The port at Leigh-on-Sea has been at the heart of the town’s community since records began. Generations of fishermen, an infallible sense of community, and a passion for fresh, sustainable seafood have all endured, making Leigh a small town with a mighty spirit!
Impressively, the earliest reports of fishing families living and working in the hamlet of ‘Legra’ come from the Doomsday Book of 1086, although the town has undergone a myriad of transformations since then. In its heyday Leigh was an important and bustling port, but the arrival of rail transport in the 19th Century caused the town to shrink back to its roots, and Leigh-on-Sea was once more a small fishing town home to only a handful of families.
Today, the hub of Leigh-On-Sea perches on a cliff above the original port. While 1950s homes and modern shops line the new town, the traditional harbour of Legra – now known as ‘Old Leigh’ – has become a nostalgic pocket of seaside charm. The strong fishing and seafaring heritage has prevailed, with locals still as gutsy and proud of their town today as they were in 1940, when local skippers set out to rescue troops during the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Bottle-green cockle sheds line the port, bristling with the activity of a small but busy fishery and welcoming locals and visitors alike to perch on a sea wall as they enjoy local delicacies (practically) straight from the sea.
Throughout Leigh’s long and varied history there has been a prevailing local hero: the mighty cockle. It is this humble bivalve – woefully under represented in culinary circles – that is bringing Leigh-on-Sea to the forefront of UK seafood once more.
In November 2019 the Marine Stewardship Council certified the cockle fishery at Leigh as sustainable, making it a pioneer in environmentally responsible sourcing of the species. And while cockles steal much of the limelight, the port lands an impressive array of fresh, local, and sustainable species – from mullet to winkles and clams to Dover sole.