British Dragons

legends from England, Wales, and Scotland
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2023

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


  1. Fiery Dragons at Lindisfarne (Northumberland).

  2. Kindling Fires to Drive Away Dragons (Traditional).

  3. Bone-Fires (Traditional).

  4. The Red Dragon of Wales (Wales).

  5. The Story of Lludd and Llevelys (Wales).

  6. The Radnorshire Dragon (Wales).

  7. The Linton Worm (Roxburghshire, Scotland).

  8. The Dragon at the Nine Maidens' Well (Forfarshire, Scotland).

  9. The Stove Worm (Orkney Islands, Scotland).

  10. The Dragon of Loschy Wood (Yorkshire).

  11. The Serpent of Kellington (Yorkshire).

  12. The Slingsby Serpent (North Yorkshire).

  13. The Dragon of Wantley (South Yorkshire).

  14. The Dragon of Unsworth (Lancashire).

  15. The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh (Northumberland).

  16. The Longwitton Dragon (Northumbria).

  17. The Serpent of Deerhurst (Gloucestershire).

  18. Saint George and the Uffington White Horse (Oxfordshire).

  19. The Mordiford Dragon or Serpent (Herefordshire).

  20. The Dragon's Well at Brinsop (Herefordshire).

  21. The Lambton Worm (County Durham).

  22. Conyers of Sockburn (County Durham).

  23. The Dragon of Well (County Durham).

  24. Piers Shonke and the Serpent (Hertfordshire).

  25. The Long Dragon of Shervage Wood (Somerset).

  26. The Dragon of St. Leonard's Forest (Sussex).

  27. The Dragon of Bignor Hill (Sussex).

  28. The Fiery Dragon of Dolbury Hill (Devonshire).

  29. The Legend of the Ludham Dragon (Norfolk).

  30. Links to Related Sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Fiery Dragons at Lindisfarne


A.D. 793. This year dire forewarnings came over the land of the Northumbrians, and miserably terrified the people; these were excessive whirlwinds and lightnings, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these tokens; and a little after that, in the same year, on the 6th of the ides of January [8th Jan.], the ravaging of heathen men lamentably destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne, through rapine and slaughter.

Kindling Fires to Drive Away Dragons


Belithus tells us, that it was a custom to carry lighted torches on Midsummer-Eve, as an emblem of St. John Baptist, who was a burning and a shining light, and the preparer of the way of Christ. But if this was the reason of this custom formerly, as it's probable it was, . . . yet the custom still continu'd among us, was originally instituted upon another bottom.

And indeed the original of this custom is heathenish. For in ancient times the dragons, being incited to lust through the heat of the season, did frequentlyu, as they flew through the air, spermatize in the wells and fountains. By the means the water beame infected, and the air polluted; so that whoever drank the waters, was either tormented with a grievious distemper, or lost his life.

As soon as the physicians perceived this, they ordered fires to be made everywhere about the wells and fountains, and those things which occasioned the noisomest smell, to be burnt, knowing that thereby the dragons would be driven away.



The reasons, given for making bonfires on St. John's eve, are various, among which are the following: "They made large fires, which might be seen at a great distance, upon the vigil of this saint, in token that he was said, in holy writ, to be a shining light."

Also: "These fires were made to drive away the dragons and evil spirits, which hovered in the air." In some countries, bones were used for fuel, whence they were called bone-fires, (by contraction, bonfires,) "because the dragons hated nothing more than the stench of brenyng ( burning ) bones."

The Red Dragon of Wales


Vortigern's magicians advised him to build a very strong tower for his own safety, since he had lost all his other fortified places. Accordingly, he made a progress about the country to find out a convenient situation, and came at last to Mount Erir, where he assembled workmen from several countries and ordered them to build the tower. The builders, therefore, began to lay the foundation; but whatever they did one day the earth swallowed up the next, so as to leave no appearance of their work.

Vortigern being informed of this, again consulted with his magicians concerning the cause of it, who told him that he must find out a youth that never had a father, and kill him, and then sprinkle the stones and cement with his blood; for by those means, they said, he would have a firm foundation.

Hereupon messengers are forthwith dispatched away over all the provinces, to inquire out such a man. In their travels they came to a city, called afterwards Kaermerdin, where they saw some young men, playing before the gate, and went up to them; but being weary with their journey, they sat down in the ring, to see if they could meet with what they were in quest of. Towards evening, there happened on a sudden a quarrel between two of the young men, whose names were Merlin and Dabutius.

In the dispute, Dabutius said to Merlin: "You fool, do you presume to quarrel with me? Is there any equality in our birth? I am descended of royal race, both by my father and mother's side. As for you, nobody knows what you are, for you never had a father."

At that word the messengers looked earnestly upon Merlin, and asked the bystanders who he was. They told him it was not known who was his father, but that his mother was daughter to the king of Demetia, and that she lived in St. Peter's Church among the nuns of that city.

Upon this the messengers hastened to the governor of the city and ordered him, in the king's name, to send Merlin and his mother to the king. As soon as the governor understood the occasion of their message, he readily obeyed the order, and sent them to Vortigern to complete his design. When they were introduced into the king's presence, he received the mother in a very respectful manner, on account of her noble birth; and began to inquire of her by what man she had conceived.

"My sovereign lord," said she, "by the life of your soul and mine, I know nobody that begot him of me. Only this I know, that as I was once with my companions in our chambers, there appeared to me a person in the shape of a most beautiful young man, who often embraced me eagerly in his arms, and kissed me; and when he had stayed a little time, he suddenly vanished out of my sight. But many times after this he would talk with me when I sat alone, without making any visible appearance. When he had a long time haunted me in this manner, he at last lay with me several times in the shape of a man, and left me with child. And I do affirm to you, my sovereign lord, that excepting that young man, I know no body that begot him of me."

The king, full of admiration at this account, ordered Maugantius to be called, that he might satisfy him as to the possibility of what the woman had related.

Maugantius, being introduced, and having the whole matter repeated to him, said to Vortigern: "In the books of our philosophers, and in a great many histories, I have found that several men have had the like original. For, as Apuleius informs us in his book concerning the Demon of Socrates, between the moon and the earth inhabit those spirits, which we call incubuses. These are of the nature partly of men, and partly of angels, and whenever they please assume human shapes, and lie with women. Perhaps one of them appeared to this woman, and begot that young man of her."

Merlin in the mean time was attentive to all that had passed, and then approached the king, and said to him: "For what reason am I and my mother introduced into your presence?"

"My magicians," answered Vortigern, "advised me to seek out a man that had no father, with whose blood my building is to be sprinkled, in order to make it stand."

Order your magicians," said Merlin, "to come before me, and I will convict them of a lie."

The king was surprised at his words, and presently ordered the magicians to come and sit down before Merlin, who spoke to them after this manner: "Because you are ignorant what it is that hinders the foundation of the tower, you have recommended the shedding of my blood for cement to it, as if that would presently make it stand. But tell me now, what is there under the foundation? For something there is that will not suffer it to stand."

The magicians at this began to be afraid, and made him no answer. Then said Merlin, who was also called Ambrose: "I entreat your majesty would command your workmen to dig into the ground, and you will find a pond which causes the foundation to sink."

This accordingly was done, and then presently they found a pond deep under ground, which had made it give way.

Merlin after this went again to the magicians, and said: "Tell me, ye false sycophants, what is there under the pond."

But they were silent.

Then said he again to the king: "Command the pond to be drained, and at the bottom you will see two hollow stones, and in them two dragons asleep."

