One Sunday morning, the rebellious young John Lambton decided to go fishing instead of heading off to church.
On his way, he meets an old woman on the road who issues him with a dire warning that no good will come from missing church.
Sitting on the banks of the River Wear he cast his line into the water and sat back, relaxing and waiting for the fish to bite.
After a while, the line begins to twitch and young Lambton pulls his catch from the river. Looking at what is wriggling on the end of his hook, Lambton is repulsed by the sight. It is not like any fish he has seen before and is more serpent-like, prompting him to declare that he has caught ‘the devil’.
He decides not to take it home and promptly disposes of it down a nearby well. It wasn’t long before the arrogant young Lambton forgot all about his fishing trip.
The years passed and Lambton became a man. Like many other young men of the day, he went off to fight in the crusades in Palestine.
Meanwhile the worm survived in the well and as it grew the water became foul, preventing the locals from drinking it. The worm continued to grow and gain strength and eventually it managed to escape the prison of the well.
Locals in surrounding villages started to notice sheep, lambs, calves and cows going missing. Children start to disappear and the villagers suddenly find themselves living in mortal fear of the worm.
The worm then heads to the Lambton family seat, Lambton Castle. The Lord, John Lambton’s father, tries to sate the beasts hunger by offering up twenty gallons of milk a day in a trough on the estate. This becomes a daily task and worm regularly returns for its fill of the milk.
Many attempts are made to kill the worm, but each time someone tries to kill it, the worm coils its great length around its attacker and squeezes the life out of them.
John Lambton returns home from the Crusades and finds his father’s estate a shadow of its former self, due to the choas and damage caused by the worm. Now a battle-hardened warrior, John Lambton resolves to kill the worm and free his people from its tyranny.
Before he tackles the worm he visits a local wise-woman to hear what she would say on the subject. He listened to the stories of the many attempts to kill the worm and realised if the worm managed to wrap itself around him, it would not be long before he succumbed to the same fate as those who had made previous attempts. No matter what they had done to kill the worm, whenever they managed to hack a piece of it off, it would magically re-attach and grow strong again. The wise-woman tells him to attach spikes to his armour and also lets him know where in the River Wear the worm sat during the day. She also tells him that after he kills the worm, he must kill the first living thing he sees. If he does not, his family will not die in their beds for nine generations due to a curse.
John tells his father that once the worm is dead, he will sound his hunting horn three times. When the Lord hears that, he is to release John’s favourite hunting hound, which will naturally run towards his master. John would then kill the dog, protecting his family from the curse.
John went off to the river and promptly found the worm wrapped around a large rock. He ventured in to the water and began his attack. At first it seemed impossible to defeat, but John continued in his effort and made the first blow with his large sword. Instead of re-attaching, a piece of the worm was caught by the current of the river and was swept away.
The worm responded by trying to coil around John to squeeze the life out of him. The harder it squeezed, the more it impaled itself on the spikes attached to the armour John was wearing. As John continued his ferocious attack, the worm began to grow weaker and eventually it was vanquished.
An exhausted John set off back to the castle and when he had gathered his breath he sounded his hunting horn three times.
Overwhelmed with delight that his son is alive and the worm is dead, the Lord runs out from the castle to meet John. He had forgotten to release the hound and was the first living thing John saw. Realising the mistake, the hound was released and killed, but that was too late. The family were now cursed for the next nine generations.
One Sunday morning, Lambton went, a fishin’ in the Wear
And catched a fish upon his hook, he thought looked very queer
But what the kind of fish it was, young Lambton couldn’t tell
He wasn’t fussed to take it hem, so he hoyed it doon the well.