The Lambton Worm

Sir John Lambton Battling the Lambton Worm Source: English fairy and other folk tales, by Edwin Sidney Hartland (1890)

Sir John Lambton Battling the Lambton Worm
Source: English fairy and other folk tales, by Edwin Sidney Hartland (1890)

The River Wear snakes for forty miles through the County of Durham in Northeast England. From high up in Weardale to the east coast of England at Sunderland, the river has provided so much more than water to the local communities. It provided transport and a means to earn a living, great ships were built on the river and of course, it has its very own legend, The Lambton Worm.

John Lambton was the heir to the Lambton Estate in County Durham and like many of his age, and being from a rich family, he was occasionally regarded as feckless.

It was important at the time for leading families of the area to be seen attending their local church on a Sunday, but one morning came and according to the legend John did not want to go. So instead of heading off to church, to worship and been seen to worship, he decides that he would go fishing down by the river instead.

On his way to the river, he meets an old who tells him that nothing good will come from missing church. Sure enough, no matter what Lambton tried, he could not pull a fish from the river until after the church service had ended.

Then to his surprise, he manages to catch something. Landing it on the bank he sees a small ugly, eel-like creature, the like of which he had never seen before. So instead of taking it home with him, he chucks it down a nearby well, despite warnings of misfortune from the old man.

Penshaw Monunment atop Penshaw Hill

Penshaw Monunment atop Penshaw Hill

Time passes and Lambton ends up fighting in the Crusades in the middle east. However, just as Lambton had grown to be a man, the worm had also grown up. Climbing out of the well, it started to rampage around the local area, eating children and livestock alike. It finally starts to head towards Lambton Castle where young Lambton’s father placates the worm daily with the milk of nine cows. It’s appetite sated, it would relax by sleeping with its tail wrapped around a hill.

The villagers around the castle hear what is happening and make several attempts to kill the worm. However, every time they attack it, the worm manages to re-join the severed section of its body and wraps itself around the villagers crushing them to death.

After a number of years, as people join the crusades, young Lambton receives news of what is happening back home and returns to County Durham as quickly as he can. Knowing the numerous attempts to kill the worm have failed by people being crushed, he has spikes added to suit of armour. He readies himself to meet the worm in battle at the river by praying throughout the night before.

Finally Lambton, dressed in his modified suit of armour, meets the worm at the river. As he attacks it, he manages to cleave a section of the worm’s body off, but as they are fighting in the river, the current washes the injured part of the worm away before the worm can restore itself. So in a desperate attempt to fight back the worm begins to wrap itself around Lambton, only to impale itself on the spikes on his suit of armour.

Lambton wins the day!

The story of the Lambton worm was immortalised in song, though whilst it credits Penshaw Hill as the place the worm slept, locals will tell you it was the aptly named Worm Hill a little further to the north.

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