Hiking in Essex

The name of Leigh-on-sea probably comes from the Old English “leah”, which means “meadow." In the Middle Ages Leigh was a large port, in fact, the largest between Harwich and Gravesend, and it was a centre for shipbuilding. There is evidence that the Mayflower, the Founding Fathers’ ship, was either built, kept, or docked there before setting off for the Americas. However, Leigh Creek slowly became silted up over the years, causing a slow decline in the shipbuilding activity there. By 1650 it was no longer the shipping port it had once been. Today, only small boats are able to navigate the tidal creek in order to reach the harbour. As well as shipbuilding, Leigh was also a major centre in the oyster trade, and there were many oyster beds in the area. In 1724 a group of approximately 500 fishermen came over to Leigh from Kent, raiding the town and taking as many oysters as they could. These they took to London and sold. These men were eventually taken to court and fined £7,000, a huge sum of money in those days. As a result of the raid and the subsequent glut of oysters on the market, a sharp fall in prices was recorded. Given its age, Leigh-on-Sea has a number of historic buildings, many of the pubs. The Crooked Billet dates from the 16th Century and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. When the Peter Boat Inn was burned down in 1892, secret smuggling rooms and tunnels were discovered underneath.

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