The Sockburn Worm
The Sockburn Worm was a ferocious wyvern that laid waste to the village of Sockburn in Durham known before 1066 as Storkburn.
The tale of the Sockburn Worm is believed to date back to the Norman Conquest and has been described as a huge man-eating dragon with poisonous breath, more commonly described as a worm, wyvern or flying serpent.
It is believed that Sir John Conyers took up the challenge to slay the beast. Before heading out he visited a church in his full armour and offered the life of his only son to the Holy Ghost. After killing the dragon he buried under a large stone which is believed to still be visible today. "Sr Jo Conyers of Storkburn Knt who slew ye monstrous venoms and poysons wiverms Ask or worme which overthrew and Devourd many people in fight, for the scent of poyson was soo strong, that no person was able to abide it, yet he by the providence of god overthrew it and lyes buried at Storkburn before the Conquest, but before he did enterprise it (having but one sonne) he went to the Church in compleat armour and offered up his sonne to the holy ghost, which monument is yet to see, and the place where the serpent lay is called Graystone."
(From British Museum MS Harleian No. 2118, fo. 39, circa 1625-49)
The tale of the worm may be inspired by the longships of marauding Vikings, who carved the heads of Worms (Ormr) on the bow, however this does not take into account the commonness of dragons in Germanic folklore including that of Northumbria (see the Laidly and Lambton Worms as well as the Worm of Linton).
The Conyers Falchion has a total length of 89cm long and weighs 2.86lbs. The blade itself is 73.4cm long. The bronze pommel is decorated with three lions on one side a black eagle on the other, which helps to date the sword. The three lions first appeared on the Royal English crest in 1194, so it is assumed that the sword could not have been decorated earlier than the 13th Century and given its design it is speculated that it dates from around 1260.
This weapon, would be ceremonially presented by the Lord of the Manor to each newly elected Bishop of Durham, in the middle of the River Tees as they entered the diocese at Croft-on-Tees Bridge or a nearby ford for the first time.
Each newly consecrated Bishop-Prince of Durham, while entering the Bishopric for the first time at the local Ford or over the bridge over the River Tees at Croft-on-Tees, was presented with the falchion that John Conyers used on the worm. The Lord of Sockburn traditionally reads a speech while presenting the blade:
"My Lord Bishop. I hereby 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 the falchion should be presented."
The Sockburn Worm is said by many to be the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky which he wrote while in Croft on Tees and Whitburn. The worm is also referenced in the poem Love by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The Sockburn Worm
Evil and darkest cruelty, coursed through it's serpentine veins
The great crashing jaws at the end of it's neck, a black dragon from the dark side of the moon
So the fertile lands of the Tees fell barren
And a famine and sadness descended
The doom-laden people endured it's ravages
Sickening scent of it's deadly poison
The hunger spread it's hate.
John Conyers, with a sad heart, pitiful sufferings, of his people
Raising the ash handled falchion, resolute in full armor,
Lone nights vigil done, In the chapel of all saints
Summoned his blood hound, strode to the fields
Sure of sword and his trust in the lord
The Sockburn Worm from a river that turned?
From Viking gods to wyverns of old?
As the sun climbed the fericious sky, the hateful worm sought sanctuary
Awoken in it's blackened lair, by a glint of light from the warsword's blade
Slashed and torn the worm foresaw it's doom, but on it fought with slashing claws
The ring of steel rang louder than bone, seperating head from leathery neck
Black blood, ran down the bright blade, into the waters of the Tees
The head of the worm, laid like a boulder, rolled form the mound of it's corpse
Then hearing the silence after the battle's din
They ran from their homes to look on the beck of blood
And they laughed and they sang and they danced
Around the tomb, marked by the greystone
Around the tomb, marked by the greystone
"Where Sockburn’s fair ancestral hall
Stands by the woodland Tees,
In fertile Vale, surrounded by
It’s tall majestic trees;
There, as oft old legends say
A thousand years ago,
A creature of immeasurable length
Did fill the land with woe. "
"Each morning, from the silv’ry stream,
It crawled, in angry mood
Until a maiden went to it
With nine cows’ milk for food;
But if neglect, or chance occurred
To cause the maid delay
In anger fierce it did devour
All that came it’s way. "
"The warrior went when flooded Tees
Swept o’er it’s borders green,
And stood encased in armour strong,
Set round with razors keen;
And when the monster up the stream
Went for it’s morning meal,
He on it’s head a heavy blow
With his good sword, did deal. "
"Against him, then, it furious rush’d,
And twined him closely round,
While his sharp razors did inflict
Full many a ghastly wound,
Until the Tees, as it ran past,
A tempest-swollen flood,
From Sockburn to the ocean, was
Polluted with it’s blood. "
"And ever, as the fearless knight
Cut it’s long body through,
The severed part was seaward borne
Ere it join anew;
‘Till swept away, in fragments small
No portion did remain
Of that foul monster that had wrought
Fair Sockburn so much pain. "
"Now often, in fair Teesdale dale,
Have heard this legend old,
By men related who believed
The wond’rous tale they told;
And I have heard, more wond’rous still,
The worm conjoined again,
And now, the great sea-serpent call’d
Frequents the Southern Main."