The village of Leigh was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as "Legra", a small fishing hamlet. Due to its good position on the shipping route to London, it began to grow and by the 16th century had become a fairly large and prosperous port. Ships of up to 340 tons are recorded as being built in Leigh, including many that would have been built for the local fishing fleets. With its location at the mouth of the Thames, Leigh was often used by the navy against threats from pirates and the French, Spanish and Dutch Navies.
By the 18th century ships had become larger and trade changed. At this time Leigh's deep water channel silted up and the importance of the town diminished. It then gradually reverted to a fishing village, supplying the London market by road and barge. When the London to Tilbury railway was extended to Southend in 1856, this split the village in two and many of its timber-framed buildings were demolished. But the trains were a benefit to the fishermen as it enabled them to transit fish to Billingsgate much faster than before.
Many original and longstanding buildings remain.
The Old Station
The site of the old Railway Station, the first platforms being opposite the Smack Pub. This building is now used by the Leigh Sailing Club.
This building was originally two timber framed cottages and in 1860 converted to a ship's smith. It is now the Leigh Heritage Centre.
The Old Custom House
Built in 1815, after the railway company took over the original Custom House which had been in Old leigh since 1738.
The Sail Loft
Up until very recently, this building was still used as a sailmaker's business. It is now used as the Foreshore Inspector's office.
This wooden cottage was built in the 19th century by James Plumb, now recently been restored and part of the Leigh Heritage Centre.
The Conduit was used for fresh water supply to the residents of the Old Town from 1712. The site was restored in 1975