The Legend Of The Lambton Worm

Penshaw Hill and the nearby Worm Hill are closely associated with one of the North East's best known folk tales; The Legend of the Lambton Worm.

At the centre of this legend was a young lad called John Lambton who often used to skip church on Sunday mornings to go fishing. This particular Sunday was no different and off he went to fish the River Wear. After fishing all morning and not catching a thing he decided to pack up. As he was gathering his things together he noticed a tiny worm-like creature on the end of his rod, thinking nothing of it he tossed it down a nearby well and returned home for lunch.

Several years later and the worm a distant and long forgotten memory John Lambton was a brave knight and crusader and had left England to fight in the Middle East. During his time fighting the tiny worm had began to grow – it soon grew so big that it used to terrorise the local area feeding off the udders of cows and eating small children whole.

It used to rest at the foot of Penshaw hill, wrapping its tail around the crest, this was where many attempts to slaughter the beast took place. Even after being chopped into many different pieces the worm would join back together and terrorise the area even more!

After hearing of the events and feeling responsible for not catching it earlier John returned home to England. On his way back he consulted a wise witch who told him the only way to kill the beast would be by standing in the middle of the River Wear, wearing a suit of armour coated with blades of steel whilst waiting patiently for the worm to arrive.

The witch also warned him that upon killing the worm, he must then kill the first living thing he set eyes upon otherwise a curse would be placed upon nine generations of the Lambtons so that none would die in their bed.

John, obeying the words of the wise old witch put on the appropriate armor and instructed his father to send one of the family hounds to him, so he could complete the deed in accordance with her wishes and that no person should be needlessly killed. Making his way to the banks of the Wear he stood in the centre of the river, where he didn't have to wait for long. The worm came darting towards him and proceeded to wrap itself around the armoured knight. After a short struggle the creature was gradually sliced up into many tiny pieces by the steel blades of Lambton's armour. Bit by bit each piece of the worm was carried away by the current of the river before they had time to rejoin.

At last the worm was dead. The victorious but exhausted Lambton, made his way back to the bank of the river, remembering that he must now kill the first living thing he set eyes upon. As he emerged from the river he looked up with shock and horror to see his excited father, who had evidently forgotten the hound. Lambton could not kill his own father and the Lambtons suffered the curse for the next nine generations. Several of the Lambtons met violent deaths or were struck down with illness but the worm never returned.

The Lambton Worm, A Sunderland Folk Song

One Sunday morn young Lambton went a-fishing in the Wear;
And catched a fish upon his hook he thought looked very queer.
But what'n a kind of fish it was young Lambton couldn't tell -
He wasn't fash to carry it home, so he hoyed it in a well.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

Now Lambton felt inclined to gan, and fight in foreign wars,
He joined a troop of knights that cared for neither wounds nor scars,
And off he went to Palestine where queer thing him befell,
And very soon forgot about the queer worm in the well.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

But the worm got fat and growed and growed, and growed an awful size,
He'd great big teeth, a great big gob, and great big googly eyes.
And when at nights he crawled about to pick up bits o' news,
If he felt dry upon the road, he milked a dozen cows.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

This fearful worm would often feed on calves and lambs and sheep,
And swallow little bairns alive when they laid down to sleep.
And when he'd eaten all he could and he had had his fill,
He crawled away and lapped his tail seven times round Pensher Hill.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

The news of this most awful worm and his queer gannins on,
Soon crossed the seas, got to the ears of brave and bold Sir John.
So home he came and catched the beast and cut him in three halves,
And that soon stopped his eating bairns and sheep and lambs and calves.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

So now you know how all the folks on both sides of the Wear
Lost lots of sheep and lots of sleep and lived in mortal fear.
So let's have one to brave Sir John that kept the bairns from harm,
Saved cows and calves by making halves of the famous Lambton Worm.

Whisht lads, had ya gobs, I'll tell you all an awful story,
Whisht lads, had ya gobs, and I'll tell you 'bout the worm.

Now, lads, I'll hold my gob, that's all I know about the story
Of Sir John's clever job with the awful Lambton Worm

Another Sunderland Folk Song

This song was first published in “Tales & Sketches of Sunderland” by Alexander Baharie in 1887.  It’s not known which war the song refers to though it is most likely the Napoleonic or Indian wars.  The words, set to a traditional tune are by D Haslam. It was published by MWM and can be found on the Northumbria Anthology CD.  

My Sunderland Lad

How fares me lad, me Sunderland lad

Wi’ bonnie blue eyes and dark brown hair

Upon the battles’ bloody plain

He’s sure te tak his own part there

No coward’s blood in me Sunderland lad

Me Sunderland lad, me canny dear

I wish I had him back again

Upon the banks of the bonnie Wear


Oh the fire, the fire and the smoke

That from our battalion flew

When we got at the foe so gay

That weary, bragging crew

Oh the blood of the foe so gay

Along the field it ran

The bodies bare we turned up there

Of many a bonnie man


Far from home, from Sunderland

He sleeps his last sleep there

In unknown grave his bones repose

Shielded by a Mother’s prayer

Lightly he marched away from home

Without any fear of danger

But little he knew by Tunstall hillside

He would sleep in the land of a stranger


Penshaw Monument

Penshaw Monument

One of the North East's most prominent landmarks, Penshaw Monument was built in 1844 in honour of the first Earl of Durham, John George Lambton.  Located opposite Herrington Country Park, Penshaw Monument was modelled on the Thesion, the Temple of Theseus in Athens. Penshaw stands magnificently above the city on a limestone hill in the middle of the Great North Forest and affords views as far afield as Durham Cathedral and the North Pennines.