Legend of the Lambton Worm
The legend tells of young John Lambton, son of a noble family in County Durham, who was fishing in the River Wear on a Sunday. When he was unable to catch a fish, he cursed the river, and immediately hooked an ugly little black worm which he later disposed of, in disgust, in the local well. This worm was to grow into a great serpent-like monster which blighted Lambton village and wreaked havoc in the area whilst John was away fighting in the Crusades for seven years.
When he returned home, now Sir John, he learned about the terrible creature that he had inflicted upon his village, and in remorse, set out to combat this monster. With the advice of a wise woman, he devised a suit of armour strong enough to withstand the power of the serpent and covered with spikes to penetrate its scales.
He successfully killed it, but in so doing inadvertently inflicted a curse upon his own family which was to last for nine generations.
The legend of the Lambton Worm is believed to date from the 14th century, and the earliest published version of the legend was by Robert Surtees, the well-known Durham historian who recorded the traditional oral version of the legend as recounted by Elizabeth Cockburn of Offerton. Surtees later included the legend in the second volume of his work ‘History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham’ published in 1820.
The draft version for this had been read and corrected by Sir John George Lambton, later 1st Earl of Durham, so we know that Surtees published that version of the Lambton Worm legend with the authority of the Lambton family. Sir John Lambton, reputedly the hero of the story, was a real person who became a Knight of Rhodes, and the book ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’ gives details of his place in the Lambton family tree.
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