* The parish register of Stanhope, does not go higher than 1609, but in 1598, Feb. 14th, Rowland Emerson, of the “Hinginge Wells,” in the parish of Stanhope, who from the locality and name, would be probably a near relation, makes his will, and names his son Roland, to whom he leaves a house at “Windie Side,” in Weardale, and desires his wife Alles, to bring up his children, “and as they come to aidge, to marrye them, as God shall permit.” His armour is valued at xx shillings.
Thir Weardale-men, they have good hearts,
They are as stiff as any tree;
For, if they’d every one been slain,
Never a foot back man would flee.
And such a storm amongst them fell,
As I think you never heard the like;
For he that bears his head so high,
He oft-tymes falls into the dyke.
And now I do entreat you all,
As many as are present here,
Do pray for [the] singer of this song,
For he sings to make [more] blythe your cheer.
THE WORME* OF LAMBTON.
The young heir of Lambton led a dissolute and evil course of life, equally regardless of the obligations of his high estate and the sacred duties of religion. According to his profane custom, he generally amused himself on Sundays by fishing, and was frequently to be seen angling in the River Wear, at the time when all good men should have been engaged in the solemn observance of the day.
* This story, “full of plot and incident, certainly ranks amongst the most popular traditions of this country.”
Popular tradition has handed down to us, through successive generations, with very little variation, the most romantic details of the ravages committed by these all-devouring worms, and of the valour and chivalry displayed by their destroyers. Without attempting to account for the origin of such tales, or pretending in any manner to vouch for the matters of fact contained in them, it cannot be disguised, that many of the inhabitants of the County of Durham in particular, still implicitly believe in these ancient
After having toiled in vain for some time, he vented his disappointment at his ill success, in curses “loud and deep,” to the great scandal of all who heard him, on their way to Holy Mass, and to the manifest peril of his own soul.
superstitions. The Worm of Lambton is a family legend, the authenticity of which they will not allow to be questioned. Various adventures and supernatural incidents have been transmitted from father to son, illustrating the devastation occasioned, and the miseries inflicted by, the monster —and marking the self-devotion of the Knight of the Lambton family, through whose intrepidity the worm was eventually destroyed. But the lapse of centuries has so completely enveloped in obscurity the particular details, that it is impossible to give a narration which could in any degree be considered as complete.—Surtees.
The present history has been gleaned with much patient and laborious investigation, from the viva voce narrations of sundry of the elders of both sexes living on the banks of the Wear, in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of action; and it has been given faithfully, both as to matter and manner.
“The Lambton Worm,” says Mr. Surtees, “belongs to that class of household tales, the genuine appendages of ancient families, long occupying the same ground and station; and perhaps no other certain deduction can be drawn from such legends, excepting that the families to which they relate are of ancient popular reputation, against whose gentle condition ‘the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ ”
It would certainly be a very difficult matter at present, to offer any plausible or satisfactory account of the origin of the Legend of the “Worme of Lambton,” with its wonderful power of re-uniting.
The story has been preserved and repeated almost without variation for centuries; and whilst so many facts of higher import, and even of national interest, have been suffered to fall into doubt and obscurity, this legend, with all its thrilling terrors, has survived the wreck of ages. No doubt it envelopes some allusion which is now for ever concealed in the obscurity of family legend; yet, if a conjecture might be hazarded, it may have arisen from the circumstance of an invasion from a foreign foe; some successful Chieftain, with well-disciplined bands arrayed in the bright colours of their leader, destroying and laying waste with fire and sword, and levying contributions on the ancient gentry. The advance in line of a well-disciplined legion over unequal ground would convey to the fears of the peasantry the
At length he felt something extraordinary “tugging” at the end of his line, and in the hope of hooking a large fish, he exerted the utmost skill and care: yet it required all his strength to bring the expected fish to land.
But what was his surprise and mortification, when, instead of a fish, he found that he had only caught a worm of most unseemly and disgusting appearance, and he hastily tore it from his hook and flung it into a well hard by.*
He again threw his line into the stream: when a stranger, of venerable appearance, passing by, asked “what sport?” To which he replied, “Why, truly, I think I’ve caught the Devil,” and directed the enquirer to look into the well.
