road and barge. When the London to Tilbury railway was extended to Southend in 1856, this split the village in two and many of its timber-framed buildings were demolished
The Mayflower is believed to have docked at Leigh-on-Sea to take on provisions and passengers before its epic voyage to the new world with the Pilgrim Fathers
The fishermen of Leigh are famous for their heroic attempts to rescue British soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. A memorial in St Clements churchyard stands as a reminder of their bravery and sacrifice.
The arrival of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway in 1854 spurred the town’s development, allowing greater trade with London and the rest of the world, and making it a commuter town for London workers. Leigh-on-Sea railway station is run and served solely by c2c.
In recent years, Leigh-on-Sea has become home to an increasing number of upmarket bars and restaurants such as The Estuary. Caf√©s such as laid back, hippie-esque The Squeeze who use only organic produce, art galleries and hairdressers also adorn the towns surroundings. Popular hairdressers include Staffords owned by Lee Stafford and Srangeways owned by Ade from the Channel 4 show The Salon. Leigh is also home to a wide range of shops, from clothes and shoe shops selling the latest fashions to more expensive additions such as Bang & Olufsen and Connections who provide the furniture for another channel 4 show, Big Brother. Leigh also has a strict no nightclub policy in an effort to preserve the towns heritage
Leigh-on-Sea boasts London’s nearest beach, and many visitors travel down at the weekend to the conservation area of Old Leigh with its cobbled streets and clapboard cottages. The area is notable for its shellfish, and there is a small but active fleet of cockle boats, which keep alive the reputation of Leigh as the epicentre of the world cockling trade. The picturesque cockle sheds are home to many old Leigh families who have followed this trade for generations.
Osborne Bros specialises in producing and supplying quality shellfish and fish to individuals and trade customers around the world. Their caf√© is housed in the heart of the Old Town in an 18th century stable mews which was used to house horses and carriages delivering ale to the local public house ‚Äì The Crooked Billet. The cockle sheds and smoke house are located along Cockle Shed row, which remains largely unchanged since being built in the 19th century.
Image Copyright Dave Frost – www.davefrost.co.uk