The king made no scruple of believing him, since he had found true what he said of the pond, and therefore ordered it to be drained; which done, he found as Merlin had said; and now was possessed with the greatest admiration of him. Nor were the rest that were present less amazed at his wisdom, thinking it to be no less than divine inspiration.

. . .

As Vortigern, king of the Britons, was sitting upon the bank of the drained pond, the two dragons, one of which was white, the other red, came forth, and approaching one another, began a terrible fight, and cast forth fire with their breath. But the white dragon had the advantage, and made the other fly to the end of the lake. And the red dragon, for grief at his flight, renewed the assault upon his pursuer, and forced the white dragon to retire.

After this battle of the dragons, the king commanded Ambrose Merlin to tell him what it portended. Upon which he, bursting into tears, delivered what his prophetical spirit suggested to him, as follows:

"Woe to the red dragon, for his banishment hasteneth on. His lurking holes shall be seized by the white dragon, which signifies the Saxons whom you invited over; but the red denotes the British nation, which shall be oppressed by the white. Therefore shall its mountains be levelled as the valleys, and the rivers of the valleys shall run with blood. The exercise of religion shall be destroyed, and churches be laid open to ruin. At last the oppressed [the red dragon] shall prevail, and oppose the cruelty of foreigners. For a boar of Cornwall shall give his assistance, and trample their necks under his feet. The islands of the ocean shall be subject to his power, and he shall possess the forests of Gaul. The house of Romulus shall dread his courage, and his end shall be doubtful. He shall be celebrated in the mouths of the people; and his exploits shall be food to those that relate them."

The Story of Lludd and Llevelys


Preface, from Wikipedia.

The story begins as Lludd inherits the kingship of Britain from his father, Beli. Soon after, he helps his brother Llefelys marry the princess of France and become king of that country. Though Lludd's reign starts off auspiciously -- he founds "Caer Lludd", later to become London, as in Geoffrey -- before long three plagues disrupt the peace.

After a space of time had passed, three plagues fell on the Island of Britain, such as none in the Islands had ever seen the like. The first was a certain race that came, and was called the Coranians; and so great was their knowledge, that there was no discourse upon the face of the Island, however low it might be spoken, but what, if the wind met it, it was known to them. through this they could not be injured.

The second plague was a shriek which came on every May eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people's hearts, and so scared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men, and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren.

Llevelys explains the second plague to his brother Lludd, King of Britain:

"And the second plague," said he, "that is in thy dominion, behold it is a dragon. And another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry. And on this wise mayest thou come to know this. After thou hast returned home, cause the Island to be measured in its length and breadth, and in the place where thou dost find the exact central point, there cause a pit to be dug, and cause a cauldron full of the best mead that can be made to be put in the pit, with a covering of satin over the face of the cauldron. And then, in thine own person do thou remain there watching, and thou wilt see the dragon fighting in the form of terrific animals. And at length they will take the form of dragons in the air. And last of all, after wearying themselves with fierce and furious fighting, they will fall in the form of two pigs upon the covering, and they will sink in, and the covering with them, and they will draw it down to the very bottom of the cauldron. And they will drink up the whole of the mead; and after that they will sleep. Thereupon do thou immediately fold the covering around them, and bury them in a kistvaen, in the strongest place thou hast in thy dominions, and hide them in the earth. And as long as they shall bide in that strong place no plague shall come to the Island of Britain from elsewhere."

Having freed Britain from the first plague (occupation by foreign invaders, the Coranians), Lludd follows his brother's advice and frees his island from the second plague:

And some time after this Lludd caused the Island to be measured in its length and in its breadth. And in Oxford he found the central point, and in that place he caused the earth to be dug, and in that pit a cauldron to be set, full of the best mead that could be made, and a covering of satin over the face of it. And he himself watched that night. And while he was there, he beheld the dragons fighting. And when they were weary they fell, and came down upon the top of the satin, and drew it with them to the bottom of the cauldron. And when they had drunk the mead they slept. And in their sleep, Lludd folded the covering around them, and in the securest place he had in Snowdon, he hid them in a kistvaen. Now after that this spot was called Dinas Emreis, but before that, Dinas Ffaraon. And thus the fierce outcry ceased in his dominions.

Subsequently Lludd, again following his brother's advice, frees his land from the third plague, a giant magician who has been stealing their food and drink.
And thus Lludd freed the Island of Britain from the three plagues. And from thenceforth until the end of his life, in prosperous peace did Lludd the son of Beli rule the Island of Britain. And this tale is called the Story of Lludd and Llevelys. And thus it ends.

The Radnorshire Dragon


The dragon or the worm (Norse, ormr) finds a prominent place in the folk-lore of the county [of Radnorshire].

Ages ago, one of these vicious and powerful brutes slept every night on the tower of Llandilo Graban Church, after making dreadful devastations during the day. Many brave men tried to destroy the monster, but their attempts were always futile, and sometimes even fatal to themselves! At last, the parishioners offered a rich reward to anyone who would capture and slay this destructive brute which measured three yards and one inch long. After After many vain attempts on its life he became "curster" than ever.

An ingenious plough-boy, attracted by the handsome reward, devised a plan that proved successful. He made a dummy-man out of a large log of oak, and, aided by the local blacksmith, armed it with numerous iron hooks, powerful, keen, and barbed. Then he dressed the dummy in red and fixed it firmly on the top of the tower.

At dawn the following day the dragon first saw his daring bed fellow and dealt him a violent blow with his tail, which was badly torn by the hooks. Infuriated by the pain, he attacked the dummy with tooth, claw, wing, and tail, and finally wound round its wooden foe and bled to death.

This, we are told, was the end of the last dragon in Radnorshire, and the beginning of an affluent time for the plough-boy and a happier and freer life for the whole neighbourhood.

The dragon has always been with us. In the far-off misty past in reality, in early Christian times as the incarnation of evil, and these days in our quaint and extravagant fireside stories.

The Linton Worm

Roxburghshire, Scotland

Above the south entrance of the ancient parish church of Linton, in Roxburghshire, is a rude piece of sculpture, representing a knight, with a falcon on his arm, encountering with his lance, in full career, a sort of monster, which the common people call a worm, or snake. Tradition bears, that this animal inhabited a den, or hollow, at some distance from the church, whence it was wont to issue forth, and ravage the country, or, by the facination of its eyes and breath, draw its prey into its jaws.

Large rewards were in vain offered for the destruction of this monster, which had grown to so huge a bulk, that it used to twist itself, in spiral folds, round a green hillock of considerable height. When sleeping in this place, with its mouth open, popular credulity affirms, that it was slain by the Laird of Lariston, a man brave even to madness, who, coming upon the snake at full gallop, thrust down its throat a burning peat (a piece of turf dried for fuel), fixed to the point of his lance.

The aromatic quality of the peat is said to have preserved the champion from the effects of the monster's poisonous breath; and, in dying, the serpent contracted his folds with so much violence, that their spiral impression is still discernible round the hillock where it lay.

The noble family of Somerville are said to be descended from this adventurous knight, in memory of whose atchievement they bear a dragon as their crest.

The Dragon at the Nine Maidens' Well

Forfarshire, Scotland

A fertile source of mythical narrations is found in the ancient names of places; legends being invented to account for the names, and then we are gravely informed that the names were derived from the alleged facts of the legends. Near Dundee, in Forfarshire, there is a well called the Nine Maidens' Well, and adjoining are places named respectively Pittempton, Baldragon, Strathmartin, and Martinstane. From these simple circumstances we have a dragon story, which may be thus abridged:

A dragon devoured nine maidens at the well near Pittempton. Martin, the lover of one of the maidens, finding life a burden, determined to kill the reptile, or perish in the attempt. Accordingly, he attacked it with a club, striking the first blow at Strath -- pronounced by the country people Strike -- martin. The venomous beast was scotched, not killed, by this blow; but as it dragged -- Scottice, draiglet -- its slow length along through a morass, the hero of the adventure followed up the attack, and finally killed the monster at Martinstane.

