Bringing the Durham Dragon to Life

The Lambton Worm, by Edwin Sidney Hartland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Lambton Worm, by Edwin Sidney Hartland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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”.

serpent scales

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.

Do you have a favourite worm legend from Durham not mentioned here, that you think we should know about? Share it with us in the comments below, on Twitter, or via Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Bringing the Durham Dragon to Life

Add yours

  1. Hello
    I just completed the biography of Bram Stoker and there is reference to a few mythological “worms” being the inspiration for his novel “Lair of the White Worm”.
    I have returned it to the library so I can not quote accurately but I recall one was the “Lambton Worm ” with a few Irish (Kerry?) worms as part of the mix! Most interesting!


    1. How fascinating. I had no idea that the Lair of the White Worm was based on the Lambton Worm.

      Didn’t some of Bram Stoker’s family come from Tynemouth, just up the coast? I seem to remember someone telling me this, but I could be wrong! If so, it’s conceivable that he may have heard about the tale that way, though he perhaps wouldn’t have heard the most famous version of the Lambton Worm song, which was only written down in 1867.

      A curious connection indeed. Thanks for sharing.

      Alistair (READ editor)


  2. Thanks Alistair
    I grew up just a stones-throw from the Stoker family home in Clontarf, Dublin so I have always had an affinity for my erstwhile neighbour. From Barbara Belford’s bio of Bram Stoker she says the Stokers arrived in Ireland in late 1600’s from Morpeth in Northumberland (member of the Old Green Horse Dragoons). While I have been in Canada for nigh on 50 years I always stop and pay my respects at his beautiful home in Marino (Clontarf) when passing. Thank you for the wonderful blog and the most interesting articles, podcasts etc.


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