The Story of Canvey Island II
The Days of Very Long Ago
And sometimes when the old man’s mood was good,
His fancy kindling at the blazing wood,
He seemed amongst the leaping flames to see
The things he told the boy upon his knee.
Then would his fancy fly the centuries back
Before the Wall was built, and but a track
Across the marsh, at times submerged by sea,
Joined isle to isle; pursued his history
To days when Norseman and maurauding Dane
Lurked in the inlets, sallying forth to gain
A foothold by the terror which they bore
With fire and sword along the Saxon shore.
How in the stronghold built on Benfleet Hill
The pirate Hoesten hid his hoard, until
The Saxon soldiers, forcing him to flee,
Retrieved the spoil and set captives free:
While in the fortress, trembling for her life,
The English found the Danish chieftain’s wife:
Whom good King Alfred, with her children twain,
In kindly chivalry sent home again.
He told of Danes’ skins nailed upon the door
Of Benfleet Church; and from his ample store
Retailed the exploits of a later day
By Hadleigh’s castle walls across the Ray;
Of keep and rounded tower and battlement
Built by de Burgh, King Henry’s Duke of Kent:
Of mail-clad men and their desperate deeds,
Of wounded warriors in the Island reeds:
Of how at length there came more settled days
When flocks of fat-tailed sheep are led to graze
The peaceful pastures, while their herd pursues
His work of making cheese from milk of ewes.
He told him of the yearly Fair in June,
Described the stalls with dairy produce strewn,
The farmer mounted on a milking-stool
Boasting the merits of his Canvey wool.
Nor did his fund of entertainment lack
Stories of smugglers and the ‘Lobster Smack’;
Of daring men who dodged the Customs’ search
And hid their treasure in the Village Church.