The dragon, like other great criminals of the olden time, made a last speech, confession, and dying declaration, in the following words:

I was tempit (tempted) at Pittempton,
Draiglit (draggled) at Baldragon,
Stricken at Strikemartin,
And killed at Martinstane.

The Stove Worm

Orkney Islands, Scotland

The Stove Worm or great Sea Serpent [also known as Stoor Worm or Stoorworm] at one time bulked largely in oceanic mythology; and seems to have held, as became his bulk, his full share in Orkney Sea Myths. While the Orcadians had plenty of the more modern stories about the Sea Serpent, their great outstanding tale regarding him was that of the Mester Stove Worm that the Mester Assipattle slew. In my young days a fireside gossip about the Stove Worm generally ended in some old man or woman telling the above-named tale. This tale is much too long for insertion here, and I only give so much of it as refers to the subject on hand.

The Mester Stove Worm was the biggest, had the most devouring stomach, and was the most terrible of all living things on land or sea. He was not like other animals, created for the use of man. There hung an awful mystery about his creation. But it was generally believed that he had been hatched into life by some malignant spirits. Whatever was his beginning, he was placed in ocean, and became one of the nine curses that plague mankind.

His length was beyond telling, and reached thousands and thousands of miles in the sea. His tongue itself was hundreds on hundreds of miles long. And when in anger, with his tongue he would sweep whole towns, trees, and hills into the sea. His terrible tongue was forked. And the prongs of the fork he used as a pair of tongs with which to seize his prey. With that fork he would crush the largest ship like an egg-shell. With that fork he would crack the walls of the biggest castle like a nut, and suck every living thing out of the castle into his maw.

So long as he lay with his head near the shores of a country the people of that kingdom had to supply him with food. If they failed to supply his wants he would sweep their whole land into the sea, or else the monster would cast forth a pestilential reek in which no man or beast could live, and which blighted every growing thing, and the venomous stench thereof caused pestilence all round. While he kept his head near the shore the folk had to pacify him by giving him seven virgins once every week; for though a venomous beast he had a dainty taste. Every Saturday morning at sunrise he yawned nine times.

Now it came to pass that one time long ago the Mester Stove Worm set up his awful head near the shore, and the folk were forced to feed him every Saturday at sunrise with seven young maidens. Oh, it was lamentable to hear the shrieks of the poor lassies as they were crunched between the pitiless jaws of the monster! Well, the folk got tired of giving up their daughters to death; for they said there would be no women left in the land. So they took advice with an old Spayman (prophet and wizard combined). And the Spayman said to the folk that, if the King's daughter was given to the Stove Worm, the monster would leave the land and trouble them no more.

On hearing this the King was very sorry, for the princess was his only child and heir to his throne, and he loved her much. Nevertheless, he was forced to agree, that to save the land his daughter should go to the Stove Worm. But the King would have ten weeks of respite, in which he would send to the countries around, offering his daughter and his kingdom to any one that would destroy the Stove Worm. But no one would attempt that tremendous deed.

On the last day of the ten weeks the Mester Assipattle made his appearance. I omit his previous history, and all his plans and operations for conflict with the Stove Worm. Suffice it to say, that Assipattle in his boat entered the Serpent's mouth, rowed down through the monster's gullet, set fire to the liver of the Stove Worm, and returned to land in safety.

Yes, the liver of the monster being full of oil blazed into a terrible fire, and the heat thereof caused the Stove Worm unutterable pain, so that in his dying agonies he was like to have capsized the world by his terrible struggles. He flung out his tongue and raised it far up in the heavens. When, by chance, he caught hold of the moon; and they say he shifted the moon, but I don't know. He took hold of one of the moon's horns with the fork of his tongue, but, by great good fortune, his tongue slipped over the horn of the moon. Down fell the tongue with a tremendous force that made the world quake. And where it fell the tongue formed a great channel in the face of the earth, now filled by the sea. And this is the sea that divides Denmark from "Norawa" and "Swed-land." And they say, at the inner end of that sea are two great bays, made by the fork of the Stove Worm's tongue. As the monster lay struggling in dire pain, he would lift up his head to the sky, and then let it fall with terrific violence. As he did so once he shed a number of his great teeth, and those teeth became the Orkney Isles. The next time his head came down another lot of his teeth fell out, and they became the Shetland Isles. Now, while he was in the death-grips, he was gradually coiling himself together in one vast lump. Again he threw up his monstrous head, again it fell, striking as it always did, the bottom of the sea. And this time the teeth knocked out became the Faroe Isles. Then he rolled himself up, and his huge body when he died became the large island of Iceland. But his liver still burns, and the flames of its fire are sometimes seen rising from the mountains of that dreadful land.

The Dragon of Loschy Wood


In the church of Nunnington, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, is an ancient tomb, surmounted by the figure of a knight in armour in a recumbent posture, the legs crossed, the feet resting against a dog, the hands apparently clasping a heart, but no inscription to determine to whom it belongs. The traditional account current in the neighbourhood is that it is the tomb of Peter Loschy, a famous warrior, whose last exploit was killing a huge serpent or dragon which infested the country, and had its den on a wooded eminence called Loschy Hill, near East Newton, in the parish of Stonegrave.

The details of the combat, as related by tradition, are as follows. Having determined to free the country from the pest, the redoubted Peter Loschy had a suit of armour prepared, every part of it covered with razor-blades set with the edges outwards, and thus prepared, armed only with his sword, and accompanied by a faithful dog, he went forth to seek the destroyer, which he quickly found in a thicket on Loschy Hill.

The dragon, glad of another victim, darted upon the armed man, notwithstanding a wound from his sword, and folded itself around his body, intending, no doubt, as it had often done before, to squeeze its victim to death, and afterwards to devour it at leisure; but in this it was disappointed; the razorblades were keen, and pierced it in every part, and it quickly uncoiled itself again, when, to the great surprise of the knight, soon as it rolled on the ground its wounds instantly healed, and it was strong and vigorous as ever, and a long and desperate fight ensued between the knight and the serpent without much advantage to either.

At length the sword of the knight severed a large portion of the serpent, which the dog quickly snatched up in his mouth and ran across the valley with nearly a mile, and there left it on a hill near Nunnington Church, and immediately returned to the scene of combat, and snatching up another fragment cut off in the same manner, conveyed it to the same place, and returned again and again for other fragments until they were all removed, the last portion conveyed being the poisonous head.

The knight now rejoicing at his victory, stooped to pat and praise his faithful dog; the latter, overjoyed, looked up and licked the knight's face, when, sad to relate, the poison of the serpent imbibed by the dog was inhaled by the knight, and he fell down dead in the moment of victory, and the dog also died by the side of his master.

The villagers buried the body of the knight in Nunnington Church, and placed a monument over the grave, on which were carved the figures of the knight and his faithful dog to witness the truth of the story.

The Serpent of Kellington


In the churchyard at Kellington, near Pontefract, there is an old stone in a horizontal position, which may have been the cover of a stone coffin, or may be monumental.

Upon this there is cut, what appears to be, in the middle a cross, and, on the right side of it, the figure of a man with clasped hands, at his feet a dog; while on the left of the cross there are some undecipherable marks, which may have represented a serpent. There are other figures upon it, but too much worn away to be distinguished.

