Posted in Ivan's Adventures

Happy St George’s Day! (The Legend of the Lambton Worm)

Hi everyone! You’ve seen a lot of Ivan’s escapades recently, but we could hardly let the Feast of Saint George go by without celebrating it, could we?

Now, you’re all on a solemn oath not to tell Ivan about why we celebrate Saint George just yet, OK? I’m trusting you on this! He’s got hold of the idea that Saint George is the dragon and this is hilarious and adorable! His excitement at the idea of a whole day dedicated to dragons is very sweet to behold.

Ivan’s only a young dragon after all. Saint Patrick was bad enough and all he did was throw all the serpents out of Ireland!

That said, enjoy Ivan hoarding up all the red-and-white books he can find and sit back for a good old English dragon story to celebrate the day!

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The Legend of the Lambton Worm

There are some myths which we tell our children, and they are epic and full of great lessons and would make for a really good Hollywood blockbuster (if they haven’t already.)

And then there are the ones which I refuse to believe only I hear and think ‘this absolutely made the front page of the medieval local newspapers.’

The legend of the Lambton Worm is one such story, and incidentally is another contender for that animated children’s TV series I want the BBC to start making pronto! Everything about it is kind of amazing and cool, but is simultaneously one man’s utter idiocy made manifest.

Our story begins with one John Lambton, a young lad who decided to skip going to church one Sunday in favour of going fishing. As he snuck off to the river, he was hailed by an elderly lady, the local wise woman. She frowned sternly at John, telling him solemnly that “nothing good can come of fishing on the Sabbath.” John only laughed at her, and continued on his way.

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There is an old saying in fishing circles that “there’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot,” and apparently John Lambton combined both perfectly. He caught absolutely nothing the whole time church was in session, but once the church service was ended he finally got a bite. To his disappointment, John had not caught himself a good-sized fish however, but a teeny tiny worm of some kind. He didn’t know what it was and thought to take it home with him to ask his father.

It was only as he had walked halfway back to his home that he realised the flaw in his brilliant plan; his father would surely want to know where John had found this creature, and John would have to explain his choice to go fishing instead of going to church. Recognising that his father would take something of a dim view of this mischief, John resolved the problem by simply chucking the worm into a nearby well.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, John Lambton grows up and goes off to fight in the Crusades for seven long years and in his absence all matter of evil was wrought on those he left behind.

Because the teeny tiny worm that John threw into the well began to grow. And grow. And grow and grow and grow. The well became poisoned in the end and the Worm began to venture outside of it to feast on the sheep and cattle in the surrounding fields. And still it grew!

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Penshaw Monument on Penshaw Hill – note the ridges all around the hillside from the Lambton Worm’s coils squeezing it tightly in its sleep.

Soon the local farmers and villages began to notice that they had far fewer animals than they ought, and to their horror they found the great Worm, having totally out-grown the well by now, had coiled itself around Penshaw Hill to sleep through the daytime. Having eaten so many sheep and cows, the Worm began to raid the villages too, taking and eating small children. And yet it was so big by now that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it or keep it out!

They turned to the aged Lord Lambton for help. He was far too old to fight the creature, but he was a wise man who had seen much of the world. Lord Lambton finally succeeded in minimising the danger by drugging the Worm daily with the milk of nine cows, enough to fill up a huge stone trough. The Worm was so full after such a rich drink that it was no longer inclined to hunt and eat livestock or children anymore. But things could not go on like this forever…

Thankfully it was at this point that young John Lambton, older and perhaps just a little bit wiser returned home from the Crusades. He was, as you may expect, surprised at the devastation he returned to. The people around Lambton were too tired and plagued by misfortune to greet him with much enthusiasm.

His father, Lord Lambton, explained to John what had befallen the place in his absence, and John, realising the connection between the little worm he had discarded on the estate many years before and the monster which terrorised them now, was sufficiently repentant to declare that he would kill the Lambton Worm.

 

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“Meanwhile,young Lambton had repented of his youthful imprudences,and knowing that the growth of the worm was the outcome of his Sabbath-breaking, he determined on slaying the fierce monster. Consequently, after consulting a wise woman, he armed himself in a coat of mail studded with razor blades, and went down to the river side in search of the serpent, which he found coiled round a tree.” North Country Sketches, Notes, Essays and reviews, 1893

In a turn of events which at the very least illustrates John Lambton having acquired something in the way of good sense in his travels, John did not go crashing down to Penshaw Hill to slay the beast (or, more likely, be eaten by it!) No, instead John went very humbly and politely to speak with the wise woman whose wisdom he had spurned once before.

She was not pleased to see him, and told him in no uncertain terms of the pain he had brought to people he was beholden to. She did not mince her words in the slightest as she expounded her opinion on his foolish actions and lack of forethought in taking a creature from its proper home and depositing it without thought in a land it was not suited to. Away from the sea, to which it was doubtless swimming from its spawning grounds, the Worm had been forced to turn to other sources of food, and now it must be killed for this.

John’s guilt and embarrassment at her words may be imagined.

