Our project, ‘A Spot Called Crayford: The Legend of Hengest’ takes its inspiration from an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 456AD.
This describes how the Britons fought and lost the Battle of Crecganford (Crayford) against the legendary Anglo-Saxon warrior Hengest and his son Aesc, a future King of Kent:
A.D. 456. This year Hengest and Ash his son fought with the Britons on the spot that is called Crayford, and there slew 4000 men, and the Britons then left the land of Kent, and in great fear fled to London.
This is a significant event, as it is part of the foundation story of England. An ancient local legend would have us believe that the four thousand dead Britons were buried in Crayford beneath Mount Nod, which is the hill that runs between the River Cray and Iron Mill Lane near the site of St. Paulinus Church.
Real story or myth?
Frustratingly the period in which the battle was fought is often called the Dark Ages because of the lack of written evidence. However, the battle was also mentioned by the Welsh monk Nennius’ in his Historia Brittonum (c. 830). Sadly, he did not mention the battle by name, describing it as being ‘upon the river Darent.’
Kent’s white horse emblem is attributed to the victors of the Battle of Crayford. Both Hengest (Stallion) and his brother Horsa (Horse) have names associated with horses, a common theme not only in Germanic, but in ancient Indian mythology. For centuries, they were seen as the founding fathers of England, thanks to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s (c. 1095 – c. 1155) History of the Kings of Britain. This book is the foundation of the legend of King Arthur and many historians have come to see Hengest’s story as a similar fantasy.
However, J. R. R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, argued strongly that Hengest and Horsa were real not mythical figures.
Piecing together the story in prose and verse
CRAY volunteer Muriel Hudson has done a magnificent job in piecing together the legendary story of Hengest from all of the original sources. Not only was she able to do this in prose, but she was able to write up the story in verse too, so that Hengest’s story can be heard in the way our Anglo-Saxon ancestors would have been familiar with. There are many versions of Hengest’s story , but this is the first to mention the small part Crayford played in his story. It has even inspired author Chris Thorndycroft to add the story of the Battle of Crecganford to the final book in his Hengest and Horsa trilogy.
Working with our partner schools
Our partner schools both have links to the Saxon heritage of our area. The original Holy Trinity C.E. School stood on an ancient Saxon burial ground at the bottom of West Hill, Dartford and St. Paulinus C.E. School sits on ‘Mount Nod’ the legendary Crayford battle-site close to the parish church, which has Saxon foundations. CRAY in partnership with King’s College London, and with advice from the British Museum, have developed teaching materials so that children at these schools can learn how the Saxons shaped their area and fought a decisive battle that helped change the course of history.