The explanation given by legend of these figures is that, "once upon a time," in the dim and distant past, the dark and dank marshy woodlands, then around Kellington, harboured an enormous serpent, which wrought terrible destruction among the flocks of the surrounding shepherds. At length a shepherd, named Armroyd, more daring than the rest, determined to do battle with the monster. By aid of his shepherd's crook and his faithful dog, he prevailed and slew the enemy; but, alas! at the expense of his own life, as well as of the life of his dog.

They perished together, and this stone, bearing the figures of them all -- of the man, his dog, his shepherd's crook, and of the slain monster -- is an enduring testimony to the facts of the story.

A field in the neighbourhood, named Armroyd Close, is said to have been given to his descendants, by his grateful neighbours, as a recognition of the service he had rendered.

It has since passed from Armroyd's descendants to other owners.

The Slingsby Serpent

North Yorkshire

Osgodby Hall was once the residence of a branch of the Wyvills, Knights of Slingsby Hall, a very ancient family, of great estate in this neighbourhood, "but one of them taking part with Stafford that came to Scarborough and took the castle, lost all his lands but Wyvill Hall which was then in jointure. Sir Marmaduke Wyvill of Burton Constable descended from these more ancient Wyvills."

The same authority also relates a curious tradition respecting this Wyvill. The road through Slingsby from Hovingham instead of proceeding in a direct line, takes a singular and awkward angle to the right, proceeding several hundred yards due south, which our authority says was explained in his day by the tradition of the snake.

"The tradition is, that near this town there was some time a serpent that lived upon prey of passengers, which this Wyvill and his dog did kill when he received his death wound. There is a great hole half a mile from the town, round, three yards broad or more where the serpent lay. In which time the street was turned a mile on the south side; which does still shew itself, if any takes pains to survey it."

The tale of the snake is still current in the neighbourhood, and is stated to have been a mile in length. The tradition, it appears, has been increasing in the marvellous with the lapse of years, but there is no doubt some truth in the fable, as there is an ancient monument of this Wyvill and his dog erected in the church.

The Dragon of Wantley

South Yorkshire

Old stories tell, how Hercules
A dragon slew at Lerna,
With seven heads, and fourteen eyes,
To see and well discern-a:
But he had a club, this dragon to drub,
Or he had ne'er done it, I warrant ye:
But More of More-Hall, with nothing at all,
He slew the dragon of Wantley.

This dragon had two furious wings,
Each one upon each shoulder;
With a sting in his tayl, as long as a flayl,
Which made him bolder and bolder.
He had long claws, and in his jaws
Four and forty teeth of iron;
With a hide as tough as any buff,
Which did him round environ.

Have you not heard how the Trojan horse
Held seventy men in his belly?
This dragon was not quite so big,
But very near, I'll tell ye.
Devoured he poor children three,
That could not with him grapple;
And at one sup he eat them up,
As one would eat an apple.

All sorts of cattle this dragon did eat.
Some say he did eat up trees,
And that the forests sure he would
Devour up by degrees:
For houses and churches were to him geese and turkies;
He ate all, and left none behind,
But some stones, dear Jack, that he could not crack,
Which on the hills you will find.

In Yorkshire, near fair Rotherham,
The place I know it well;
Some two or three miles, or thereabouts,
I vow I cannot tell;
But there is a hedge, just on the hill edge,
And Matthew's house hard by it;
O there and then was this dragon's den,
You could not chuse but spy it.

Some say this dragon was a witch;
Some say he was a devil,
For from his nose a smoke arose,
And with it burning snivel;
Which he cast off, when he did cough,
In a well that he did stand by;
Which made it look, just like a brook
Running with burning brandy.

Hard by a furious knight there dwelt,
Of whom all towns did ring,
For he could wrestle, play at quarter-staff, kick, cuff and huff,
Call son of a whore, do any kind of thing:
By the tail and the main, with his hands twain
He swung a horse till he was dead;
And that which is stranger, he for very anger
Eat him all up but his head.

These children, as I told, being eat;
Men, women, girls, and boys,
Sighing and sobbing, came to his lodging,
And made a hideous noise:
O save us all, More of More-hall,
Thou peerless knight of these woods;
Do but slay this dragon, who won't leave us a rag on,
We'll give thee all our goods.

Tut, tut, quoth he, no goods I want;
But I want, I want, in sooth,
A fair maid of sixteen, that's brisk and keen,
With smiles about the mouth;
Hair black as sloe, skin white as snow,
With blushes her cheeks adorning;
To anoynt me o'er night, ere I go to fight,
And to dress me in the morning.

This being done, he did engage
To hew the dragon down;
But first he went, new armour to
Bespeak at Sheffield town;
With spikes all about, not within but without,
Of steel so sharp and strong;
Both behind and before, arms, legs, and all o'er,
Some five or six inches long.

Had you but seen him in this dress,
How fierce he look'd, and how big,
You would have thought him for to be
Some Egyptian porcupig:
He frighted all, cats, dogs, and all,
Each cow, each horse, and each hog:
For fear they did flee, for they took him to be
Some strange outlandish hedge-hog.

To see this fight, all people then
Got up on trees and houses,
On churches some, and chimneys too;
But these put on their trowses,
Not to spoil their hose. As soon as he rose,
To make him strong and mighty,
He drank by the tale six pots of ale,
And a quart of aqua-vitæ.

It is not strength that always wins,
For wit doth strength excell;
Which made our cunning champion
Creep down into a well;
Where he did think this dragon would drink;
And so he did in truth;
And as he stoop'd low, he rose up and cry'd, boh!
And hit him in the mouth.

Oh, quoth the dragon, pox take thee, come out,
Thou disturb'st me in my drink:
And then he turn'd, and s---- at him;
Good lack how he did stink!
Beshrew thy soul, thy body's foul,
Thy dung smells not like balsam;
Thou son of a whore, thou stink'st so sore,
Sure thy diet is unwholesome.

Our politick knight, on the other side,
Crept out upon the brink,
And gave the dragon such a douse,
He knew not what to think:
By cock, quoth he, say you so: do you see?
And then at him he let fly
With hand and with foot, and so they went to't;
And the word it was, hey boys, hey !

Your words, quoth the dragon, I don't understand:
Then to it they tell at all,
Like two wild boars so fierce, if I may
Compare great things with small.
Two days and a night, with this dragon did fight
Our champion on the ground;
Tho' their strength it was great, their skill it was neat,
They never had one wound.

At length the hard earth began to quake,
The dragon gave him a knock,
Which made him to reel, and straitway he thought,
To lift him as high as a rock,
And thence let him fall.
But More of More-Hall,
Like a valiant son of Mars,
As he came like a lout, so he turn'd him about,
And hit him a kick on the a----

Oh, quoth the dragon, with a deep sigh,
And turn'd six times together,
Sobbing and tearing, cursing and swearing
Out of his throat of leather;
More of More-Hall! O thou rascàl!
Would I had seen thee never;
With the thing at thy foot, thou hast prick'd my a---- gut,
And I'm quite undone for ever.

Murder, murder, the dragon cry'd,
Alack, alack, for grief;
Had you but mist that place, you could
Have done me no mischief.
Then his head he shaked, trembled and quaked,
And down he laid and cry'd;
First on one knee, then on back tumbled he,
So groan'd, kickt, ----, and dy'd.

Since the first Edition was printed off, the Editor has been favoured with some curious particulars relating to the foregoing Song, which are here given in the words of the Relater. In Yorkshire, six miles from Rotherham, is a village, called Wortley, the seat of the late Wortley Montague, Esq. About a mile from this village is a lodge, called Warncliff Lodge, but vulgarly called Wantley: here lies the scene of the Song.

