Leigh-on-Sea

Thirty miles east of London sits the fishing town of Leigh-on-Sea. First references to Leigh, or Legra as it was known date back to the Domesday Book which was compiled in AD 1085 and 1086. Its sheltered position on the shipping route to London allowed it to grow into a large and prosperous port, with fishing vessels up to 340 tonnes being built here (Pater Caton, Essex Coast Walk, 2009, Matador). However, changes in sea level and larger ships caused the silting up of the deep water channel in Leigh, and it reverted to being a smaller fishing village once more. Today, only a small number of local families work in the industry.

The local fishing industry has varied over the years ranging from catching shrimps, to cockles, whitebait and oysters.  Since the 1900s cockles have been the main source of shellfish caught in the Thames Estuary although the methods used have changed over the years.

During the early years, cockles were hand raked from the seabed between tides all year round.  The cocklers would carry a yoke laden with two baskets from the boat to shore where the cockles were cooked by steaming and then the meat would be separated from the shells by sieving.

Today the Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority determine when and where cockles can be fished in the Thames Estuary.