During the 1953 tidal surge Brightlingsea was effected particularly badly by the weather. As the tidal waters surged through the town people were unable to escape to higher ground due to the suddenness of the catastrophe. The depth and ferocity of the waters meant that family members living just a little way up Beacon Hill were helpless because of the weather. They were forced to watch as a few hundred yards away their families were at the mercy of the floods. The tidal surge of 1953 was the worst weather event in Essex history and more that 100 lives were lost in the county.
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The picturesque coastal town of Brightlingsea can trace its roots back to Neolithic times. In 1995, archaeologists conducted a dig that uncovered a pot dating back to between 3200 and 4000BC. Brightlingsea was traditionally known for fishing (especially oysters) and shipbuilding. It has also held a historic link as a subsidiary port (called a 'limb') of the Kentish Cinque Port of Sandwich. This meant that Brightlingsea shared in the responsibility to provide for the naval defense of England and received certain privileges in trade and taxation as a result. In the middle of the town sits Jacobs Hall which is reputed to be the oldest timber framed building in England, dating back to the fourteenth century.
The sailing heritage of Brightlingsea is upheld by the Brightlingsea Sailing Club. One of the oldest sailing clubs in the East of England, it has been responsible for training many sailors, producing champions at both international and Olympic level. Among the notable sailors to come from Brightlingsea are Reg White and John Osborne who won the gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the tornado class sailing.