The Old Leigh waterfront at high tide
It is an old port town, its harbour now silted up, but it remains a prosperous place; a commuter town, a yachting town and a pretty, old town for those who wish to settle in a pleasant seaside place.
History and architecture
Leigh-on-Sea appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Legra. The Church of St. Clement, on the cliff top, had been an important landmark for sailors since 1400 or earlier. A flight of steps still in use today, led down to the village. Another settlement grew at the top of the cliff. The two settlements merged to form a single town. The lower part became known as "Old Leigh" or "Leigh Old Town". The sheltered position at the mouth of the Thames made Leigh a notable place of North Sea communications and trade.
Because of its good position on the shipping route to London, Leigh-on-Sea grew to a prosperous port by the 16th century. Ships as large as 340 tons were built for fishing and other purposes.
By the 18th century, ships had become larger and Leigh's deep water channel silted up and the town diminished in importance. Reduced once more to a fishing village and servicing the London markets via the Thames and by road. The advent of the London to Tilbury railway line being extended to Southend in 1856 meant that Leigh Old Town was split further, and many buildings, and the market square were demolished.
The completion of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway in 1854 allowed greater trade with London and the rest of the world, and later made Leigh a commuter town for London workers.
During Second World War, Leigh-on-Sea was part of a restricted zone and residents who did not have to stay were urged to leave. A balloon barrage was moored to boats in the Thames Estuary to impede efforts by the Luftwaffe to fly up the Thames. The fishing fleet from Leigh was part of the flotilla from around the country that participated in the evacuation of British forces from the beaches of Dunkirk. A memorial in St Clements churchyard is dedicated to their bravery and sacrifice.
The main seafood catch from Leigh Old Town has always been shell-fish and whitebait. Many of the fishing boats were bawleys, and these form part of the painting View at the mouth of the Thames. Two of the old town's pubs, the Peter Boat and Ye Olde Smack, owe their names to two other kinds of local fishing boats, the peter boat and the smack.
Leigh-on-Sea is served by Leigh-on-Sea station, on the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. The current railway station is situated to the west of the Old Town and replaced from 1936, the original station situated in the Old Town.
Leigh-on-Sea also hosts several annual events, including:
- Leigh Regatta: held over one weekend in September. It is organised by the three Sea Scout Groups based in the Old Town to raise funds for local Scouting and a nominated Charitable organization|charity.
- Leigh Folk Festival
- Art trail.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Pevsner, N. The Buildings of England, Essex, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1965.
- "The Domesday Book Online - Essex". http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/essex3.html#leigh. Retrieved 2012-02-29.
- Thorpe Smith Collection, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend Museums.The Beecroft Art Gallery, then follow successive links to PictureGallery, Beecroft Collection, Thorpe Smith Collection by William Anderson.
- "History Of The Peterboat". East Anglia Pub Company. http://eastangliapubs.com/history_peterboat. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
- "Seaside fun in Old Leigh". Essex Life (Archant): pp. 17. September 2008. http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/Launch.aspx?referral=other&pnum=&refresh=Xx310Ki2Lg80&EID=ae1ff680-f48b-4a38-9931-2ac69df9011d&skip=true. Retrieved 2009-01-18. (Registration required).