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Lambton Worm


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Lambton Castle (Co. Durham) is the setting for a lively tale of dragon-slaying which exists in two main forms: in a jocular folk-song probably dating from the 19th century, and in a pamphlet of about 1875 which gives a more detailed but heavily moralized account. How much older the legend itself may be is impossible to tell. Both versions agree that at some vaguely medieval period the Lord of Lambton's young heir was fishing in the river Weir on a Sunday, and caught a strange, ugly, worm-like fish which in disgust he tossed into a nearby well, remarking, ‘I think I've catched the Devil’. Soon after this, he went abroad to the Crusades. Meanwhile, the worm grew to a fullsized dragon; it was impossible to kill it, for if cut to pieces it merely reunited its body.

At length, Young Lambton returned home. On the advice of a local witch, he studded his armour with spear-blades and stood on a rock in the middle of the river; thus, when the dragon coiled itself round him, it impaled itself on the blades, and when he cut it in two the strong current swept the pieces away, preventing them from rejoining.

The witch had demanded as her reward the life of whoever first came from the Castle to greet Young Lambton. He had planned to trick her by arranging that his favourite hound would be loosed first, but it was his father who appeared. Rather than murder his own father, he defied the witch; consequently, she cursed the family, declaring that for nine generations no Lord Lambton would ever die in his bed.

In the folk-song, the story is simpler; there is no studded armour, no witch, and no curse—merely cheerful praise:Of bold Sir John and what he doneWi' the awful Lambton Worm.

Anon, The Wonderful Legend of the Lambton Worm(c.1875);Simpson, 1980:124–9.


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