The Laidley Worm of Spindleston-Heugh (1)

With kind permission of Jennifer Westwood, who says:
"It is the earliest recorded version of the story I've come across. As you'll see from Richardson's note at the end, he thought (and I think) that the ballad was actially written by the Rev. Lambe."

Extracted from: The Local Historian's Table Book of Remarkable Occurrences, Historical Facts, Traditions, Legendary and Descriptive Ballads, &c., &c., Connected with the Counties of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland and Durham. Legendary Division. Vol. 1. Newcastle-upon-Tyne (M.A. Richardson, 1842)

A song about 500 years old, made by the old mountain-bard, Duncan Frasier, living on Cheviot, A.D. 1270. First printed from an ancient mansucript. By the Rev. Robert Lambe, Vicar of Norham.

The King is gone from Bambrough Castle,
          Long may the princess mourn,
Long may she stand on the castle wall,
          Looking for his return.

She has knotted the keys upon a string,
          And with her she has them ta'en,
She has cast them o'er her left shoulder,
          And to the gate she is gane.

She tripped out, she tripped in,
          She tript into the yard;
But it was more for the king's sake,
          Than for the queen's regard.

It fell out on a day, the king
          Brought the queen with him home;
And all the lords, in our country,
          To welcome them did come.

Oh! Welcome father, the lady cries,
          Upon our halls and bowers;
And so are you, my step-mother,
          For all that's here is yours.

A lord said, wondering while she spake;
          This princess of the North
Surpasses all of female kind
          In beauty, and in worth.

The envious queen replied, at last,
          You might have excepted me;
In a few hours, I will her bring
          Down to a low degree.

I will her liken to a Laidely worm,
          That warps about the stone,
And not, till Childy Wynd comes back, (2)
          Shall she again be won.

The princess stood at her bower door
          Laughing, who could her blame?
But e'er the next day's sun went down,
          A long worm she became.

For seven miles east, and seven miles west,
          And seven miles north, and south,
No blade of grass or corn could grow,
          So venomous was her mouth.

The milk of seven stately cows,
          It was costly her to keep,
Was brought her daily, which she drank
          Before she went to sleep.

At this day may be seen the cave,
          Which held her folded up,
And the stone trough, the very same
          Out of which she did sup.

Word went east, and word went west,
          And word is gone over the sea,
That a Laidley worm in Spindleston-Heughs
          Would ruin the North Country.

Word went east, and word went west,
          And over the sea did go;
The Child of Wynd got wit of it,
          Which filled his heart with woe.

He called straight his merry men all,
          They thirty were and three:
I wish I were at Spindleston,
          This desperate worm to see.

We have no time now here to waste,
          Hence quickly let us sail:
My only sister Margaret,
          Something, I fear, doth ail.

They built a ship without delay,
With masts of rowan tree, (3)
With fluttring sails of silk so fine,
          And set her on the sea.

They went on board. The wind with speed
          Blew them along the deep,
At length they spied an huge square tower
          On a rock high and steep.

The sea was smooth, the weather clear,
          When they approached nigher,
King Ida's castle they well knew,
          And the banks of Bambroughshire.

The queen look'd out at her bower window
          To see what she could see;
There she espied a gallant ship
          Sailing upon the sea.

When she beheld the silken sails,
          Full glancing in the sun,
To sink the ship she sent away
          Her witch wives every one.

The spells were vain; the hags returned
          To the queen in sorrowful mood,
Crying that witches have no power
          Where there is rown-tree wood.

Her last effort, she sent a boat,
          Which in the haven lay,
With armed men to board the ship,
          But they were driven away.

The worm lept up, the worm lept down,
          She plaited round the stone;
And ay as the ship came to the land
          She banged it off again.

The Child then ran out of her reach
The ship on Budle-sand; (4)
And jumping into the shallow sea,
          Securely got to land.

And now he drew his berry-broad sword,
          And laid it on her head;
And swore if she did harm to him
          Then he would strike her dead.

O! quit thy sword and bend thy bow,
          And give me kisses three;
For though I am a poisonous worm
          No hurt I'll do to thee.

Oh! quit thy sword, and bend thy bow,
          And give me kisses three;
If I'm not won, e'er the sun go down,
          Won I shall never be.

He quitted his sword and bent his bow,
          He gave her kisses three;
She crept into a hole a worm,
          But out stept a lady.

No clothing had this lady fine,
          To keep her from the cold;
He took his mantle from him about,
          And round her did it fold.

He has taken his mantle from him about,
          And in it he wrapt her in,
And they are up to Bambrough castle,
          As fast as they can win.

His absence and her serpent shape
          The King had long deplored,
He now rejoyced to see them both
          Again to him restored.

The queen they wanted, whom they found
          All pale, and sore sfraid;
Because she knew her power must yield
          To Childy Wynd's, who said,

Woe be to thee, thou wicked witch,
          An ill death mayst thou dee;
As thou my sister has lik'ned,
          So lik'ned shalt thou be.

I will turn you into a toad,
          That on the ground doth wend;
And won, won, shalt thou never be,
          Till this world hath an end.

Now on the sand near Ida's tower,
          She crawls a loathsome toad,
And venom spits on every maid
          She meets upon her road.

The virgins all of Bambrough town
          Will swear that they have seen
This spiteful toad, of monstrous size,
          Whilst walking they have been.

All folk believe within the shire
          This story to be true,
And they all run to Spindleston,
          The cave and trough to view.

This fact now Duncan Frasier
          Of Cheviot, sings in rhime;
Lest Bambrough-shire-men should forget
          Some part of it in time.

This ballad was printed in Hutchinson's History of Northumberland, from a communication by the Rev. Robt. Lambe, of Norham, (editor of the old Poem, entitled Flodden Field), who pretended to have transcribed it from a very ancient Manuscript.

1. Laidley is a northern corruption for loathly, i.e. loathsome. (Back)
. There is now a street called the Wynd, at Bamborough. (Back)
. Mountain ash. (Back)
. Budle is a small village and port at a little distance from Bamborough. (Back)

Read more about the Laidley Worm and other British legends in Jennifer Westwood's book "Albion - a Guide to legendary Britain" (Paladin, 1987) The cover (left) shows a painting entitled 'The Laidley Worm of Spindleton Heugh', 1881 by Walter Crane.

Land Lines