Leigh Old Town

Leigh

Old

Town

or

“Old

Leigh”,

as

its

locally

known,

played

a

prominent

role

in

the

development

of

the

Borough

and

was

used

extensively

as

a

port

and

ship

building

centre in bygone days.

The

earliest

known

record

of

Leigh

is

the

entry

in

the

Doomsday

Book

of

1086.

At

around

1565

it

was

the

principal

port

between

Gravesend

and

Harwich,

and

was

the

landing place for goods destined for South Essex.

The

church

of

Leigh

stands

high

on

Leigh

hill

and

its

imposing

tower

has

been

a

landmark

for

seamen

for

400

years.

In

the

Churchyard

there

is

a

memorial

to

Captain

Brand,

R.N.,

who

was

midshipman

on

the

“Revenge”

at

the

Battle

of

Trafalgar.

Captain

Brand’s

father

was

also

a

naval

officer

and

gave

four

sons

to

the

service.

The

“Victory”

was

taken

to

Chatham

for

repair

after

the

Battle

of

Trafalgar,

and

lay

for

a

short

time

off

Southend.

The

first

of

many

ships

built

at

Leigh

was

the

“Speedwell”

a

ship

of

105

tonnes

built

in

1579,

and

in

1652,

after

the

first

of

three

battles

of

the

Dutch

War,

Admiral

Van

Tromp

inflicted

grave

damage

on

Admiral

Blake’s

fleet

off

the

Goodwin

Sands,

it

was

to

Leigh

that

he

brought

his

crippled

ships

for

refitting.

“The

Sands”

the

oldest

part

of

Leigh,

used

as

a

disembarkation

point

in

the

Middle

Ages,

is

said

to

have

been

where

the

“Mayflower”

moored

in

1620

before

sailing

to

the

New

World.

The

flour

she

took

aboard was milled at Billericay.

In

the

three

wars

with

the

Dutch,

Leigh

was

frequently

used

as

a

naval

base.

After

the

battle

with

Van

Tromp

off

Dover,

in

1652,

Blake

was

forced

to

retire

to

Leigh

to

refit

whilst

his

adversary

swept

the

Channel

with

a

broom

at

his

masthead.

Blake

had

his

revenge

in

the

following

year

when

he

sailed,

from

the

Estuary,

with

“the

most

numerous,

the

best

equipped,

and

the

most

ably

commanded

fleet

that

the

Commonwealth ever put to sea,” and finally defeated Van Tromp’s fleet off the Texel.

Several

years

after,

in

the

reign

of

Charles

II,

came

the

second

Dutch

War

with

the

entry

of

De

Ruyter

into

the

Thames

in

1667.

He

Burnt

Sheerness

Dockyard,

destroyed

several

warships

which

had

been

laid

up

in

the

Medway,

he

landed

on

Canvey

Island,

raided

cattle

and

did

other

damage.

The

landing

caused

immense

alarm

which

was

noted,

in

considerable

detail,

by

Samuel

Pepys

in

his

diary.

The

Essex

Militia

was

hastily

mobilised

with

the

greater

part

of

the

force

concentrated

at

Leigh

but,

beyond

damaging

British

prestige

and

causing

a

panic

that

reached

as

far

as

London

and

spread throughout the country, De Ruyter effected little harm.

In

1672

the

Dutch

also

had

local

interest,

as

it

was

in

one

of

the

battles

of

that

campaign

that

Sir

Richard

Hancock

won

distinction,

and

also

because

the

English

Fleet’s

headquarters were again in the Thames Estuary.

Leigh

later

became

known

as

a

prosperous

fishing

village.

Leigh

Old

Town

still

has

many

‘character

pubs’

like

“The

Crooked

Billet,”

an

oak

framed

building

of

the

early

16th

Century,

or

“the

Peter

Boat,”

built

on

the

side

of

a

weather

boarded

Inn

dated

1695,

rebuilt

after

it

was

completely

destroyed

in

1892:

the

cellar

of

the

original

building

is

said

to

have

been

used

by

smugglers.

Of

course

there

is

also

“The

Smack,”

formerly

a

coach

house

and

stables;

at

low

tide

the

south

wall

reveals

a

bricked

up

arch,

which

suggests

it

may

have

been

used

to

store

contraband

goods

as

the

river

offered

an

excellent entrance to the cellar of the building.

Bawleys at Leigh

Cockle Shed

Southend Timeline Southend-on-Sea © 2009 - 2021 All Rights Reserved

Leigh from the Marshes

Old Leigh from the Quay

Leigh-on-Sea

Smuggling

was

rife

in

the

district.

Every

creek

from

Benfleet

to

Battlesbridge

afforded

friendly

shelter.

Most

of

the

church

belfries

were

used

to

hide

liquor

and

other

smuggled

goods.

In

the

tower

of

Rochford

Church

were

stored

gin,

hollands

and

tea,

and

there

was

a

secret

cavity

under

the

pulpit

for

further

storage.

Magistrates

often

employed

their

servants

and

horses

in

transporting

goods

from

the

boats

to

the

hiding

places.

At

Leigh

ten

vessels,

ranging

from

ten

to

thirteen

tons,

were

used

in

this

illicit

traffic,

and

the

collector of Customs at Leigh made seizures every day.

Old Leigh still thrives to this day as a popular place to visit, drink, socialise, and of course to sample its famous seafood.

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