Leigh-on-Sea also referred to as Leigh, is a town and civil parish in Essex, England. A district of Southend-on-Sea, with its own town council, it is currently the only civil parish within the borough.
Leigh-on-Sea is situated on the northern side of the Thames Estuary, only a few miles from the open waters of the North Sea to the east, and a similar distance from the Kent coast to the south. The coastal environs of the town feature a nature reserve at Two Tree Island and a centrally located beach adjacent to Bell Wharf. At low tide, Leigh’s foreshore has a wide expanse of mud flats and creeks, extending offshore towards the deep water channel of the Thames (Yantlet Channel). Leigh is approximately 40 miles from central London via road and rail networks and is considered part of the London commuter belt.
In the 11th century Leigh was a marginal community of homesteads. The Domesday Book records ‘five smallholders above the water who do not hold land’, who were probably engaged in fishing thus giving Leigh a claim to nearly a thousand years of activity in the fishing industry.
The main seafood catch from Leigh fishing boats has always been shellfish and whitebait. Many of the local trawlers were at one time bawleys, and two of Old Leigh’s pubs – the Peter Boat and Ye Olde Smack – owe their names to types of local fishing boat. Local fish merchants land, process and trade a wide range of supplies daily, including shrimps, lobster, crab, seabass, haddock, cod and mackerel, cockles, whelks, mussels and oysters.
The riverside settlement of ‘Old Leigh’, or ‘The Old Town’, is historically significant; it was once on the primary shipping route to London. From the Middle Ages until the turn of the 20th century, Old Leigh hosted the settlement’s market square, and high street (known as Leigh Strand). Leigh had grown to become a prosperous port by the 16th century; ships as large as 340 tons were built here for fishing and other purposes. By the 1740s however, Leigh’s deep water access had become silted up (as attested to by John Wesley) and the village was in decline as an anchorage and port of call.
With the advent of the railway line from London to Southend during the mid-19th century, much of the “old town” was demolished to accommodate its passage, and new housing and streets began to be built on the ridge of hills above the settlement.
Leigh on Sea