Sometime in the Middle Ages, we have a lazy lout of boy named John Lambton, treasured son and heir to the Lambton Estate in County Durham, England. One fine Sunday, our John chooses to skip church and go fishing instead. Needless to say, this decision leads to turmoil and death.
While fishing, he catches a squiggly, small white worm. He doesn’t like the looks of it, tosses it in a handy well on the way home, and forgets all about it. Upon reaching his domicile, his father, who has nearly despaired that John will ever amount to anything, informs him (the son) that he (the father) has enlisted him (the son) in the army and it is off to the Crusades with him (the son) forthwith.
Long story short—by the time the boy returns from the war, the worm has turned, so to speak, and has grown into a giant, poisonous, cow-and-toddler-munching beast. The entire countryside is terrorized and his own inheritance is in grave danger because property values have plummeted. The worm was reportedly large enough to wrap itself seven times around a little place called Worm Hill and who wants to look out the window on a sunny morning and see that? The imprint left by the creature around the hill remains and is probably part of a tour.
Anyway, John’s father pays tribute in milk and other dainties to the Worm to keep it from ravaging the estate. Though many try to kill the beast, it seems indestructible—the hacked off bits just reattach themselves and the Worm grows stronger all the time.
The boy, a profligate no more, seeks help and finds a wise woman in the town who tells him how to fight and defeat the beast. But, she warns, he must kill the first living thing he sees after disposing of the Worm or his own fortunes will wither away and violent death will plague the family.
After much strife and drama and excitement, John does indeed defeat the Worm and hies back to the castle to spread the good news, completely forgetting the old woman’s warning. Well, let me tell you, it’s not a good idea to ignore witches (because that is exactly what she was.)
The first living creature John sees is his father and only then does he remember the prophecy. He can’t kill his father, though some stories have him killing a dog and trying to foist it off as the appropriate sacrifice. Doesn’t work. Witches aren’t that easy. While the Worm is gone, the fortunes of the family dwindle and, in fact, several generations of Lambton patriarchs have died violent deaths.
The story is immortalized in song and story and cinema. I’ve included the song at the end if you want to read through.
My favorite version of the legend appears the movie Lair of the White Worm.
Yes, that’s Hugh Grant you see there. The movie also features Peter Capaldi—Dr. Who himself—as a Scottish archaeologist. Loosely based on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name, the movie was released in 1988 and did moderately well—considering. It’s funny and as witty as it can be when you have Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi roaming about the British countryside in search of vampiric worms/scantily clad women in the 80s. Though the names have been changed—another way the curse of the worm continues to screw the Lambton clan— and the setting updated to the decadent 80s in Britain, the basis of the story is no secret. Definitely worth a watch if you enjoy classic horror/British movies.
And just in case you’ve never heard an Englishman tell a story about a massive white worm while wearing a colander on his head and waving a spatula––Here ya go. You’re welcome.
The Lambton Worm – Traditional Folksong Based on the Legend
One Sunday morn young Lambton
Went a-fishin’ in the Wear;
He catched a fish upon his heuk,
He thowt leuk’t varry queer,
But whatt’na kind of fish it was
Young Lambton couldna tell.
He waddna fash to carry hyem,
So he hoyed it in a well.
Whisht! lads, haad ya gobs,
Aa’ll tell ye aall an aaful story,
Whisht! lads, haad ya gobs,
An aa’ll tell ye ‘boot the worm.
Noo Lambton felt inclined to gan
An’ fight in foreign wars.
He joined a troop o’ Knights
That cared for neither wounds nor scars,
An’ off he went to Palestine
Where queer things befel,
An’ varry seun forgot aboot
The queer worm in the well.
But the worm got fat an’ graad an’ graad,
An’ graad an aaful size;
With greet big teeth, and greet big mooth,
An’ greet big goggley eyes.
An’ when at neets he craaled ‘oot
To pick up bits o’ news,
If he felt dry upon the road,
He milked a dozen coos.
This feorful worm wad often feed
On calves an’ lambs an’ sheep
An’ swally little bairns alive
When they laid doon to sleep.
An’ when he’d eaten aall he cud
An’ he had had his fill,
He craaled away an’ lapped his tail
Seven times roond Pensher Hill.
The news of this most aaful worm
An’ his queer gannins on,
Seun crossed the seas, gat to the ears
Of brave an’ bowld Sir John.
So hyem he cam an’ catched the beast
An’ cut ‘im in three halves,
An’ that seun stopped him eatin’ bairns
An’ sheep an’ lambs and calves.
So noo ye knaa hoo aall the folks
On byeth sides of the Wear
Lost lots o’ sheep an’ lots o’ sleep
An’ lived in mortal feor.
So let’s hev one to brave Sir John
That kept the bairns frae harm,
Saved coos an’ calves by myekin’ halves
O’ the famis Lambton Worm.
Noo lads, Aa’ll haad me gob,
That’s aall Aa knaa aboot the story
Of Sir John’s clivvor job
Wi’ the aaful Lambton Worm.
Retrieved from http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/durham/legends/the-lambton-worm-and-penshaw-hill.html
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