I was there above forty years ago; and it being a woody, rocky place, my friend made me clamber over rocks and stones, not telling me to what end, till I came to a sort of a cave; then asked my opinion of the place, and pointing to one end, says, "Here lay the Dragon killed by Moor of Moor-Hall: here lay his head; here lay his tail; and the stones we came over on the hill, are those he could not crack; and yon white house you see half a mile off, is Moor-Hall." I had dined at the lodge, and knew the man's name was Matthew, who was a keeper to Mr. Wortley, and, as he endeavoured to persuade me, was the same Matthew mentioned in the Song: In the house is the picture of the Dragon and Moor of Moor-Hall, and near it a Well, which, says he, is the Well described in the Ballad.

The Dragon of Unsworth


Traditions respecting the ravages formerly made by the so-called dragons occur in many counties. Yorkshire has claimed the legend of the Dragon of Wantley, and the Lambton Worm has rendered the county of Durham famous. One of the most noted dragon stories of Lancashire has its locality assigned to Unsworth, a small village or hamlet about three miles from Bury. The principal mansion in this village is occupied by a lineal descendant of the ancient family of Unsworth, who probably derived their name from the homestead they have so long occupied.

The house contains little worthy of notice; but it has long been famous for containing an ancient carved oak table and panel connected with a legend attaching to the family.

It is said that Thomas Unsworth was the owner of this property when the district was devastated by an enormous dragon, which was not content with its ordinary fare but proceeded to swallow up the women and children. The scales of this dragon were so hard and firmly set, that bullets shot by the guns of those days took no effect upon the monster; and the owner of Unsworth, finding this the case, loaded his gun with his dagger and mortally wounded the dragon under the throat, as it was raising its head to rush at its assailant.

The table is said to have been constructed after this event, and was partly carved by the dagger which had destroyed the reptile. The carvings on the table and panel are somewhat curious. One is a representation of St George and the Dragon, another contains rude figures of the eagle and child, a third the lion and unicorn, and a fourth of the Dragon of Unsworth.

The crest of the family consists of a man in black armour holding a battle axe in one hand; and tradition states that this is a portrait of Thomas Unsworth in the dress he wore at the time of the conflict.

What may have given rise to the legend it is quite impossible to determine; but an estate was once granted to a member of this family for some important military service, and this may have had something to do with its origin.

There are several carvings of the dragon in the possession of the family. One of these resembles a long serpent with the head and wings of a sphinx; another represents the monster as a serpent with the head of an old man; and a third resembles a serpent in folds with stings at the ends of the tongue and tail. The initials "C. V.," under the head of one of the figures, serve to indicate that the carvings have been executed for one of the owners of the mansion.

The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh


The history of the Laidley (i. e.) loathly, or loathsome) Worm of Spindleston Heugh is exceedingly popular on the Borders, as Sir Walter Scott remarks in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, though he refrains from transcribing it on account of its resemblance to "Kempion." The legend was put into verse -- very unequal, however, in character -- by a former vicar of Norham.

It opens with a parting between a king and his daughter. He goes out to win a second bride, and leaves his child, the Lady Margaret, in charge of Bamborough Castle. We see her, during her father's absence, arranging everything against his return, tripping out and tripping in, with the keys hanging over her left shoulder. At last the day arrives; the chieftains of the Border are all assembled to receive the king and queen. They come; the Lady Margaret welcomes them to hall and bower, and then, turning sweetly to her stepmother, reminds her that everything now is hers.

One of the chieftains, struck by the young girl's beauty and simplicity, praises her loudly in the queen's hearing, as

Excelling all of woman kind
In beauty and in worth.

The jealous queen mutters, "You might have excepted me;" and from that hour Margaret's fate was sealed.

The next morning the maiden was standing at her bower-door, laughing for joy of heart; but before nightfall her stepdame had witched her to a loathsome worm, so to abide till her brother, the Childe of Wynde, should come to her rescue from beyond seas.

The cave is still shown at Spindleston Heugh where the worm hid itself by day; during the night it would wander on the coast. We do not hear of any depredations it committed beyond the exaction of a tribute of milk (that favourite beverage of northern worms!); but so poisonous was the creature that for seven long miles in every direction the country was laid waste -- no green thing would grow.

At last, word went over the sea to the Childe of Wynde, that his native land was desolated by a Laidley Worm on Spindleston Heugh; and, fearing lest any harm should befall his sister, he summoned his merry men, thirty-and-three in number:

They built a ship without delay,
With masts of the rowan-tree,
With fluttering sails of silk so fine,
And set her on the sea.

They went on board, the wind with speed
Blew them along the deep;
At length they spied a huge square tower
On a rock so high and steep.

The sailors recognised the Northumbrian coast and King Ida's Castle, and made towards shore. Meanwhile, the queen looked out of her bower-window, and spying the gallant ship with its silken sails, sent out her evil companions, the "witch wives," to sink it in the waters; but they returned baffled and sullen, murmuring that there must be rowan-wood about the ship, for all their spells were powerless. Next she dispatched a boat with armed men to withstand the landing of the vessel; but the gallant Childe speedily put them to the rout. Lastly, it would seem that the worm itself withstood its deliverer, for we are told that

The worme lept up, the worme lept down,
She plaited round the stone,
And aye, as the ship came close to land,
She banged it off again.

However, the Childe of Wynde steered the ship out of her reach, ran ashore on the sands of Budle, a small village near Bamborough, and, drawing his sword, went boldly towards the monster, as if to do battle at once. But the creature submitted, exclaiming:
"O quit thy sword, and bend thy bow,
And give me kisses three;
For though I be a poisonous worme,
No hurt I'll do to thee.

O quit thy sword, and bend thy bow,
And give me kisses three;
If I'm not won ere set of sun,
Won shall I never be."

He quitted his sword, and bent his bow,
He gave her kisses three;
She crept into her hole a worme,
But out stept a ladye.

Our hero folded his recovered sister in his mantle, and bore her with him to Bamborough Castle, where he found his father inconsolable for her loss, though, through the queen's witcheries, he had tamely submitted to it.

However, the queen's power was over now, and the Childe pronounced her unalterable doom. Changed into a toad, she was to wander till doomsday round Bamborough Castle, and the fair maidens of that neighbourhood believe that she still vents her malice against them by spitting venom at them.

The Longwitton Dragon


From Longwitton-Hall there is an agreeable walk for nearly a mile, by a woody dingle, called the Dene-Burn, to the gardens belonging the house, which are situated on a small loamy plain, a lovely and romantic spot, sheltered on all sides by the steep and well-wooded banks of the Hart. . . .

A little to the east of them, in a wood, are three wells, which rise beneath a thick stratum of sandstone rock, which Wallis calls Thruston Wells; (probably from their coming through the stone) but the people of the neighbourhood Our Lady's Wells, and The Holy-Wells. . . . Great concourses of people from all parts, also used to assemble here in the memory of old people, on "Midsummer Sunday and the Sunday following," and amuse themselves with leaping, eating ginger-bread brought for sale to the spot, and drinking the waters of the wells.

A tremendous dragon, too, that could make itself invisible, formerly guarded these foountains, till the famous knight, Guy Earl of Warwick, wandering in quest of chivalrous employment, came this way and waged battle with the monster.