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Illustration of the legend of the Lambton Worm, English fairy and other folk tales, by Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1890

Having thoroughly scolded John for his youthful mistakes, the wise woman sat him down at last and told him what to do. He must have fixed to his armour, she said, as many blades and razors as he could she said, for the creature seemed to kill its prey by crushing them to death between its massive coils. The blades would protect against this.

John stood up to leave, much relieved to have both good advice and a ready escape from the wise woman’s words. To his dismay she curtly told him to sit himself back down, for she had not yet finished. As punishment for his thoughtless actions which had harmed farmers, bereaved families and would now lead to the death of a creature entirely out of its natural place in the world, when once John Lambton had killed the Worm, he must then kill the first thing to meet him on his return home. If he failed, she warned, then a full nine generations of his family would not die in their beds…

John tried to protest, but the wise woman would hear none of it and at last John was obliged to take his leave and explain to his father what must be done to free the land of the Lambton Worm… and why the price was being exacted.

The two men hatched a plan between them in the hopes of minimising the damage. Once John had slain the beast, he would blow three blasts on his hunting horn. His father, Lord Lambton, would then release John’s beloved hunting hound which would run to greet him and though John would be deeply grieved to lose his old friend, his father declared that it would be the least to be paid for all that had occurred.

Off John Lambton went in his bladed armour, off to seek and kill the Lambton Worm. His found it at last, down by the river where the whole nightmare had begun. The Worm tried to coil itself around John, but it only succeeded in cutting itself to shreds on his armour and John’s sword finished the job. As the Lambton Worm lay dying, John gave the agreed upon three blasts with his horn.

But Justice is not evaded so easily, now is it?

For John’s father, Lord Lambton had spent a very long and worried day wondering what the fate of his son should be, especially so soon after returning from war. Yes, he was angry with the lad’s poor decisions, but a father’s love cannot be shaken by youthful misdeeds, and he was at his wits’ ends as the sun began to sink in the sky. Finally he heard the three blows from his son’s hunting horn and in his relief and excitement he entirely forgot to release the hunting hound, and ran to greet his son instead!

Oh the despair John Lambton felt as his father embraced him on his return! He tried to avert the disaster by running to kill his hound as soon as possible, but it was too late, and he certainly could not bring himself to slay his father!

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And so the Lambton Curse was cast, and the Lambton worm was avenged.

Ah, but perhaps you do not believe in curses, hmm? Well, records are not so easy to come by, I’ll grant you, but this much is certainly known. For Robert Lambton, he drowned in the river at Newrig, and Sir William Lambton was killed in the first battle of the English Civil War at Marston Moor. And William Lambton, his son, died in battle at Wakefield in that same war, so he did.

It is commonly agreed upon that the last Lambton to die from the Curse was Henry Lambton, who died in his carriage while crossing the Lambton Bridge on 26 June 1761. And even those who lived did not escape entirely sane – Henry’s brother, General Lambton, kept a horse whip by his bedside the whole of his life in the hopes of warding off an untimely demise. Perhaps it worked after all, for the General did indeed manage to die in his bed, of old age…

As always, the lesson is clearly to listen when wise ladies tell you to stop doing something foolish and to leave strange mythical creatures where you found them instead of bringing them home!

Hope you enjoyed the retelling, and see you next time!

New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:

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9 thoughts on “Happy St George’s Day! (The Legend of the Lambton Worm)

    1. I have been saying for ages that so much old British and Irish folklore is *so out there!* that it would make a *fantastic* animated tv series!
      There’s the old story in which a man, realising he’s going to need to be married to forty women, throws himself into the sea and just spontaneously turns into a salmon! No, that had never been set up, and none of the stories in which this happens *ever* explain it!
      Or another one where someone turns a huge storm away by reciting poetry at it. Yes, that was a totally serious moment, stop laughing!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great story. I’ll bet that England has all kinds of legends and folklore that I’ve never heard. And it’s so interesting to me that the tales seem to have bits of truth tied to them, which makes sense, doesn’t it? The British Isles seem to have a very distinct form of magic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you so much! I tried to bring something a little different to the old story.

      England’s sense of magic is so strange and I absolutely love it. It’s this weird mash-up of everything we absorbed from the Celts, the Romans, the Normans, the Vikings that came to our shores, the things that grew out of a Christianity that makes no sense in a post-Reformation world, and then is varied up through local concerns and happenings!

      It’s endlessly fascinating to me, especially seeing how differently magic is seen in different areas – I grew up in the North where magic is a fact of life to be accepted but also to be feared like anything (see my telling of the Cursed Stone of Carlisle) but when I moved South I found magic was much more benign and well-intentioned, and it’s so interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And in the US, we have very little magic! Boo hoo. The Native American’s have that magic connection with their history and the land here, but it seems that the colonists left all that behind in Europe (except for burning witches). Ugh. Great story!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I find it really fascinating looking at how much Europeans left their magic behind.

        I touched on it when I did a look at the 2017 Beauty & the Beast film and how Americans clearly have very different ideas on the customs of hospitality and how if old beggars come to your door, you feed and house them if you value your life at all!

        Supernatural would have been a *very* different show had it been set over here!

        Liked by 1 person

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