CANVEY ISLAND

Down near Thames mouth is the curious reclamation from the river mud known as Canvey Island. It is separated from the land by a "fleet," in which the Danes are recorded to have laid up their ships in the early period of their invasions, and the village opposite on the mainland is called Benfleet. Though on the river, it is a half-marine place, with the typical sea-plants growing on the saltings by the shore. In summer I noticed that the graves below the grey sea-eaten, storm-furrowed walls of the church have wreaths of sea-lavender laid upon them. But there is not the same rich carpet of sea-flowers as at Wells or Blakeney. Nor is the deposit so rich, so soft, so ready to be covered with smiling meadows as those of North Norfolk, built up from the mud-clouds of the Fen. Canvey Island itself is a heavy, indurated soil in parts, now well established, and producing fine crops. But is it the kind of ground which would pay a fair return on the cost of "inning it" to-day? The wheat is good, the straw long, and the ears full. The oats are less good, perhaps because the soil is too heavy. The beans are strong and healthy; clover, which does not mind a salty soil, thrives there; and there are strong crops of mangold. But it is not like the Fenland; it cracks under the sun, "pans" upon the surface, and is not adapted for inexpensive or for intensive cultivation. Such was the writer's impression from a careful view of the farms in the middle of harvest. But as a fact in the history of English agriculture, and in its relation to the past story of the Thames mouth, and its possibilities as a future health resort, this work of the enterprising Dutchmen in the beginning of the seventeenth century is full of interest. In 1622 Sir Henry Appleton, the owner of the marsh, agreed to give one-third of it to Joas Croppenburg, a Dutchman skilled in the making of dikes, if he "inned" the marsh. This the Dutchman did off hand, and enclosed six thousand acres by a wall twenty miles round. Like many parts of the Fens, the island was peopled for a time by Dutchmen engaged on the works, and Croppenburg is said to have built there a church. Two small Dutch cottages remain, built in 1621. The general aspect of the island is like that part of Holland near the mouth of the "old" Rhine, but less closely cultivated and cared for.

It has always been a separate region. Never yet has it entered the heads of its proprietors to join it permanently to the mainland. For three centuries its visitors and people have driven or walked over a tide-washed causeway at low water, or ferried over at high tide. You do so still, in a scrubbed and salty boat, while an ancient road-mender is occupied in the oddest of all forms of road maintenance. He stirs and swirls the mud as the tide goes down, to wash it out of the hollow way, otherwise it would be turned into warp-land every day, and become impassable. The Dutchmen's roads are sound and straight enough on the island. Outside the wall the samphire and orach beds are wholly marine. Inside the dikes and ditches are filled with a purely sweet-water vegetation. Further seawards, or rather riverwards, at a place called "Sluis," they are fringed with wild rose and wild plum, and the ditches are deep in rushes, in willow herb, in purple nightshade, water-mint, and reeds.