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It would therefore be a stretch of speculation to identify the dragons of the Sussex peasantry with the above fossil remains ; but the association is very suggestive of the axiom, that truth is stranger than fiction.
A curious legend lingers about ‘Tees-seated Sockburn, county Durham, where, by long descent, Conyers was lord.' The hall has disappeared, and the legend alone connects the deserted spot with a recollection of its early
Sir John Conyers, a doughty knight, is recorded to have slain a venomous wyvern, which was the terror of the country round, and to have been requited by a royal gift of the manor of Sockburn, to be held by the service of presenting a falchion to each bishop of Durham on his first entrance into the Palatinate. Truly could the Conyers
* By this sword we hold our land.'
The Norman name of Conyers may not be, as thought, the veritable style of the dragon-slaying knight of Saxon times; much less probable is it that the falchion of Courde-Lion's days, still preserved in the modern house at Sockburn, belonged to him. But the sword of the Conyers was the title-deed to their estate. In compliance with the tenure, when each new bishop of Durham first comes to his diocese, the lord of Sockburn, meeting him in the middle of Neashamford or Croft Bridge, presents him with a falchion, addressing him in these words : “My Lord Bishop, I here present you with the falchion wherewith 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 county, this falchion should be presented.' The bishop returns it, wishing the Lord of Sockburn health and long enjoyment of the manor.
THE WORM OF LAMBTON HALL.
This strange story has often been told, but by none so well as by Surtees, the able historian of the county, in these words :
• The heir of Lambton fishing, as was his profane custom, in the Wear on a Sunday, hooked a small worm or eft, which he carelessly threw into a well, and thought no more of the adventure. The worm (at first neglected) grew till it was too large for its first habitation, and, issuing from the Worm Well, betook itself to the Wear, where it usually lay a part of the day coiled round a crag in the middle of the water. It also frequented a green mound near the well (the Worm Hill), where it lapped itself nine times round, leaving vermicular traces, of which grave living witnesses depose that they have seen the vestiges. It now became the terror of the country; and, amongst other enormities, levied a daily contribution of nine cows' milk, which was always placed for it at the green
hill; and in default of which, it devoured man and beast.
Young Lambton had, it seems, meanwhile totally repented him of his former life and conversation, had bathed himself in a bath of holy water, taken the sign of the cross, and joined the Crusaders. On his return home, he was extremely shocked at witnessing the effects of his youthful imprudences, and immediately undertook the adventure. After several fierce combats, in which the Crusader was foiled by his enemy's power of self-union, he found it expedient to add policy to courage ; and not perhaps possessing much of the former, he went to consult a witch, or wise woman. By her judicious advice he armed himself in a coat of mail, studded with razor-blades; and thus prepared, placed himself on the crag in the river, and awaited the monster's arrival. At the usual time the Worm came to the rock, and wound himself with great fury round the armed knight, who had the satisfaction to see his enemy cut to pieces by his own efforts, whilst the stream, washing away the severed parts, prevented the possibility of reunion.
“There is still a sequel to the story. The witch had promised Lambton success only on one condition that he should slay the first living thing which met his sight after the victory. To avoid the possibility of human slaughter, Lambton had directed his father, that as soon as he heard him sound three blasts on his bugle, in token of the achievement performed, he should release his
favourite greyhound, which would immediately fly to the sound of the horn, and was destined to be the sacrifice. On hearing his son's bugle, however, the old chief was so overjoyed that he forgot the injunction, and ran himself with open arms to meet his son. Instead of committing a parricide, the conqueror again repaired to his adviser, who pronounced, as the alternative of disobeying the original instructions, that no chief of the Lambtons should die in his bed for seven or (as some accounts say) for nine generations,--a commutation which, to a martial spirit, had nothing probably very terrible, and which was willingly complied with.'
It is hardly worth while to add anything as to the verification of the alleged prophecy. Some thirty years ago, it was shown that both the father and the grandfather of the then Lord Durham died in their beds, when it was remarked that the period embraced in the supposed prediction must long since have expired.'
The Lambtons were a family of good and valorous repute long before the date of their family legend (which only ascends to the fourteenth century); and it does not appear that the hero of the tale reaped anything from his adventure, except the honour of the achievement, and a very singular curse on his descendants till the ninth generation.
The Worm Hill is not within the domain of Lambton in the county of Durham, but on the north bank of the Wear, in the estate of North Biddick, a mile and a half
from old Lambton Hall. The hill is a small artificial cone of common earth and river gravel. The Worm Well lies between the hill and the Wear. Half a century ago the Worm Well was in repute as a wishing well, and was one of the scenes dedicated to the festivities and superstitions of Midsummer Eve. A crooked pin may sometimes be still discovered sparkling amongst the clean gravel at the bottom of the basin.
This legend and its traditions are thought to have been represented under the form of a gigantic snail. Mr. Halliwell records having seen, in Pynson's edition of Kalender of Shepherdes, a curious woodcut representing a snail defying the attacks of armed men. It was accompanied by the following lines :
'I ain a beast of right great mervayle,
Upon this Mr. Riley observes that the above words may bear reference to the Laidly Worm, a fabulous monster which in remote times is said to have devastated the county of Durham, slaughtering men, women, and children, and setting armed troops at defiance. It is, I believe, supposed by antiquaries at the present day, that by the word worm a serpent or dragon was meant ; but it is not improbable that the author of the Kalender