Leigh Old Town

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea

History in Pictures
Old Leigh Leigh-on-Sea

Leigh

Old

Town

or

“Old

Leigh”

as

it’s

locally

known,

has

played

a

prominent

role

in

the

development

of

the

Borough

and

has

been

used

extensively

as

a

port

and

ship

building centre in the days gone by.

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

when

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

Strand”-

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

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,

landed

on

Canvey

Island,

raided

cattle

and

did

other

damage.

The

landing

caused

immense

alarm,

which

was

noted

in

considerable

detail

by

Samuel

Pepy

in

his

Diary.

The

Essex

Militia

was

hastily

mobilised

and

greater

part

of

the

force

concentrated

at

Leigh,

but

beyond

damaging

British

prestige

and

causing

a

panic

that

reached

to

London and spread throughout the country, De Ruyter effected little.

The

Dutch

was

in

1672

also

has

local

interest,

because

it

was

in

one

of

the

battles

of

that

campaign

Sir

Richard

Haddock

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

sixteenth

century

or

the

Peter

boat,

built

on

the

side

of

a

weather

boarded

inn

dated

1695,

now

rebuilt

after

it

was

completely

destroyed

in

1892.

The

cellar

of

the

old

building

is

said

to

have

been

used

by

smugglers.

And

there

is

of

course,

“The

Smack”

formerly

a

coach

house

and

stables.

At

low

tide,

the

south

wall

reveals

bricked

up

arch,

which

suggest

it

might

have

been

used

to

store

contraband

goods,

as the river offered an excellent entrance to the cellar of the building.

Smuggling

was

rife

throughout

the

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

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

today,

a

popular

place

to

visit,

drink,

socialise

and

of

course

sample it’s famous local seafood.

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