Wp/nth/Lambton Worm

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"He struck a violent blaw upon the monster's heed" by C. E. Brock iv English Fairy and Other Folk Tales (ed. Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1890)

The Lambton Worm is a legend frae County Durham i North-East England i the United Kingdom. The story takes place aroond the River Wear, an is ane o the area's maist famous pieces o folklare, hevin been adapted frae written an oral tradition inte pantomime an sang formats.

The legend[edit]

The story revolves aroond John Lambton, an heir o the Lambton Estate, County Durham , an his battle wiv a giant worm (dragon) at hed been terrorisin the local villages.

Origin of the worm[edit]

The tale tells at the young John Lambton wes a rebellious chiel at missed church ane Sunday te gan fishin i the River Wear. I mony varsions o the tale, while walkin te the river, or settin up his gear, John is warned biv an aud man (or a witch – dependin on whe tells the story) that ne gud can come oot o missin church.

John Lambton disn't catch owt til the church sarvice is ower, at whilk point he fishes oot a smaa eel- or lamprey-like creatur wi nine holes on ilka side ov its salamander-like heed. Dependin on the varsion o the story, the worm is ne bigger nor a thumb, or aboot 3 fut (90 centimeter) lang. I some renditions it hes legs, while iv others it is said te mair closely resemble a snake.

At this point, the aud man returns, though i some varsions it is a different character. John declares that he hes catched the divil an decides te get rid ov his catch by flingin it doon a nearby well. The aud man then gies farther warnins aboot the natur o the beast.

John then forgets aboot the creatur an eventually grows up. As a penance for his rebellious early years, he joins the Crusades. Acause the story is often said te hae taen place i the 14th century, he likely fowt i the Barbary Crusade or Lithuanian Crusade.

The worm's wrath[edit]

Penshaw Monument, frae the sooth
Worm Hill, Fatfield, Washington

Efter a while, the worm grows varra mickle an the well turns poisonous. The villagers begins te notice their livestock gannin missin an discovers at the fully-grown worm hes emerged frae the well an coiled itsel aroond a local hill.

Earlier, an local, varsions o the legend associates the hill wi Worm Hill, i Fatfield. I maist varsions o the story, the worm is lairge eneugh te wrap itsel aroond the hill seeven times. It is said that ye can still see the marks o the worm on Worm Hill. Hooaniver, i the later sang the hill is Penshaw Hill where the Penshaw Monument noo stans.

The worm terrorises nibourin villages, eatin sheep, hinderin cows frae producin milk, an snatchin away little bairns. It then gans te Lambton Castle, where the Laird (John Lambton's aud feyther) manages te subdue the creatur i what becomes a daily ritual ov offerin the worm the milk o nine gud coos – twenty gallons, or a filled trough.

A number o brave villagers tries te slay the beast, but is suin dispatched. When a chunk is cut off the worm, it nobbut reattaches the missin piece. Visitin kneets tries te assault the beast an aa, but nane survives. When annoyed, the worm upruts trees bi coilin its tail aroond em, then creates devastation bi wavin aroond the upruted trees like a club.

The vanquishing of the worm in the story[edit]

Efter seeven years, John Lambton returns frae the Crusades te find his feyther's estates aamaist destitute acause o the worm. John decides te fight it, but first seeks the guidance ov a wise woman or witch near Durham.

The witch strengthrens John's determination te kill the beast biv explaining his responsibility for the worm. She tells him te cover his armour wi spearheeds an fight the worm i the River Wear, where it noo spends its days wrapped aroond a greet rock. The witch tells John at efter killing the worm he mun then kill the first livin thing he sees an aa, or his family will be cursed for nine generations an winnet dee i their beds.

John prepares his armour accordin te the witch's instructions an arranges wiv his feyther that, when he hes killed the worm, he will soond his huntin horn three times. On this signal, his feyther is te release his favourite hoond se that it will run te John, at can then kill the dog an thereby avoid the curse.

John Lambton then fights the worm bi the river. The worm tries te crush him, wrapping him iv its coils, but it cuts itsel on his armour's spikes; the pieces o the worm faas inte the river, an is weshed away afore they can join up again. Eventually, the worm is deed an John soonds his huntin horn three times.

Jonathan Martin an the worm[edit]

The worm wes ane o the things that affected Jonathan Martin when he burned doon York Minster i 1829. While later i Bethlem, Martin drew a sel-portrait shewin hissel aside the worm.

The Lambton curse[edit]

Unfortunately, John's feyther is that excited at the beast is deed at he forgets te release the hoond an rushes oot te congratulate his son. John cannet bear te kill his feyther an se, efter they meet, the hoond is released an dutifully dispatched. But it is ower late an nine generations o Lambtons is cursed se they shannet dee peacefully i their beds. Therefore, the tale ends.

This curse seems te hae held true for at least three generations, aiblins helpin te contribute te the popularity o the tale.

  • 1st generation: Robert Lambton, drooned at Newrig.
  • 2nd: Sir William Lambton, a Colonel o Fut, killed at Marston Moor.
  • 3rd: William Lambton, deed i battle at Wakefield.
  • 9th: Henry Lambton, deed iv his cairriage crossin Lambton Brig on 26 Juin 1761.

(General Lambton, Henry Lambton's brother, is said te hae kept a horse whip biv his bedside te fend off violent assaults. He deed iv his bed at an aud age.)


Northumbrian smaapipes, played i North East England

The take was made intiv a sang (Roud #2337), written i 1867 by C. M. Leumane, at passed intiv oral tradition an hes sindry rether different variants (maist notably the use o "goggly" or "googly" eyes [een] meanin bulgin and searchin, a term ance widely used on Wearside). It featurs sindry words nobbut fund i Northumbrian dialect.

One Sunday morn young Lambton
Went a-fishin in the Wear;
An catched a fish fish upon his heuk,
He thowt leukt varry queer,

But whatt’n a kind ov fish it was
Young Lambton couldn’t tell.
He wadn't fash te carry it hyem,
So he hoyed it doon a well.

Whisht! lads, haud yor gobs,
Aw’ll tell ye aal an awful story,
Whisht! lads, haud yor gobs,
An aw’ll tell ye aboot the worm.

Noo Lambton felt inclined te gan
An fight i foreign wars.
He joined a troop ov Knights
That cared for nowther wounds nor scars,

An off he went te Palestine
Where queer things him befel,
An varry suin forgat aboot
The queer worm i the well.


But the worm gat fat an grewed an grewed,
An grewed an awful size;
He'd greet big teeth, and greet big gob,
An greet big goggly eyes.

An when at neets he crawled aboot
Te pick up bits o news,
If he felt dry upon the road,
He milked a dozen coos.


This fearful worm wad often feed
On calves an lambs an sheep
An swally little bairns alive
When they laid doon te sleep.

An when he’d eaten aal he could
An he had had his fill,
He crawled away an lapped his tail
Seven times roond Penshaw Hill.


The news ov this myest awful worm
An his queer gannins on,
Suin crossed the seas, gat te the ears
Ov brave an bowld Sir John.

So hyem he cam an catched the beast
An cut ‘im in three halves,
An that suin stopped him eatin bairns
An sheep an lambs and calves.


So noo ye knaw hoo aal the folks
On byeth sides ov the Wear
Lost lots o sheep an lots o sleep
An leeved i mortal fear.

So let’s hev one te brave Sir John
That kept the bairns frae harm,
Saved coos an calves by myekin hauves
O the famous Lambton Worm.