With words that could not be disobeyed, the winged serpent was commanded from his den, and to keep his natural and visible form; but as often as the knight wounded him, and his strength from loss of blood began to fail, he glided back, dipt his tail into the well, and returned healed, and with new vigour to the combat: till the earl, perceiving the cause of his long resistance, leapte between him and the wells, and in on furious onset stabbed him to the heart.

The Serpent of Deerhurst


There goes a story, that a serpent of prodigious bigness was a great grievance to all the country about Deerhurst by poysoning the inhabitants and killing their cattle. The inhabitants petitioned the king, and a proclamation was issued out, that whosoever should kill the serpent should enjoy an estate on Walton Hill in this parish, which then belonged to the crown.

One John Smith, a labourer, undertook it, and succeeded; for finding the serpent lying in the sun, with his scales ruffled up, he struck between the scales with his ax, and struck off his head.

The family of the Smiths enjoy the estate at present; and Mr. Lane, who married a widow of that family has the ax in his possession.

Saint George and the Uffington White Horse


April 12th, 1757

On the 11th I left Newtown on the road from London to Auburn, and from Marlborough to Oxford. We came to the camp over the White Horse, which commands a glorious prospect into Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Gloucestershire.

The camp itself is defended by one deep fossee. It is of an irregular form of four sides, about 800 paces in circumference. To the north-east of it is a small hill like a barrow, which was cut off from it. It is call'd Dragon Hill. On the side of the hill over it, just under the camp, is the White Horse, cut in turf as if in a trot. The green sod remains to form the body. It may be 100 yards in length, and is well designed.

On Dragon Hill, the common people say, St. George kill'd the dragon and show a spot on it which they affirm is never cover'd with grass, and there they say the dragon was killed, and I think buryed, and that the white horse was St. George's steed.

The Mordiford Dragon or Serpent


On the east end of the church of Mordiford is represented in plaster, an enormous dragon or serpent, the history of which is thus recorded:

Some centuries ago, we know not when, a dragon is reported to have been the devourer of all the cattle on the adjoining hills called Offwood, and was a monster of such terrific qualities, that no one could for a great length of time be found bold enough to undertake his destruction, till at length a pardon being granted to a condemned criminal, on condition that he would undertake it, he atchieved his purpose, by slaying the dragon as he was solacing himself in a cyder hogshead.

This wonderful relation, seems to be generally credited by the people in the neighbourhood, as no doubt it was at the building of this edifice, or this strange monster would not have been represented in so terrific a form, and in so conspicuous a place as the front of the church.

The Dragon's Well at Brinsop


The church at Brinsop is dedicated to St. George, and contains a fine tympanum of eleventh century date, representing St. George mounted, in the act of slaying the dragon. The Dragon's Well is in Duck's Pool meadow, on the south side of the church, while on the other side is a field called "Lower Stanks," pointed out by the late parish clerk as the spot where St. George slew the dragon.

The Lambton Worm

County Durham

The park and manor house of Lambton, belonging to a family of the same name, lie on the banks of the Wear, to the north of Lumley. The family is a very ancient one, much older, it is believed, than the twelfth century, to which date its pedigree extends. The old castle was dismantled in 1797, when the present mansion was built on the north bank of the swiftly-flowing Wear, in a situation of exceeding beauty. The park also contains the ruins of a chapel, called Brugeford or Bridgeford, close to one of the bridges which span the Wear.

Long, long ago, some say about the fourteenth century, the young heir of Lambton led a careless, profane life, regardless alike of his duties to God and man, and in particular neglecting to attend mass, that he might spend his Sunday mornings in fishing. One Sunday, while thus engaged, having cast his line into the Wear many times without success, he vented his disappointment in curses loud and deep, to the great scandal of the servants and tenantry as they passed by to the chapel at Brugeford.

Soon afterwards, he felt something tugging at his line, and trusting he had at last secured a fine fish, he exerted all his skill and strength to bring his prey to land. But what were his horror and dismay on finding that, instead of a fish, he had only caught a worm [serpent] of most unsightly appearance! He hastily tore the thing from his hook, and flung it into a well close by, which is still known by the name of the Worm Well.

The young heir had scarcely thrown his line again into the stream, when a stranger of venerable appearance, passing by, asked him what sport he had met with. To which he replied, "Why, truly, I think I have caught the devil himself. Look in and judge."

The stranger looked, and remarked that he had never seen the like of it before; that it resembled an eft, only it had nine holes on each side of its mouth; and, finally, that he thought it boded no good.

Meanwhile the worm remained in the well till it outgrew so confined a dwelling place. It then emerged, and betook itself by day to the river, where it lay coiled round a rock in the middle of the stream, and by night to a neighbouring hill, round whose base it would twine itself; while it continued to grow so fast, that it soon could encircle the hill three times. This eminence is still called the Worm Hill. It is oval in shape, on the north side of the Wear, and about a mile and a half from Lambton Hall.

The monster now became the terror of the whole countryside. It sucked the cows' milk, worried the cattle, devoured the lambs, and committed every sort of depredation on the helpless peasantry. Having laid waste the district on the north side of the river, it crossed the stream and approached Lambton Hall, where the old lord was living alone and desolate. His son had repented of his evil life, and had gone to the wars in a distant country. Some authorities tell us he had embarked as a crusader for the Holy Land.

On hearing of their enemy's approach, the terrified household assembled in council. Much was said, but to little purpose, till the steward, a man of age and experience, advised that the large trough which stood in the courtyard should immediately be filled with milk. This was done without delay; the monster approached, drank the milk, and, without doing further harm, returned across the Wear to wrap his giant form around his favourite hill.

The next day he was seen recrossing the river; the trough was hastily filled again, and with the same results. It was found that the milk of "nine kye" was needed to fill the trough; and if this quantity was not placed there every day, regularly and in full measure, the worm would break out into a violent rage, lashing its tail round the trees in the park, and tearing them up by the roots.

The Lambton Worm was now, in fact, the terror of the North Country. It had not been left altogether unopposed. Many a gallant knight had come out to fight with the monster, but all to no purpose; for it possessed the marvellous power of reuniting itself after being cut asunder, and thus was more than a match for the chivalry of the North. So, after many conflicts, and much loss of life and limb, the creature was left in possession of its favourite hill.

After seven long years, however, the heir of Lambton returned home, a sadder and a wiser man: returned to find the broad lands of his ancestors waste and desolate, his people oppressed and well-nigh exterminated, his father sinking into the grave overwhelmed with care and anxiety.

He took no rest, we are told, till he had crossed the river and surveyed the worm as it lay coiled round the foot of the hill; then, hearing how its former opponents had failed, he took counsel in the matter from a sybil or wise woman.

At first the sybil did nothing but upbraid him for having brought this scourge upon his house and neighbourhood; but when she perceived that he was indeed penitent, and desirous at any cost to remove the evil he had caused, she gave him her advice and instructions. He was to get his best suit of mail studded thickly with spear-heads, to put it on, and thus armed to take his stand on the rock in the middle of the river, there to meet his enemy, trusting the issue to Providence and his good sword. But she charged him before going to the encounter to take a vow, that, if successful, he would slay the first living thing that met him on his way homewards. Should he fail to fulfill this vow, she warned him that for nine generations no lord of Lambton would die in his bed.

The heir, now a belted knight, made the vow in Brugeford Chapel; he studded his armour with the sharpest spearheads, and unsheathing his trusty sword, took his stand on the rock in the middle of the Wear, At the accustomed hour the worm uncoiled its "snaky twine," and wound its way towards the hall, crossing the river close by the rock on which the knight was standing, eager for the combat. He struck a violent blow upon the monster's head as it passed, on which the creature, "irritated and vexed," though apparently not injured, flung its tail round him, as if to strangle him in its coils.

