Hush! lads, shut your mouths, and I'll tell you all an awful story, Hush! lads, shut your mouths, and I'll tell you about the worm.
Not a dissection of any one folk lore creature, today I bring you a folk tale set right here in the north east of England, today I bring you the tale that is the Lambton Worm/Wym (which is Old English for Dragon) but before I begin I'd like you to visit this rather fun site which relays the song of the legend far better than I could ........ simply click HERE to go to the Northumberland Grid For Learning's production of The Lambton Worm as narrated by Sheila Cartwright.
Ok, so you have watched the animation, did you enjoy it? Yes, I know, some of the words probably looked a little unfamiliar, the dialect sounded strange and so I'll post an interpretation below OR you could always click HERE to listen to the standard English version of the song as opposed to the Geordie dialect version which is linked above.
One morning young Lambton went fishing in the Wear; and caught a fish upon his hook, he thought looked very strange.
Now Lambton felt inclined to go and fight in foreign wars. He joined a troop of knights that cared for neither wounds nor scars.
And off he went to Palestine where strange things him befell, and very soon forgot about the strange worm in the well.
But the worm got fat and grew and grew, and grew an awful size; with great big teeth and a great big mouth, and great big googley eyes.
And when at night he crawled about to pick up bits of news, if felt dry upon the road, he milked a dozen cows.
This fearful worm would often feed on calves and lambs and sheep, and swallow little bairns alive as they lay down to sleep.
And when he's eaten all he could and he had had his fill, he crawled away and wrapped his tail seven times round Penshaw Hill.
The news of this most awful worm and his strange goings on, soon crossed the seas, got to the ears of brave and bold Sir John.
So home he came and caught the beast and cut him in three halves, and that soon stopped him eating children and sheep and lambs and calves.
So now you know how all the folks on both sides of the wear lost lots of sheep and lots of sleep and lived in mortal fear.
So lets have one* to brave Sir John that kept the children free from harm saved cows and calves by making half of the famous Lambton worm.
(* In this instance 'have a one' referring to having a drink)A legend (click HERE to read) dating back from goodness knows when, the Lambton Lamb has seen many variations over the years, the above song having been penned for a pantomime in 1867 by CM Leumane.
But what exactly are the facts behind the myth, is any of it true?
Well, Young/Sir John (Lambton), heir to the Lambton Estate in County Durham, did exist even if the estate did not ...... or at least not during the time in which the legend was set it didn't. The present day Castle was built in the early 1900's and, though it is believed that the Estate had stood on the same ground for several centuries before this, this still dates it to well after the Crusades in which John is said to have fought.
And as for Penshaw Hill?
Of course, as with many folk lore tales, the details are changed over the years but as any local in the know will tell you it wasn't Penshaw Hill that the worm wrapped itself round but rather Worm Hill at nearby Fatfield - and the marks are still there to prove it ...... if you look closely.
So why tell the story when much of it isn't true?
Hmm, the fact that is merely a good yarn as opposed to a true story hasn't exactly stopped people from telling and re-telling it. Indeed many would argue that it acted as a wonderful morality story, a great way to get across the message that children should be in church on a Sunday instead of out fishing.
And then of course there is the curse which, often seeming to hold true, probably added to the story's popularity.
Though not mentioned in the songs lyrics, the legend, most agree, ends when John, on returning from the Crusades and finding his lands devastated by the worm, consults a witch who tells him how to destroy the creature, warning that after doing so he most then kill the first thing he sees or his family will be cursed for the next nine generations, none of them dying in their beds.
Now needless to say things do not exactly go to plan and, despite arrangements to prevent this from happening, the first person John encounters on killing the worm is his father and, alas unable to kill him, the family is cursed.
A curse that held true?
Yes, a curse that held true - at least for three generations of the Lambton family ..... Robert Lambton (1st Generation) was drowned at sea whilst Sir William Lambton (2nd Generation) died at war as did William Lambton (3rd Generation).