Saturday, December 3, 2016

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Lambton Worm

The Lambton Worm is a legendary creature from North East England.The myth takes place around the River Wear near County Durham.It is one of the most prominent myth of the area, having been adapted from written and oral traditions into pantomime and song formats.


The story states that the young John Lambton was a rebellious character who missed his duties to go fishing in the River Wear. John Lambton does not catch anything until the time the church service finishes , at which point he fishes out a small eel- or lamprey-like creature with nine holes on each side of its salamander-like head. Depending on the version of the story the worm is no bigger than a thumb, or about 3 feet long. At this point, John declares that he has caught a demon and decides to dispose of his catch by dumping it down a nearby well. A local old man then issues warnings about the nature of the beast. John then forgets about the creature and eventually grows up. As a penance for his rebellious early years, he joins the crusades. Eventually, the worm grows extremely large and the well becomes poisonous. The villagers start to notice livestock going missing and discover that the fully-grown worm has emerged from the well and coiled itself around a local hill.

In some versions of the story the hill is Penshaw Hill, that on which the Penshaw Monument now stands, but locally the credit goes to the nearby Worm Hill, in Fatfield. In most versions of the story, the worm is large enough to wrap itself around the hill 7 times. It is said that one can still see the marks of the worm on Worm Hill. The worm terrorizes the nearby villages, eating sheep, preventing cows from producing milk and snatching away small children. It then heads towards Lambton Castle where the Lord (John Lambton's aged father) manages to sedate the creature in what becomes a daily ritual of offering the worm, milk of nine good cows, twenty gallons, or a filled wooden/stone trough. A number of brave villagers try to slaughter the beast but are quickly dispatched. When a chunk is cut off the worm it simply reattaches the missing piece. Visiting knights also try to assault the beast but none survive. When annoyed the worm would uproot trees by coiling its tail around them. It then created devastation by waving around the uprooted trees like a club.

After seven years, John Lambton returns from the Crusades to find his father's estates almost destitute because of the worm. John decides to fight it, but first seeks the guidance of a wise woman or witch near Durham.

The witch hardens John's resolution to kill the beast by explaining his responsibility for the worm. She tells him to cover his armor in spearheads and fight the worm in the River Wear, where it now spends its days wrapped around a great rock. The witch also tells John that after killing the worm he must then kill the first living thing he sees, or else his family will be cursed for nine generations and will not die in their beds.

John prepares his armor according to the witch's instructions and arranges with his father that, when he has killed the worm, he will sound his hunting horn three times. On this signal, his father is to release his favorite hound so that it will run to John, who can then kill the dog and thus avoid the curse.

John Lambton then fights the worm by the river. The worm tries to crush him, wrapping him in its coils, but it cuts itself on his armor's spikes, the pieces of the worm fall into the river, and are washed away before they can join up again . Eventually, the worm is dead and John sounds his hunting horn three times.

Unfortunately, John's father is so excited that the beast is dead that he forgets to release the hound and rushes out to congratulate his son. John cannot bear to kill his father and so, after they meet, the hound is released and dutifully dispatched. But it is too late and nine generations of Lambtons are cursed so they shall not die peacefully in their beds. That is how the story ends. This curse affect to nine generation of Lambton. This curse seems to have held true for at least three generations, possibly helping to contribute to the popularity of the story.

1st generation: Robert Lambton, drowned at Newrig.
2nd: Sir William Lambton, a Colonel of Foot, killed at Marston Moor.
3rd: William Lambton, died in battle at Wakefield.
9th: Henry Lambton, died in his carriage crossing Lambton Bridge on June 26, 1761.


Some parts of the story are rooted in reality. Though the present Lambton Castle in County Durham did not exist at the time of the legend, is seems likely that a Lambton estate has been at the same location for several centuries. The castle, in its present form, was built byJohn George Lambton, the first Earl of Durham, in the early 19th century. During that period the Lambton family made a lot of money from the coal mining business and put it into reconstructing the castle. Ironically, the castle suffered substantial damage when the very coal mines that had paid for it collapsed underneath the structure in the 1930's.

Lambton Castle as it appeared in the 19th century.

The river Wear, where John Lambton supposedly caught the monster, does really run through Durham County. The hill mentioned in the legend as the creatures resting place is said to be either Penshaw Hill or Worm Hill. Penshaw Hill, which is topped by a replica of a Greek doric temple built to honor the first Earl of Durham, is often pictured in modern drawings of the worm. This is an anachronism, as the temple wasn't built until 1844, several centuries after the legendary monster was dead. More likely the actual hill involved in the story is Worm Hill located several miles away. It is said that for several years afterward the marks the worm made while wrapped around that hill could be seen by those passing by.


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