Long chronicled in the folklore of County Durham, England, the legend of this fascinating AQUATIC ENIGMA seems on the surface to be a Christian morality play, but when one looks a little deeper it becomes apparent that what we may be dealing with is a genuine, biological phenomenon.
The tale begins in Medieval times, when the young heir to Lambton Hall, John Lambton, decided to forgo the traditional Sunday mass in Brugeford Chapel in order to spend his morning fishing in the nearby Wear River. After hours of patient waiting, this young angler was astounded when his hook was suddenly snagged with a force so tremendous it almost tore the pole from his white knuckled grip.
After a seemingly endless battle, Lambton finally landed his catch, but much to his dismay it was not the gigantic fish he was hoping for. Instead Lambton watched in abject horror at a relatively small, glistening black, eel-like creature writhed on the rocky shore before him.
Lambton would later described the beast as having a head reminiscent of a salamander, complete with needle sharp teeth and nine holes along either side of its mouth, which may represent some sort of rudimentary gills.
The animal was also said to secrete a viscous, sticky fluid from its inky epidermis — not unlike some sort of monstrous mudpuppy.
Just as Lambton was about to return is quarry to the river, he was stopped by an elderly passerby who requested to see the creature. The old man was astonished by the sight before him and — according to legend — he blessed himself with the sign of the cross and admonished the boy for neglecting to attend church and warned him not to release the beast back into the river, stating that great misfortune would befall him if his advice were not heeded.
The boy must have taken these words to heart, for he packed the squirming creature into his catch basket. On his way home he passed by an ancient well — which, according to some, was Penshaw Hill, though others insist it is a place now known as “Worm Hill,” located in Fatfield — wherein he deposited the violent creature. This well would forever after be referred to as “Worms Well” by the citizens native to the region.
As the years passed legends began to spring up about this “cursed” well. Its waters were said to have become poisoned, and noxious fumes were rising up from its depths. As if all of that weren’t bad enough — according to those few brave souls who dared to approach this crumbling stone edifice — there was something alive in the moist blackness of the well.
By this point young Lambton had grown into manhood and, like so many of his brethren, he had hastened off to the Holy Land in order to fight in the crusades. It was during his tenure abroad, that the worm in the well also reached maturity much to the chagrin of local villagers.
This worm-dragon description has led some researchers to surmise that there may be a connection between this animal and the notorious LINDWORMS, which were said to haunt the rest of Europe and parts of Asia.
According to legend, this now massive animal finally managed to escape the stony prison of the well and slithered down the hill to its river home. After its return to running water nothing more was heard from this beast — that was until some time passed and it got hungry.
Reports which have been passed on from this period state that this creature went on a feeding frenzy, which claimed numerous cows and sheep as victims. It was said that the Lambton Worm had a particular fondness for cows milk and would often use its knife-like teeth to pierce the udders of its bovine victims and drain them of their precious, life giving fluid.
When a cadre of brave villagers attempted to stop this rampage nothing more was hear from them. Their corpses were discovered soon after near the river. Some of the men had drowned, others had been crushed, and still others had been literally torn apart.
Occasionally a traveling knight would make his way through the region and try to build his reputation by vanquishing the nefarious beast, but they all met with brutal ends. Legend even had it that when chucks of flesh were cut from the beast they reattached themselves in a supernatural fashion.
Thus began a 7 year reign of terror in which the villagers managed to satiate the beast’s hunger with daily offerings of warm milk for which a special stone trough was constructed outside Lambton Hall.
When Lambton finally returned home from the crusades, he was mortified by the terror which gripped his native land and the state of decrepitude that infested his soon to be inherited property. Feeling responsible for the entire situation, he solicited the help of a reputed witch who suggested that Lambton have the local blacksmith forge him a unique suit of armor one which was to be covered with double edged spikes or “spear heads.”
The witch then admonished the war weary Lambton that after the worm was slain he must then kill the first living thing he laid eyes on, lest his family be cursed with untimely deaths for no less than nine generations. In preparation for his coming battle with the beast, Lambton informed his father that he would sound his hunting horn three times to indicate that the monster was dead at which point the elder Lambton was instructed to release his son’s favorite hound so that he might kill it and avert the nine generation curse.
As Lambton cautiously approached the beast’s lair the creature, who had been lying in wait, sprung out at him. As it wrapped its coils around Lambton’s armored form, shreds of its flesh were sliced off by the spear heads. The enraged creature continued its suicidal onslaught until it had weakened itself so much that the young crusader was able to finally dispatch the creature with a single blow of his gleaming sword.
Upon hearing the horn blasts, Lambton’s father became so excited that he forgot to release the canine and rushed down to the riverside to see the worm’s CURIOUS CARCASS for himself. Much to the young crusader’s dismay it what not his beloved dog that he first laid eyes on the bloody shores of the River Wear, but his breathless father.
Unable to kill his own father, Lambton resigned himself to the witches curse, which his family would allegedly suffer the brunt of for at least three generations, leading to the enduring popularity of this legend. Nevertheless, the story of the animal itself — as well as it’s bovine-centric reign of terror — ends there.
For many, the legend of the Lambton Worm is nothing more than a story which was used to warn children not to miss church and to remind adults that debts must always be paid, but some investigators have pointed out that this animal seems to be more than a metaphor.
It seems as if the details used in the description of this beast would be superfluous if it was only serving as a generic villain in a morality play. Skeptics have speculated that the creature, if it were ever alive at all, may have been a gigantic python or boa constrictor, which had been transplanted to the British Isles by a sailor from a merchant trading ship or even a returning crusader.
While it is hard to discount this animal’s snake-like appearance, the possibility of a tropical snake growing to the aforementioned proportions — as well as surviving in Briton’s harsh winter climate — seems unlikely at best.
In 1911, Bram Stoker wrote “The Lair of the White Worm,” which was inspired by the legend of the Lambton Worm and in 1978, composer Robert Sherlaw Johnson wrote and opera called “The Lambton Worm.”
Whatever this creature may have been, it’s legend endures as both a Christian parable and an intriguing enigma for all enterprising folklorists and cryptozoologists.
© Copyright Rob Morphy 2002 — 2011