Now was seen the value of the sybil's advice. The closer the worm wrapped him in its folds, the more deadly were its self-inflicted wounds, till at last the river ran crimson with its gore. Its strength thus diminishing, the knight was able at last with his good sword to cut the serpent in two; the severed part was immediately borne away by the swiftness of the current, and the worm, unable to reunite itself, was utterly destroyed.

During this long and desperate conflict, the household of Lambton had shut themselves within-doors to pray for their young lord, he having promised that when it was over, he would, if conqueror, blow a blast on his bugle. This would assure his father of his safety, and warn them to let loose the favourite hound, which they had destined as the sacrifice on the occasion, according to the sybil's requirements and the young lord's vow. When, however, the bugle notes were heard within the hall, the old man forgot everything but his son's safety, and rushing out of doors, ran to meet the hero and embrace him.

The heir of Lambton was thunderstruck; what could he do? It was impossible to lift his hand against his father; yet how else to fulfil his vow? In his perplexity he blew another blast; the hound was let loose, it bounded to its master; the sword, yet reeking with the monster's gore, was plunged into its heart; but all in vain. The vow was broken, the sybil's prediction fulfilled, and the curse lay upon the house of Lambton for nine generations.

Conyers of Sockburn

County Durham

Sockburn -- where Conyers so trusty
A huge serpent did dish up,
That had else eat the Bish-up,
But now his old faulchion's grown rusty, grown rusty.


The ancient service by which the manor of Sockburn was held, was by the presentation of a faulchion to the Bishop of Durham, on his first arrival in his diocese. The ceremony is still retained; and the lord of Sockburn, or his steward, meets the bishop in the middle of the Tees, or on Croft bridge, and presents the faulchion, with the following address:

My Lord Bishop, I here present you with the faulchion where with the champion Conyers slew the Worm, Dragon, or fiery flying Serpent, which destroyed man, woman, and child; in memory of which, the King then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the country this faulchion [falchion] should be presented.

The bishop takes the faulchion into his hand, and immediately returns it courteously to the person who presents it, wishing the lord of Sockburn health, and a long enjoyment of the manor.

This tenure is distinctly noted in the inquest held on the death of Sir John Conyers, in 1396; and the ancient service by which this manor was held proves the legend to be of no modern origin.

No doubt some gallant exploit is veiled under this chivalrous tale, with at least an adumbration of truth.

The observance is still continued, and the steward of Sir Edward Blackett, the present lord of the manor, presented the faulchion to Bishop Van Mildert on Croft Bridge.

The Dragon of Well

County Durham

There is a dim tradition still existing in this village of an enormous dragon having once had its lair in the vicinity of Well, and was a source of terror to the inhabitants, until a champion was found in an ancestor of the Latimers, who went boldly forth like a true knight of olden times, and after a long and terrible fight he slew the monster, hence a dragon on the coat of arms of this family.

The scene of the conflict is still pointed out, and is midway between Tanfield and Well.

Piers Shonke and the Serpent


In the Northwall of this Church [in the village of Brent Pelham] lyeth an ancient Monument of Stone, wherein a Man is figur'd, and about him an Eagle, a Lyon, and a Bull, all having Wings; and the fourth of the Shape of an Angel; as if they should represent the four Evangelists; under the Feet of the Man, is the Cross Flurie, and under the Cross, a Serpent. He is thought sometime to have been the Lord of an old decayed House well moated, not far from this Place, call'd O Piers Shonkes. He flourish'd, Anno à Conquestu. 21.

An Inscription formerly on the Monument of Pierce Skonke, who died, anno 1086.

Cadmi Fama manet tantum tua Fama Georgi
Posthuma, tempus edax Ossa, Sepulchra vocat:
Attamen hoc Tumulo, Shonkus qui perdidit Anguem,
Invito Satanæ, cautè sepultus erat.

Cadmus his Fame, St. George his Fame alone remain
Their Tombs and Ashes, all are gone:
But Shonke, who valiantly the Serpent wounded
In spight of Satan, here he lyes entombed.

Or thus,

Tantum Fama manet, Cadmi Sanctiq; Georgi
Posthuma, Tempus edax Ossa, Sepulchra vocat;
Hoc tamen in muro tutus, qui perdidit Anguem,
Invito, positus, Demonæ Shonkus erat.

Nothing of Cadmus nor St. George, those names
Of great Renown survives them, but their Fames;
Time was so sharp set, as to make no Bones
Of theirs, nor of their monumental Stones,
But Shonke one Serpent kills, to'ther defies,
And in this Wall as in a Fortress lyes.

The Long Dragon of Shervage Wood


On the western slope of the Quantock Hills, it is said that a dragon with two heads, was slain by an unnamed champion at Crowcombe, and one of the bench ends in the church records the feat. Another dragon, also carved in the church, was killed by a champion of the Fitzwarren family, nearer Taunton, at Norton Fitzwarren, but of these two exploits no details are preserved.

A third dragon, which had its habitation in Shervage Wood, below the Danesborough camp, on the eastern slope of the hills, is however told of very definitely, and is still used as a deterrent to children who might linger too late among the whortleberry bushes.

It was a long dragon, "one of that sort they called a worm," and devoured every living thing within reach. Consequently the local woodman was unable to go to the wood and cut the faggots on which his living depended. At last, however, starvation drove him to work at a time when the dragon seemed to have gone elsewhere in search of prey, and during the morning he cut wood unmolested, seeing or hearing nothing of the terror.

At noon he sat on a fallen log half buried in fern to eat his "nummit" (noon-meat), and as he sat, the log heaved under him. It was the sleeping dragon.

Whereon, in desperation, he leapt up, and crying, "So thee do movey, do 'ee? Take that then!" he struck his axe into the beast, and fled.

But what became of the dragon no man knows, for it was never seen afterward.

The Dragon of St. Leonard's Forest


True and Wonderfull. A Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson: In Sussex, two Miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonard's Forrest, and thirtie Miles from London, this present Month of August, 1614. With the true Generation of Serpents. Printed at London, by John Trundle, 1614.
This relation breathes such a spirit of sincerity, seems so well attested, and tallies so well with what has been advanced on the same head by the best antient and modern historians , that we cannot well doubt of its truth. Since, therefore, this small piece is become now so extremely scarce, as not to be met with in the libraries, or even cabinets of the curious, and the subject of it is uncommon and entertaining; we flatter ourselves, that a republication of it will not prove unacceptable to our readers.

The style, indeed, is rude and unpolished, agreeable to the genius of the age wherein it was wrote: notwithstanding which, we could not prevail upon ourselves to modernize it, as believing this would not entitle it to so favourable a reception, amongst all true lovers of history and antiquity.

To the Reader

The just rewarde of him that is accustomed to lie, is, not be believed when he speaketh the truth. So just an occasion may sometime bee imposed upon the pamphleting pressers; and therefore, if we receive the same rewarde, we cannot much blame our accusers, which often fals out either by our forward credulity to but-seeming true reports, or by false coppies translated from other languages, which (though we beget not) we foster, and our shame is little the lesse. But, passing by what's past, let not our present truth blush for any former falshood-sake.

The countrie is near us, Sussex; the time present, August; the subject, a serpent: strange, yet now a neighbour to us; and it were more than impudence to forge a lie so near home, that every man might turn in our throates; believe it, or reade it not, or reade it (doubting) for I believe e're thou hast read this little all, thou wilt not doubt of one, but believe there are many serpents in England. Farewell.

By A. R.
He that would send better newes, if he had it.

