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wish it removed ? Belonging to past times, it should be respected. But whether we respect tradition or not, it is a received fact that, whenever the mistress of Holland House meets herself, Death is hovering about her.
At Lambton Castle, in Durham, there is shown the figure of a man in armour, cut in stone, having something like razors set in his back-plate. He is repre. sented in the act of thrusting his sword down the throat of a dragon or serpent. The tradition which is typified by this ancient figure, and which for centuries has been identified with the Lambton family, now represented by the Earl of Durham, is one of the most singular and notorious in England. Burke, in his Vicissitudes of Families, gives the tale at some length, but derives it chiefly from Surtees, the historian and antiquary, and from him, with some few additional particulars from other local authorities, we purpose giving it in a somewhat abridged form.
According to the old legend the Lambtons “ were so brave that they feared neither man nor God," and, apparently, had no respect for the Sabbath. One Sunday, therefore, the reckless heir of the race, according to his profane custom, went to fish in the river Wear, and, after trying his piscatorial skill for a long time without success, vented his disappointment in curses loud and deep, much to the distress of passers by on their road to church. At length his luck appeared as if about to change, for he felt something struggling at the end of his line. Pulling it carefully to land, in expectation of capturing a great fish, he was wofully disappointed and enraged to find it was a worm or snake, of repulsive appearance. He cleared it from his hook, and flung it into an adjacent well, remarking to a passer-by that he thought he had caught the devil, and requesting his opinion on the strange animal. The stranger, after looking into the well, remarked that he had never seen anything like it before, that it was like an eft, but that it had nine holes on each side of its mouth, and opined that it betokened no good.
After a while, the heir of the Lambtons repented of his evil courses, and proceeded to a distant land, in order to wage war against the infidels. During the seven long years that he was absent from home, a most distressing and unexpected state of affairs had come to pass. The worm or serpent, which he had Aung into the well on that desecrated Sabbath, had grown so large that it had to seek another and more capacious place of residence. The locality which it selected as its favourite abode was a small hill near the village of Fatfield, on the north side of the river Wear, about a mile and a half below Lambton Castle; and at last, so great was its length, and so great was its strength, that it could, and would, wind itself round this hill, which is upwards of three hundred yards in circumference, in a triple cord, in such a manner that traces of its folds have remained almost to within memory of the last generation. It became a terror to the whole country, committing all kinds of devastation on the flocks and herds, and poisoning the pasture with its reeking breath. In vain did the knights and gentlemen thereabouts endeavour to slay this monster, it was a match for the best of them, always leaving them minus life or limb; for although many of them had succeeded in cutting it asunder, the severed parts had reunited immediately, and the worm remained whole as before the conflict.
Finally, the heir of Lambton returned from the wars; he was naturally distressed to learn of the desolation of his ancestral lands, and still more so when he discovered that the cause of all the misery was really due to the monster he had drawn to land on the long bygone desecrated Sabbath. He determined, at all risks, to endeavour to destroy the monster ; but as all previous adventurers had failed, he deemed it best, before undertaking the conflict, to consult a witch or wise woman as to the best method of proceeding. Accordingly, he applied to a witch, and, after having been reproached as the cause of all the misery brought upon the country, she advised him how to act. He was directed to provide himself with a coat of armour covered with razors, and, by means of that and his trusty sword, promised success, that is to say, conditionally upon his making a solemn vow to kill the first living thing which he should meet after slaying the worm. Lambton agreed to the conditions ; but was informed that if he failed to keep his word, the “Lords of Lambton for nine generations should not die in their beds," no very great hardship, it might be deemed, for that martial age.
According to his instructions, the knight had a suit of armour covered with razors made, and having donned this, he instructed his aged father that when he had destroyed the worm, he would blow three blasts upon his horn as a signal of his victory, whereupon his favourite greyhound was to be let loose, so that it might run to him, and therefore be the first thing that would meet him, and thus be slain in fulfilment of his agreement with the witch. The father promised and gave his blessing, and young Lambton, having made the vow enjoined, started on his dangerous expedition. As soon as he approached the hill round which the worm was coiled, it unwound itself and came down to the riverside to attack him. Nothing daunted by its hideous aspect, the knight struck at it with might and main, yet without appearing to make any impression upon it beyond increasing its rage. It now seized its opponent in its horrid folds and sought to strangle him; but the more tightly it grasped him, the more frightfully was it wounded, the razor blades cutting it through and through. But as often as the monster fell to the ground cut by the knight's terrible coat of mail, as often, says the legend, did the severed pieces re-unite, and the wounds heal up. Lambton, seeing that the worm was not to be destroyed in this way, stept into the river Wear, whither the monster followed him. The change of position proved fatal to the worm, for as fast as the pieces were cut off by the razors they were carried away by the stream, and the monster, being unable to re-unite itself was, after the desperate conflict, at last utterly destroyed.
As soon as Lambton had achieved the victory, he blew three blasts upon his horn; but his father, in the excitement of the moment, forgot to have the greyhound unloosened, and in his impatience ran out of the castle to greet his son, and was the first living being that met his gaze. The knight embraced his father, and again blew his horn, upon which the hound was let loose, and, running towards Lambton, was slain. But this was too late to retrieve matters, his vow having enjoined the slaying of the first living creature that he should meet with, and his father had been the first to meet him. So the curse was on the house of Lambton, and for nine generations not one of its lords could die in his bed.
Sir Bernard Burke points out that popular tradition traces the curse back to Robert Lambton, who died without issue in 1442, leaving the estates to his brother Thomas, but bequeathing by his will to his “ brother, John Lambton, knight of Rhodes, 100 marks.” In an ancient pedigree this John Lambton, knight of Rhodes, is described as he “ that slew the worm,” and as “Lord of Lambton after the death of four brothers without male issue." His son Robert is said to have been drowned at Newbrig, near the chapel where the knight had registered his rash and unperformed vow, and tradition specifies a bedless death for each successive nine generations of the Lords of Lambton. After