Black Annis’s Bower – a poem by John Heyrick

On a Cave called Black Annis’s Bower

Being an answer to a very young lady’s enquiries about the story of Black Annis

Where down the plain the winding pathway falls
From Glenfield Vill to Lester’s ancient walls,
Nature or Art with imitative power,
Far in the glenn has placed Black Annis’ Bower.

Read on …

An oak, the pride of all the mossy dell,
Spread its broad arms above the stony cell;
And many a bush, with hostile thorns arrayed,
Forbids the secret cavern to invade;
Whilst delving vales each way meander round,
And violet banks with redolence abound.

Here, if the uncouth song of former days
Soil not the page with Falsehood’s artful lays,
Black Annis held her solitary reign,
The dread and wonder of the neighbouring plain.
The shepherd grieved to view his waning flock,
And traced his firstlings to the gloomy rock.
No vagrant children culled (the) flow’rets then,
For infant blood oft stained the gory den.

Not Sparta’s mount, for infant tears renown’d,
Echo’d more frequently the piteous sound.
Oft the gaunt Maid the frantic Mother curs’d,
Whom Britain’s wolf with savage nipple nurs’d;
Whom Lester’s sons beheld, aghast the scene,
Nor dared to meet the Monster of the Green.

Tis said the soul of mortal man recoil’d,
To view Black Annis’ eye, so fierce and wild;
Vast talons, foul with human flesh, there grew
In place of hands, and features livid blue
Glar’d in her visage; while the obscene waist
Warm skins of human victims close embraced.

But Time, than Man more certain, tho’ more slow,
At length ‘gainst Annis drew his sable bow;
The great decree the pious shepherds bless’d,
And general joy the general fear confess’d.
Not without terror they the cave survey,
Where hung the monstrous trophies of her sway:
‘Tis said, that in the rock large rooms were found,
Scoop’d with her claws beneath the flinty ground;
In these the swains her hated body threw,
But left the entrance still to future view,
That children’s children might the tale rehearse,
And bards record it in their tuneful verse.

But in these listless days, the idle bard
Gives to the wind all themes of cold regard;
Forgive, then, if in rough, unpolished song,
An unskilled swain the dying tale prolong.

And you, ye Fair, whom Nature’s scenes delight,
If Annis’ Bower your vagrant steps invite,
Ere the bright sun Aurora’s car succeed,
Or dewy evening quench the thirsty mead,
Forbear with chilling censures to refuse
Some gen’rous tribute to the rustic muse.
A violet or common daisy throw,
Such gifts as Maro’s lovely nymphs bestow;
Then shall your Bard survive the critic’s frown,
And in your smiles enjoy his best renown.

A Leicestershire poet, John Heyrick Jnr.,(18th century) wrote a poem which seems to be the earliest writing.  John Heyrick was appointed captain in the Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry on May 9, 1794, and retired on August 15, 1795. He was then appointed comet in the 15th Light Dragoons on October 3 following, and became lieutenant on February 10, 1796. He died near Leicester on June 18, 1797, aged 3.

His wife – Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831)  the eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth Coltman: Elizabeth was born into a Leicester family of wealthy hosiery manufacturers, with a strong dissenting background. When in 1789, she married the Leicester solicitor John Heyrick, a relative of the Macaulay family, she was already in perfect sympathy with the anti-slavery views of the family. In what was perceived as a ‘stormy’ marriage, Elizabeth followed her husband when he abandoned the legal profession to serve as a cornet player in the 15th Light Dragoons, residing with him in barracks in England and Ireland. He was eventually to return to Leicester and take up an appointment as a Captain with the Leicestershire Yeomanry. This comfortable life, however, was to be rudely shattered when John died suddenly in (1742  – ) 1797, leaving Elizabeth childless and utterly devastated.