In Sussex, there is a pretty market-towne, called Horsam [Horsham], neare unto it a forrest, called St. Leonard's Forrest, and there, in a vast and unfrequented place, heathie, vaultie, full of unwholesome shades, and over-growne hollowes, where this serpent is thought to be bred; but, wheresoever bred, certaine and too true it is, that there it yet lives. Within three or four miles compasse, are its usual haunts, oftentimes at a place called Faygate, and it hath been seene within halfe a mile of Horsam; a wonder, no doubt, most terrible and noisome to the inhabitants thereabouts.

There is always in his tracke or path left a glutinous and slimie matter (as by a small similitude we may perceive in a snaile's) which is very corrupt and offensive to the scent; insomuch that they perceive the air to be putrified withall, which must needes be very dangerous. For though the corruption of it cannot strike the outward part of a man, unless heated into his blood; yet by receiving it in at any of our breathing organs (the mouth or nose) it is by authoritie of all authors, writing in that kinde, mortall and deadlie, as one thus saith:

Noria sepentum est admixto sanguine pestis. Lucan.

This serpent (or dragon, as some call it) is reputed to be nine feete, or rather more, in length, and shaped almost in the forme of an axeltree of a cart; a quantitie of thickness in the middest, and somewhat smaller at both endes. The former part, which he shootes forth as a necke, is supposed to be an elle long; with a white ring, as it were, of scales about it. The scales along his backe seem to be blackish, and so much as is discovered under his bellie, appeareth to be red; for I speak of no nearer description than of a reasonable ocular distance. For coming too neare it, hath already beene too dearely payd for, as you shall heare hereafter.

It is likewise discovered to have large feete, but the eye may be there deceived; for some suppose that serpents have no feete, but glide upon certain ribbes and scales, which both defend them from the upper part of their throat unto the lower part of their bellie, and also cause them to move much the faster. For so this doth, and rids way (as we call it) as fast as a man can run.

He is of countenance very proud, and at the sight or hearing of men or cattel, will raise his necke upright, and seem to listen and looke about, with great arrogancy. There are likewise on either side of him discovered, two great bunches so big as a large foote-ball, and (as some thinke) will in time grow to wings; but God, I hope, will (to defend the poor people in the neighbourhood) that he shall be destroyed before he grow so fledge.

He will cast his venome about four rodde from him, as by woefull experience it was proved on the bodies of a man and a woman comming that way, who afterwards were found dead, being poysoned and very much swelled, but not prayed upon. Likewise a man going to chase it, and as he imagined, to destroy it with two mastive dogs, as yet not knowing the great danger of it, his dogs were both killed, and he himselfe glad to returne with hast to preserve his own life. Yet this is to be noted, that the dogs were not prayed upon, but slaine and left whole: for his food is thought to be, for the most part, in a conie-warren, which he much frequents; and it is found much scanted and impaired in the encrease it had woont to afford.

These persons, whose names are hereunder printed, have seene this serpent, beside divers others, as the carrier of Horsam, who lieth at the White Horse in Southwarke, and who can certifie the truth of all that has been here related.

John Steele.
Christopher Holder.
And a Widow Woman dwelling nere Faygate.

The Dragon of Bignor Hill


The old inhabitants of the place [Bignor in Sussex] have a tradition, now nearly lost, that a large dragon had its den on Bignor Hill, and that marks of its folds were to be seen on the hill; a relick of remote antiquity, and of Celtic origin.

The Fiery Dragon of Dolbury Hill


If Cadburye-Castle and Dolbury-Hill dolven were,
All England might ploughe with a golden sheere.

Cadbury-Castle (alias Caderbyr), the land of William de Campo Arnulphi, and after of Willowby, Fursden, and now Carew. This castle may be seene farr offe (so they tearme of high, upright topped hill, by nature and slyght art anciently fortified, which in those Roman or Saxon warrs might be of goode strength) conteyninge within the compass thereof near - - - - acres. Here you may see some fyve mile distant to the south-east, in the parish of Broad Clyst, another down, called Dolbury-hill; between these two hills, you may be pleased to hear a pretty tale that is said (I sett not downe those words to lessen your belief of the matter) but to let you knowe that, nil præter auditum habeo.

Take yt on this condition.
Yt holds credyt by tradition.

That a fiery dragon, or some ignis fatuus in such lykeness, hath bynne often seene to flye between these hills, komming from the one to the other in the night season, whereby it is supposed ther is a great treasure hydd in each of them, and that the dragon is the trusty treasurer and sure keeper thereof, as he was of the golden fleece in Colcos, which Jason, by the help of Medea, brought thence; for, as Ovid sayeth, he was very vigilant.

A watchfull dragon sett,
This golden fleece to keep,
Within whose careful eyes
Come never wink of sleep.

And as the two relations may be as true, one as the other, for any thinge I knowe, for it is constantly believed of the credulous heer, and some do averr to have seene yt lately. And of this hydden treasure, the ryming proverbe here quoted goes commonly and anciently.

The Legend of the Ludham Dragon


During the period in which the Bishops of Norwich occupied their palace at Ludham, the parishioners were horrified at the appearance of a hideous monster. Some said it was an enormous lizard; this was manifestly wrong, because it had wings and was covered with scales. Its horrible mouth was filled with huge teeth, and it was said to have measured from 10 to 12 ft. in length! It was confidently asserted that it was the dragon from which S. Benedict rescued the young monk Edwin in A.D. 1133, as related in the Legend of the Seal.

After having wandered all over the world for his victim, the dragon returned to the locality from which the young Monk had so wickedly strayed. As it appeared only after sunset, none dared to leave their homes after dark. The Parish Clerk offered to ring the bell at the time the monster appeared. He did so once, when the dragon, in fury, got over the churchyard wall, and after knocking over several gravestones commenced roaring and continued to do so all through that night.

Several times a deputation of the principal inhabitants waited on the Bishop at the Palace to beseech his Lordship to exorcise the monster. Each time they did so the answer was "The Bishop is not at home!"

The dragon made a burrow, commencing in a yard at the back of what is now "The Carpenters' Arms." in the main street -- the exit was just beyond the N.W. angle of the churchyard. Every morning this exit was filled with bricks and stones, only to be thrown out at night. One sunshiny afternoon it unexpectedly left the burrow, and when it had got some distance away a plucky parishioner dropped a single large round flint stone into the burrow.

After basking in the sun it returned, and being unable to remove the stone, began bellowing with rage, lashing its sides furiously with its tail. Many watched it from the church tower and it was suggested that it should be shot at, but it was thought that would only enrage the monster.

After a time it made its way across the fields in the direction of the Palace. Turning aside, it traversed the causeway over the marshes to the Abbey Gateway. Round and round the ruin it ran, throwing up stones and earth in fury. At last it entered the Gateway, making its way to the vaults beneath and was seen no more. After a time the burrow was carefully filled up. Since when, no more has been heard of The Ludham Dragon.

Links to Related Sites

  1. Jacqueline Simpson, "Fifty British Dragon Tales: An Analysis," Folklore, vol. 89, no. 1 (1978), pp. 79-93. Available via JSTOR.

  2. Dragon Slayers, an index page assembled by D. L. Ashliman.

  3. Saint George and the Dragon, an index page for the legendary saint, edited by D. L. Ashliman.

  4. Dragon, from Wikipedia.

  5. European Dragon, from Wikipedia.

  6. Germanic Dragon, from Wikipedia.

  7. Wyvern, from Wikipedia.

  8. Welsh Dragon, from Wikipedia.

  9. Lindworm, from Wikipedia.

Revised December 26, 2023.