What I tell you three times is true
‘Well I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life’
Begin at the beginning and go on…
Dodgson attended Richmond Grammar School for a year while his father was vicar of Croft
Hunting for erratics amongst the river-worn cobbles of Frenchgate.
Zealous and Consistent members
The town has two subterranean legends. One tells of how a potter named Thompson discovered a cave beneath the castle. In the cave was a round table around which were a group of sleeping knights. Upon the table was a great sword and a horn. Thompson reached for the horn, waking knights from their sleep. Thompson fled and as he ran he heard a voice behind him say..
Potter Thompson, Potter Thompson!
If thou hadst drawn the sword or blown the horn,
Thou hadst been the luckiest man e’er was born.”
The second legend concerns a tunnel that runs from the castle to Easby Abbey. The tunnel was supposed to have been dug to allow the abbots to escape from the marauding Scots. Some soldiers wanted to explore the tunnel but found it too narrow. They sent a drummer boy into the passage and instructed him to beat his drum as he walked, allowing the soldiers to track his progress from the surface. At a point between the castle and the abbey the drum fell silent and the boy was never seen again.
A stone has been erected on the riverside path to mark the point where the drumming ceased. The local legend is that the drummer boy’s ghost still walks the passage and occasionally his drum can still be heard beating.
Charles Dodgson is better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I have previously written about his young life at Croft on Tees and the possible influences the area had on his writings, The Conyers Falchion and the Hells Kettles.
When Dodgson was twenty years old his father became a Canon at Ripon Cathedral. During his many visits to Ripon, he wrote Ye Carpette Knyghte and several pages of Through the Looking-Glass.
There is speculation that Dodgson may have found inspiration for some of his characters from the misericords carved beneath the seats in the cathedral’s choir stalls. The links are tenuous but they give me an excuse to post a bunch of photos of these beautiful 15th century carvings.
A few other carvings
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.
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.
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 http://www.hoap.co.uk/meet_the_dragon.pdf
Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) moved to Croft Rectory at the age of 11. About a mile from the rectory there are three ponds called Hells Kettles, the local people believed that these pools were bottomless. It has been suggested that the author’s vision of Alice falling down a deep vertical hole into an underground land was inspired by these pools.
The kettles were formed by underground water dissolving gypsum deposits.
read more here
“Ther are certeine pittes or rather thrée litle poles, a myle from Darlington, and a quarter of a myle distant from the Tese bankes, which ye people call the Kettes of hell, or the deuil’s Ketteles, as if he shoulde sée the soules of sinfull men and women in them: they adde also that the spirites haue oft béene harde to crye and yell about them, wyth other like talke sauouring altogether of pagane infidelitye. The truth is (& of this opinion also was Cuthbert Tunstall Byshop of Durham) that the Colemines, in those places are kindled or if there be no coles, there may a mine of some other vnctuous matter be set on fire, which beyng here and there conſumed, the earth falleth in, and so doth leaue a pitte. In déede the water is nowe and then warme as they saye, and beside that it is not cléere, the people suppose them to be an hundred faddame déepe, the byggest of them also hath an issue into the Tese. But ynough of these woonders least I doe séeme to be touched in thys description, & thus much of the Hell Kettles.”
Raphael Holinshed’s Second Booke, of the hystoricall description of Britaine,
“The kettles next morning were boiling and foaming,
A groan in the deeps was full ghastily booming,
A sulphureous stench was ymixt in the air,
And the carles they were cowed and said many a prayer.”
The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington