Old Leigh Cockle Sheds

Cockles have been harvested from the Thames Estuary for centuries and it’s still possible to eat freshly caught cockles from Cockle Shed Row in Old Leigh. The sheds were built in the 19th century. With the opening of the railway, Londoners making day trips were a common sight and along with winkles and whelks, cockles were a popular snack. Cockles were taken back to the capital and sold by the pint glass outside pubs, and to this day, that’s how they’re measured.

Eating cockles at Old Leigh is a tradition that goes back a long way
Eating cockles at Old Leigh is a tradition that goes back a long way

Osborne Bros. has been part of this industry from the beginning. Back in 1880, Thomas Osborne began selling the tasty bivalves from Cockle Shed Row. By 1910, he had his first boat, called the Old Galley, and, though the boat has changed, his family still fish for cockles to this day. Raw cockles are unloaded from the boat and tipped into a hopper. They’re taken into the factory and boiled for four minutes to enable the shells to open and release the meat. Cleaned to ensure no sand, grit or shell fragments remain, the cockles are then cooled and ready to eat.

Unloading the boat
Unloading the boat
Separating the meat from the shells
Separating the meat from the shells
Cockles being sorted into buckets
Cockles being sorted into buckets

I recall sharing a pot of cockles as a child with my late grandmother on a regular basis, one of her favourite treats. Decades later, it’s still a common sight to see cockles being eaten from tubs in the sunshine. The season runs from late spring to October. If you’ve never tried them, make sure you rectify that as soon as possible, as they’re delicious.

Osborne Bros. shop, once The Crooked Billet's stable mews, is a weatherboard and iron structure which has changed little over the years
Osborne Bros. shop, once The Crooked Billet’s stable mews, is a weatherboard and iron structure which has changed little over the years

The photos you see here are reproduced by kind permission of Osborne Bros. To find out more, visit their website at http://www.osbornebros.co.uk.

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