A Romp Around Leigh-on-Sea

Selected extracts from part of the Hadleigh Heritage programme

Bell Wharf
Carole Mulroney
Palmer & Sons Shop opposite St Clements
Carole Mulroney

With the sound of the sea in every anecdote,  a talk entitled ‘A Romp Around Leigh’ was delivered on Saturday 17th June 2023 by Carole Mulroney in the Hadleigh Heritage programme.  Carole is famous for her “Leigh Lives” web-site and – amongst many other things – her work on “Local history and families of Leigh.”    Leigh – to clarify – is Leigh-on-Sea; famous for centuries of boat building, fishing and (only historically) smuggling.

Carole (Leighman) Mulroney née Palmer told us of local records reaching back to the 1680s.  Some of you, said Carole, will recognise this building. It is now Clements Arcade but when this picture was taken in 1911 it was the newly opened greengrocers, Palmer & Sons.    The shop was owned by Charles Palmer (a former fisherman and Carole’s great grandfather) and his wife Mary Ann (Kerry). Charles had given up the fisherman’s life to move up from the Old Town to the Broadway which was fast becoming the shopping centre of the town. He also built five houses in Rectory Grove.

Carole noted that many Leigh families are related by marriage and told of the Methodist history of the village showing an old picture which her niece had used in a school project to demonstrate their many connections to Leigh families.  Many of the famous family names were included in a “Palmer Poem” that Carole had written to describe the closely woven fabric of the Leigh-on-Sea community.

Some local sailors were “pressed” and had careers in the Navy; including one who was involved in the 1797 Nore Mutiny. Carole told the tale of Goldspring Thompson (born 1st Jan 1780 in Canewdon,  died 10 Apr 1875) who saw what was likely to happen to the mutineers and slipped away to swim to Canvey, hide in the abundant reed beds and successfully escape the fate of the ringleaders.  

Still standing in Old Leigh is the Customs House, marked George III on the drainpipes (probably not the originals).  There were sales of seized contraband which despite there being only a few Excise officers were of remarkably large amounts of gin, rum and calico.

In 1695, the Peterboat pub, an oft supposed but unproven link in the smuggling chain,  was owned by the Osbornes.  In 1891, a new steam-powered (but horse-drawn)  fire engine was delivered to Southend Fire Brigade.  Within a few days, 2nd October 1891, possibly related to the making of Christmas Pudding (Carole’s theory) with a substantial amount of brandy,  the Peterboat caught fire during the night and the Southend Brigade was called out.   By 6:15 am, the Brigade had suppressed the fire;  but a large and unsuspected underground room was found under the ruined pub.

 The prevailing practice of naming sons and grandsons after the father meant that nicknames were a common local device.  There was Jammie X,  “No matches” Y,   Brubs Bridge has a window in the Methodist Church;   and so forth.

Another oft repeated tale is that the fishermen knew that if they fell overboard they would be washed out to sea and their bodies would drift into parishes around the coast where they were unknown. Accordingly, the practice grew of fishermen wearing gold earrings to pay for their funeral wherever they washed ashore. There are other tales about the gold earrings.

Many other salty tales were told by Carole to the benefit of the audience in St James The Less;  and Carole’s web-site is recommended for further reading at https://www.leighlives.co.uk

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  • Dear Carole;
    The other evening “the Repair Shop” programme celebrated 75yrs of our NHS.
    One of the participants, Dr Adrian Hayta, brought in his dad’s old Dr’s bag hoping it could be restored.
    Needless to say, it was but the interesting thing about his Dad was he was a GP in Leigh.
    In fact his Surgery was on the corner of Walker Drive and the London Road.
    For many years he shared this surgery with Dr Rough. I would just like to pay tribute to Dr Hayta, he really was not just a good Dr, he was a very compassionate one too.
    I hope this fits into your “Romp Around Leigh” Articles.

    {Ed: Dr Hayta (senior,) Dr Williams and Dr D P Rough had a surgery (built on the side of Dr Rough’s house) near the corner of Hadleigh Park Avenue in Kiln Road in the 1950s.}

    By Rob Keen (29/06/2023)

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