The stranger saw the worm, and remarked that he had never seen “the like of it” before —that it was like an eft; but that it had nine holes on each side of its mouth, and that it “tokened no good.”
The worm remained “unheeded” in the well, but soon grew so large that it became necessary to seek another abode. It usually lay in the day-time “coiled” round a rock in the middle of the river, and at night frequented a neighbouring hill, “twin-
appearance of a rolling serpent; and the power of re-uniting is readily suggested by the ordinary evolutions of military tactics. The invaders would naturally encamp on an eminence for better security.
That the Knight should have destroyed this legion by his single arm, however, can hardly be received without qualification. He was, no doubt, the “head and chief” in the on-slaught, (the severed part might imply the cutting off a division from the main body), and by the happy union of valour and discretion, a decisive victory was obtained, and the invaders overthrown.
* Still known by the name of the “Worm Well” —it had formerly a cover and an iron ladle. “Half a century ago, it was in repute as a wishing well, and was one of the scenes dedicated to the usual festivities and superstitions of Midsummer Eve. A crooked pin (the usual tribute of the ‘wishers’) may sometimes be still discovered, sparkling amongst the clear gravel at the bottom of its basin.”
ing” itself around the base; and it continued to increase in length until it could “lap” itself three times round the hill.*
The dreaded worm now became the terror of the “whole country side,” devouring lambs, “sucking” the cows’ milk, and committing every species of injury on the cattle of the affrighted peasantry.
The immediate neighbourhood was soon laid waste and barren; and the worm, finding no further support on the north side of the river, crossed the stream towards Lambton Hall, where the old Lord was then living, oppressed with grief and sorrow: bewailing the loss of his son, who, having repented him of his former sins, had “gone to the wars in a far distant land.” †
The terrified household assembled in council, and after many conflicting opinions had been advanced, the advice of the Steward, a man of great experience and far advanced in years, was adopted, which was, that the large trough which stood in the court-yard should be immediately filled with milk. The monster approached, and eagerly drinking the milk, returned, to repose around its favourite hill, without inflicting further injury. Next day the worm was seen crossing the river at the same hour, and directing its way to the hall. The quantity of milk to be provided was soon found to be the produce of “nine kye;” and if any portion short of this quantity was neglected or forgotten, the worm shewed the most violent signs of rage, by “lashing” its tail round the trees in the Park, and tearing them up by the roots.
Many a gallant Knight, of undoubted fame and prowess, had sought to slay this monster, which was now “the terror of the
* The Worm Hill is an oval-shaped hill, on the north bank of the river, about a mile and a half from Lambton Hall. The Worm Well lies between the hill and the Wear.
† Or according to some “to wage war against the Infidels.”
—— “In glorious Christian field,
Streaming the ensign of the Christian Cross
Against black Pagans, Turks, and Saracens.” —Rich. II.
whole country;” and it is related, that in these “fearful” combats, although the worm had been frequently cut asunder, yet the severed parts immediately re-united, and the valiant assailant never escaped without the loss of life or limb; so that, after many fruitless and fatal attempts to destroy the worm, it remained, in tranquil possession of its favourite hill—all men fearing to encounter so deadly a foe.
At length, after seven long years, the gallant heir of Lambton returned from the wars, and found the broad lands of his ancestors “waste and desolate.” He heard the “wailings” of the people; for their hearts were filled with fear and alarm. He hastened to the hall of his ancestors, and received the embraces of his aged father, who, worn out with grief and sorrow, both for the absence of his son, (whom he had long considered dead) and for the dreadful waste inflicted on his fair domain by the devastations of the worm, was rapidly descending to the grave.
The heir of Lambton “took no rest” until he crossed the river to examine the worm, “as it lay” coiled around the base of the hill; and after hearing the fate of all those who had fallen in the deadly strife, (being a Knight* of tried valour and sound discretion), he consulted a Sibyl † on the surest means to destroy the monster.
