Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel went to school in Gainford, that’s more than enough of a reason to have a wander around.


Lovely Medieval cross slabs line the church porch walls

Inside the church, a pair of carved stones

AD stones

AD stone

There is a dragon carving on the opposite face of the second stone, it is almost impossible to see the carving as the stone is close to the wall and fixed into the floor. A photograph of it can be seen here


The house next to the church has an impressive piece of garden architecture.

A path from the churchyard leads down to the Tees, its waters stained with Pennine peatShap Granite

 A boulder, transported from the Shap Fells.

Peg Powler

Peg Powler patrols the banks

A wall blocks access to a broken Bailey Bridge, many of its boards are missing, one of the supporting columns has been washed away.


With no convenient river crossing, the distant dovecote will have to wait

Returning to the village, I stop to admire this lovely Festival of Britain bench.

Illustration of Gainford Carved Stones from The Antiquities of Gainford. J.R Walbran 1846

The Gainford Stone

The Barforth Bailey Bridge 


I arrived at the church just as the warden was leaving she told me that she had just opened up the church and showed me the key, it was about a foot long with a shaft as thick as my thumb.

I’m going to have a little rant now.

The churches I have visited over the past few days have all been open and welcoming but many that I visit are not, they are locked and covered in signs warning thieves to beware. I am aware that theft from churches is a real problem in some areas, I am also aware that church attendance is dwindling rapidly.

Churches are primarily places of worship, I do not subscribe to any religion but I do get a sense of tranquil otherworldliness when I visit a beautiful old church. These institutions are also custodians of our history and culture. Their walls reflect the history of our islands and our communities, to deny people access to these spaces can only perpetuate the decline of these institutions. I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is but I know that locking a church up for six days a week does not help anyone and can only foster a feeling of exclusion in the wider population.

The church and the village pub are both in decline in many areas, William Blake offered a solution in his poem The Little Vagabond.

Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
Besides I can tell where I am use’d well,
Such usage in heaven will never do well.
 But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.
And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;
We’d sing and we’d pray, all the live-long day;
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray,
 Then the Parson might preach & drink & sing.
And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring:
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Church,
Would not have bandy children nor fasting nor birch.
And God like a father rejoicing to see,
His children as pleasant and happy as he:
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel
But kiss him & give him both drink and apparel.
There are lots of carved stones both inside and outside of this beautiful church, here are a few.


This carving has been interpreted as a Jelling bound dragon.

Sinnington vi

This small inconsequential stone, carved with a crude cross, measures about 10cm square. It is known as a consecration cross and indicates a place where the wall of the church was touched with holy oil during the consecration of the church. There are a number of other small crude crosses carved on the external walls particularly around the original entrance, which is now blocked and filled with a number of carved stones.

Sinnington i


A lovely pair cross heads built into the exterior walls


Chasing the Dragon in Ryedale

A while ago I was researching dragon lore in our area and came across a reference to the Ryedale Dragon. This wasn’t a reference to a specific dragon but to a carved motif that has been found on a number of Anglo-Saxon and Viking grave slabs and cross shafts in the Ryedale area. The design comprises a single bound dragon shown in S-shape with it’s jaws open. It is similar to the better known Jelling Design, named after the animal that decorates a silver cup found at a royal burial site in Jutland in Denmark.

I’d read of a 10th Century grave slab carved with a Ryedale Dragon in the church at Levisham and headed off to find it.

The slab itself is tucked away beneath the pulpit and is in two pieces, access and available light mean that getting a decent photograph can be quite challenging. I think I need to buy a remote flash and learn yoga.

Levisham Dragon Stone

Dragon Stone Collingwood

Whilst I was in the area I decided to call into St. Andrew’s Church in Middleton.

Middleton Wall

This lovely 8th Century cross is on the exterior wall of the church, it is described as a distinctive St. Cuthbert-style.

Inside the church there are a number of stones on display.

A 10th Century wheel head cross is decorated with the figure of a hunter with a spear and a short sword called a scramasax. There are also two hounds and a stag.

A 10th Century wheelhead cross is decorated with a warrior in a pointed helmet, spear, sword, scramasax, shield and axe. The interpretation of the figure wavers between a pagan in his grave and a lord on his gifstol (an ornate seat or throne).

Unfortunately I didn’t research this church before I visited it. Crosses A & B both have bound dragons carved on their rear faces. I didn’t learn this until I returned home.

An 11th Century ring head cross decorated with knotwork and a ring plait.

A section of stonework decorated with a bearded warrior with a knife and scramasax. The second stone is a section from a cross shaft decorated with the head of a warrior.

Slightly less ancient additions to the fabric of the church.

On my way home I decide to call into Lastingham, I have visited this church many times. The village sits in a verdant valley on the edge of Spaunton Moor. The crypt beneath the church is one of my favourite places, it is wonderfully atmospheric and contains a number of beautiful carved stones.


Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. Guy Points. Rihtspell Publishing. 2007

Stone illustrations taken from – Anglian and Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the North Riding of Yorkshire. W.G. Collinwood. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Volume XIX via Google Books

Lastingham tomb

Dragon Lore

De Dracone

Dragon lore is not uncommon in North Yorkshire. Our local dragons are generally called Worms from the Old English Wyrm and Old Norse Ormr meaning snake or serpent.

The Handale Worm

Handale is a couple of miles south of Loftus and during the 12th century was the location of a small priory of Benedictine nuns. The folklore of the area describes a fire-breathing worm who had a taste for the beautiful maids of Loftus. The beast would lure them into its lair and keep them there for several days before eating them.


As these tales often go, a brave young knight called Scaw arrived in the area and set out to kill the worm. Scaw managed to lure the worm out of its lair and, after a long fight, killed it. Following the battle Scaw discovered Emma, the beautiful daughter of the lord of the Manor, Richard Beckwith, imprisoned within the beasts lair. Scaw immediately fell in love with Emma and they were married soon after. Scaw eventually inherited the manor and became a rich and famous landowner.

The Sockburn Worm

Sockburn Hall is built on a sock-shaped loop of the River Tees close to Croft on Tees, just south of Darlington. The Hall was the seat of the Conyers family. The general image of a dragon is of a fire-breathing monster but the Sockburn Worm or Wyverne, in common with many of our other worms, did not breathe fire but instead had poisonous breath and a venomous bite. The tale of the beast’s slaying follows the usual pattern; a noble and brave knight slays the worm and saves the day. There are no beautiful maidens or trusty hounds in this tale but there is a famous sword and a stone. Sir John slew the worm with a mighty sword, the Conyers Falchion, and buried the beast beneath the Grey Stone.


The Conyers Falchion is kept at Durham Cathedral and is presented to all newly appointed Bishops of Durham by a representative of the Conyers family. The Falchion has also been incorporated into the coat of arms of Darlington. The Grey Stone is a glacial boulder made of Shap Granite and can still be seen at Sockburn.


There is also some speculation regarding the Sockburn Worm being the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky , which he started to write whilst living at nearby Croft on Tees.

The Nunnington Worm

Nunnington is located on the southern edge of the Moors. The tale here begins on midsummer day after the hay had been gathered in from the fields. The day was dedicated to St. Barnabas and, once the harvest had been gathered, a feast was held with dancing, a bonfire and the crowning of the Barnaby Queen, Frances Mortain, the fairest maid in the district.

During the procession of the Barnaby Queen a large fire-breathing dragon descended from the sky and snatched the queen  away to its lair on Loschy Hill. No one dared follow the worm but fortunately for the villagers, Sir Peter Loschy, a local knight and member of King Arthur’s court, had returned home for a visit.

Loschy Hill

When news of the worm reached Sir Peter he set out to kill it, taking with him his famous Damascene bladed sword and his faithful mastiff dog. Sir Peter found the serpent and he and his faithful mastiff went about attacking it. Unfortunately for Sir Peter, every time he hacked at the worm it instantly healed. The battle between Sir Peter and the worm went on and on and Sir Peter began to tire. It was Sir Peter’s dog that discovered how to defeat the worm, Sir Peter hacked off the end of the worm’s tail which fell to the ground, the dog grabbed the piece and carried it off causing the worm to roar with pain. Seeing this Sir Peter hacked off one piece after another, all of which were carried away by the Mastiff, denying the worm the ability to heal itself.

Sir Peter eventually triumphed but the tale has a sad ending, Sir Peter fail to save Frances Mortain and after the battle the mastiff licked his master’s face, the dog’s breath and teeth were covered in poison from the worm and both the knight and his faithful dog died. Sir Peter was buried in the village with his dog beside him.

The Sexhow Worm

This tale concerns a worm who coiled itself around a local hill, possible Whorl Hill above Whorlton. The worm had no interest in maids and ate only milk. The beast required the milk of nine cows to satisfy its appetite, if the local farmers failed to provide the milk, the beast would breathe across the fields, destroying crops and livestock with its toxic breath.

One day a knight rode through the hamlet and encountered the worm. Details of the knights name and the inevitable battle are lost, but much to the delight of the local farmers, the knight managed to kill the worm and then rode on scorning refreshments and the thanks of the farmers. The locals are said to have skinned the beast and displayed the skin in the nearby church at Hutton Rugby, the skin was destroyed during the reformation.

Newton Carving

The Slingsby Serpent

Slingsby is on the southern edge of the moors and it too had a worm. The serpent lived about half a mile from the village in a circular depression and preyed upon the folk who travelled the winding lanes. The worm slayer in this tale is Sir William Wyville and the beautiful maid was called Helena. Sir William and his dog hunted down the fearful worm, just as in the tale of the Nunnington worm, Sir William managed to slay the worm but he and his faithful dog were killed. Unlike the Nunnington tale, the fair maid, Helena, survived.

If you are interested in Dragon Lore there is a nice book by the late Bill Griffiths called Meet the Dragon. An introduction to Beowulf’s adversary. It is available as a free download from Heart of Albion Press here