Many schoolchildren in the Northeast grow up hearing the story of the Lambton Worm, but this is just one of a number of local legends featuring worms and dragons. To commemorate this heritage, as part of the Sacred and Profane performance a Durham-inspired dragon will roam the city’s streets. The organisers need your help to bring the dragon to life: if you want to help to make this monster, please volunteer your support.
The best known local dragon is the famous Lambton Worm with its “goggly eyes,” which dwelt in the river Wear. According to the 1867 song that commemorates events, one day a young lad called Lambton went fishing and caught a small, peculiar fish; not being bothered to carry it home, Lambton then “hoyed it doon a well.” The worm subsequently grew to terrify the locals, becoming so big that could coil itself around a hill, which is sometimes said to be Penshaw but also credited as being Worm Hill in Fatfield.
One Sunda morn young Lambton went
A-fishing in the Wear
An’ catched a fish upon he’s heuk
He thowt leuk’t vary queer
The Lambton Worm was not the only snake-like monster from local legend, however.
A similar being haunted the area of Sockburn, and had to be placated with milk.
Further north, at Bamburgh Castle, the beautiful lady of the house was turned into a Worm owing to the spells of a wicked, jealous queen, who eventually was turned into a toad herself as a punishment.
In 1569, a “certain Italian” came to Durham, putting on show “a very greate, strange & monstrous serpent in length sixteene feete… greater than a great horse”. This monster came from Ethiopia, where it had “devoured more than 1000 persons and also destroyed a whole countrey”.
Such beasts are remembered today mainly in stories, songs and poems. However, in the early modern period they were sometimes brought to life on stage. Stage dragons were paraded in civic festivals and in the theatre of the Renaissance. The Sacred and the Profane will resurrect this theatrical tradition – and the worms of lore – by building a Durham dragon which will prowl the streets in honour of the famous worms of the North-East.