* A curious entry in an old MS. pedigree, lately in the possession of the family of Middleton, of Offerton, states that, — “John Lambeton that slewe ye worme, was Knight of Rhodes and Lord of Lambeton and Wod Apilton, after the dethe of fower brothers, sans esshew malle.”
† So in the Romance of St. George and the Dragon:—
Then, “they their wise men did entreat,
To shew their cunning out of hand,
What way they might this fiend destroy,
That did their country sore annoy.”
At Lambton Castle, two stone figures are still preserved, the ages of which are not known; but they are evidently of considerable antiquity, and of tolerable workmanship. A Knight, armed cap-a-pee, his vizor raised, and the back part of his coat of mail closely inlaid with spear blades; with his left hand he holds the head of the worm, and
She told him that he had “himself” been the cause of all the misery which “afflicted” the country; (which increased his grief,
with his right he appears to be drawing his sword out of his throat. The worm is not represented as a reptile, but it has ears, legs and wings, resembling, in many respects, the dragon described so minutely in the ancient Romances.—See Sir Dygore, &c.
The other figure is that of a female, wearing an ancient coronet, much mutilated. It is singular that the upper part of her dress is carefully delineated and preserved, whilst the lower part of her robe appears to be either unfinished, or perhaps agitated by the wind; and a part of her right foot is visible, without shoe or sandal. Tradition has not connected her name with the story; except, indeed, that she may be intended to represent the Sibyl.
and strengthened his resolution,) that he must have his best suit of mail studded with spear blades, and take his stand on the rock in the middle of the river, trusting to his own valour and the might of his good sword; making a solemn vow, that if successful, he would slay the first living thing he met, but, if he failed to do so, the Lords of Lambton, for nine generations, would never die in their beds.
He made the vow in the chapel of his forefathers,* and caused his armour to be studded with the blades of the sharpest spears. He took his stand on the rock in the middle of the river, and unsheathing his trusty sword, which had never failed him in time of need, he commended himself to the protection, and to the will of Providence.
* The Chapel of Bridgeford, within the Manor, of which “the Lambtons were patrons from a very early period, in sometimes, from its situation, called the Chapel of Brugeford (Bridgeford). The shell of this little oratory lately stood near the New-bridge on the left of the road, immediately within the entrance of Lambton Park.”
When Hutchinson wrote (1785), Lambton Chapel was still in existence, near the New-bridge. “At a farm-house (he says) leading to Lambton, are the remains of a Chapel, the stone work of the eastern window yet perfect: and in the front of the house, in a circle, is the figure of a man to the waist in relief, with elevated hands, —the inscription defaced.” The subjoined sketch was taken in 1800.
“The Lambtons were amongst the first families of the north who embraced the reformed religion; and this “Chapel of the bridge” was probably disused alter the dissolution of chantries. The endowment is totally lost;
At the accustomed hour, the worm uncoiled its lengthened folds, and leaving the hill, took its usual course towards Lambton Hall, and approached the rock where the Knight stood ready and eager for the combat. He struck the monster on the head with all his “might,” but without producing any other visible effect, than to “irritate” and “vex” the worm; which, closing on the Knight, clasped its frightful “coils” around him, and endeavoured to strangle him in its poisonous embrace.*
But he was well provided against this expected extremity, for the more closely he was pressed by the worm, the more deadly were the wounds inflicted by his coat of spears, until the river ran with a crimson “gore of blood.”
The strength of the worm diminished with its incessant efforts to destroy the Knight; who, seizing a favourable opportunity, made such good use of his trusty sword that he cut the monster in two:
popular tradition, however, connects both the endowment of the Chapel, and the figure sculptured on the wall, with the romance of the Worm of Lambtom.”—Surtees.
* “The worm shot down the middle stream
Like a flash of living light,
And the waters kindled around his path
In rainbow colours bright.
But when he saw the armed Knight
He gathered all his pride,
And, coil’d in many a radiant spire,
Rode buoyant o’er the tide.
When he darted at length his Dragon strength,
An earthquake shook the rock;
And the fire flakes bright fell around the Knight,