It strikes me that what stories we write today will be the tales of history in years to come. Here are some from the Land of the Prince Bishops
Penshaw Monument officially The Earl of Durham's Monument, is a folly built in 1844 on Penshaw Hill between the districts of Washington and Houghton-le-Spring, within the City of Sunderland, North East England. It is dedicated to John Lambton(1792–1840), 1st Earl of Durham and the first Governor of the Province of Canada.
The 136-metre (446 ft) hill on which the monument stands was presented by Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. The monument dominates the local landscape as a half-sized replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. It is floodlit at night.
Door knocker - Durham Cathedral
The knocker on the Cathedral’s northern door, known as the Sanctuary Knocker, played an important part in the Cathedral’s history. Those who ‘had committed a great offence,’ such as murder in self-defence or breaking out of prison, could rap the knocker, and would be given 37 days of sanctuary within which they could try to reconcile with their enemies or plan their escape.
When somebody did seek sanctuary in the Cathedral, the Galilee bell would be rung to announce it. The sanctuary seeker would be given a black robe to wear, with St Cuthbert’s Cross sewn on the left shoulder to distinguish them as one who had been granted sanctuary by God and his saint.
The Lambton Worm in the picture is wrapped around the monument and the hill upon which it is situated. There are stories about the worm and even a song.
The story takes place around the River Wear, and is one of the area's most famous pieces of folklore, having been adapted from written and oral tradition into pantomime and song formats.
The story revolves around John Lambton, an heir of the Lambton Estate, County Durham, and his battle with a giant worm (dragon) that had been terrorising the local villages.
The story states that the young John Lambton was a rebellious character who missed church one Sunday to go fishing in the River Wear. In many versions of the story, while walking to the river, or setting up his equipment, John receives warnings from an old man that no good can come from missing church.
John Lambton does not catch anything until the church service finishes, at which point he fishes out a small eel- or lamprey-like creature with nine holes on each side of its salamander-like head. Depending on the version of the story, the worm is no bigger than a thumb, or about 3 feet long. In some renditions it has legs, while in others it is said to more closely resemble a snake.
At this point, the old man returns, although in some versions it is a different character. John declares that he has caught the devil and decides to dispose of his catch by discarding it down a nearby well. The old man then issues further warnings about the nature of the beast.
John then forgets about the creature and eventually grows up. As a penance for his rebellious early years, he joins the crusades.
Eventually, the worm grows extremely large and the well becomes poisonous. The villagers start to notice livestock going missing and discover that the fully-grown worm has emerged from the well and coiled itself around a local hill.
After seven years, John Lambton returns from the crusade to find his father's estates almost destitute because of the worm. John decides to fight it, but first seeks the guidance of a wise woman or witch near Durham.
The witch hardens John's resolve to kill the beast by explaining his responsibility for the worm. She tells him to cover his armour in spearheads and fight the worm in the River Wear, where it now spends its days wrapped around a great rock. The witch also tells John that after killing the worm he must then kill the first living thing he sees, or else his family will be cursed for nine generations and will not die in their beds.
John prepares his armour according to the witch's instructions and arranges with his father that, when he has killed the worm, he will sound his hunting horn three times. On this signal, his father is to release his favourite hound so that it will run to John, who can then kill the dog and thus avoid the curse.
John Lambton then fights the worm by the river. The worm tries to crush him, wrapping him in its coils, but it cuts itself on his armour's spikes, the pieces of the worm fall into the river, and are washed away before they can join up again . Eventually, the worm is dead and John sounds his hunting horn three times.
Unfortunately, John's father is so excited that the beast is dead that he forgets to release the hound and rushes out to congratulate his son. John cannot bear to kill his father and so, after they meet, the hound is released and dutifully dispatched. But it is too late and nine generations of Lambtons are cursed so they shall not die peacefully in their beds. That is how the story ends.
This curse seems to have held true for at least three generations, possibly helping to contribute to the popularity of the story.
- 1st generation: Robert Lambton, drowned at Newrig.
- 2nd: Sir William Lambton, a Colonel of Foot, killed at Marston Moor.
- 3rd: William Lambton, died in battle at Wakefield.
- 9th: Henry Lambton, died in his carriage crossing Lambton Bridge on 26 June 1761.
(General Lambton, Henry Lambton's brother, is said to have kept a horse whip by his bedside to ward off violent assaults. He died in his bed at an old age.)
A fine and bloody tale. Let's hope that our stories are ascribed such notoriety.