Dragon British

Snakelike monster of the British Isles; see Semi-mythical Beasts.

Variant names: Amphiptere, Knucker (from Old English Nicor), Nykur Weish Winged Snake, Worm, Wyvern.

Physical description: Serpentine. Slimy body. Black, red, yellow, or white. Red eyes. Forked tongue. Sharp teeth. Sometimes winged. Sometimes with two or four legs, other times limbless.

Behavior: Basks in the sun. Can fly. Spits venom. Can rejoin or regenerate severed body parts. Breathes fire. Drinks large quantities of milk. Eats livestock. Kills by crushing or strangulation. Eats humans, especially girls. Guards treasure.

Habitat: Rivers, pools, hills, forests, caves.

Distribution: England, Scotland, Wales, and the Channel Islands. A partial list of places where British dragons have been reported follows:

Anglesey, Wales—Penmynedd.

Angus, Scotland—Kirkton of Strathmartine.

Barnsley—Warncliff [Wantley] Lodge (near Wortley).

Borders, Scotland—Linton Hill.


Cheshire—Bache Pool (near Moston), Grimesditch Brook (near Lower Whitley).

Derbyshire—Winlatter Rock.

Devon —Dolbury Hill (Exe River).


Durham—Bishop Auckland, Lambton Castle (River Wear), Sockburn Manor (Tees River).



Hampshire—Dragon Field (near Bisterne).

Herefordshire—Brinsop, Mordiford, Worm-bridge.

Hertfordshire—Brent Pelham.

Highland, Scotland—Ben Vair.

Jersey, Channel Islands—Five Oaks.

Lincolnshire—Anwick, Castle Carlton.


North Yorkshire—Filey, Loschy Hill (near Nunnington), Scaw Wood (near Handale), Sex-how, Slingsby.

Northumberland—Bamburgh Castle, Long-witton, Spindleston Hough.

Oxfordshire—Dragon Hill, Uffington.

Powys, Wales—Llandeilo Graban, Llanrha-iadr-ym-Mochnant.

Somerset—Aller, Carhampton, Churchstan-

ton, Kingston St. Mary, Norton Fitzwarren, Shervage Wood (near Crowcombe).

Suffolk—Bures Saint Mary.

Sussex—Bignor Hill, Knucker Hole (near Lyminster), St. Leonard's Forest (near Horsham).

Significant sightings: St. George (a knight of Cappadocia in Turkey) was said to have killed a Dragon in a pond near Silene (possibly Shahhat or Suluntah in Cyrenaica or Zlitan in Tripolita-nia), Libya. The citizens of the town were sacrificing teenage girls to the monster in order to keep it from killing everyone and devastating the countryside. When it was the turn of the king's daughter, an itinerant knight named George stuck the Dragon with his lance. The girl then led it through the town where George killed it. Afterward, the townsfolk became Christian. The legend may have originated in sixth-century North African folktales or in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, but St. George was adopted as an Anglo-Saxon Christian hero in England. The tale circulated widely during the Middle Ages, eventually becoming a somewhat erotic romance. The Dragon was seen as a symbol of paganism or evil.

The Lambton Worm was a loathsome Dragon that surfaced in the River Wear, Durham, in the fourteenth century. Lord Lambton caught it on his fishing line but threw it down a nearby well when he realized what it was. For the next few years, the creature grew in size and began to terrorize the locals, consuming livestock and killing any would-be slayers. The villagers had to pacify it by keeping a trough filled with milk for it to drink. Lambton himself finally killed it but only because he had protected himself with a spike-studded coat of mail. A piece of the Dragon's hide and the milk trough were still on exhibit at the castle in the nineteenth century.

In the early fifteenth century, Sir Maurice de Berkeley is said to have killed a scaly, fire-breathing Dragon at Dragon Field near Bisterne, Hampshire.

Sir Thomas Venables is said to have shot and killed a Dragon just as it was about to eat a child in Bache Pool, near Moston, Cheshire, in the sixteenth century. A 1632 carving in the church vestry shows the crest of the Venables as a Dragon swallowing a child.

A scaly Dragon—9 feet long, black on top, reddish below, and with a white ring around its neck—was roaming St. Leonard's Forest, near Horsham, Sussex, in August 1614. It could run as fast as a man on its four feet, and it killed but did not eat several cattle, two dogs, and two people on different occasions. The animal left behind a slimy trail and spat venom.

A flying Dragon 8-9 feet long with two rows of sharp teeth and a pair of wings was seen near Henham, Essex, beginning on May 27 and 28, 1669. It was observed basking in the sun by several people, but when they returned with guns and pitchforks, it darted into Birch Wood. Possible explanations:

(1) Physical characteristics borrowed from a vague knowledge of pythons, cobras, and crocodiles.

(2) An evolved Kuehneosaurus, a 2-foot-long, winged reptile that lived in England in the Late Triassic, 200 million years ago, proposed by Mark A. Hall. Though known fossil forms were only capable of gliding flight, Hall suggests that by the Middle Ages, it may have grown in size and developed true flight.

(3) Windsock banners used by armies to identify specific military units. There was a whistling device attached to the silk banner that made hissing noises as the banner was waved vigorously. A lighted torch was also placed in the mouth of the banner. The custom probably originated in China, but the Romans picked it up during various wars with the Persians, Scythians, and Dacians. A Dragon was the standard of a Roman cohort (one-tenth of a legion). After the Romans left Britain, the Britons and Saxons adopted the custom for their own armies. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Dragon standard was adopted by the Normans and was used throughout the Hundred Years' War. The national flag of Wales is a red Dragon, Y Ddraig Goch.

(4) A completely mythical animal used in moralistic tales.

(5) A symbolic expression of the raids of the Vikings, whose longboats featured brightly painted Dragon figureheads.

(6) Tales constructed to explain monuments, carvings, and heraldic devices that depicted Dragons; alternatively, place-names that referred to them.

(7) Legends that underscore the uniqueness of a community whose lord of the manor is portrayed as a Dragon slayer or whose local farm lad has outwitted and killed a monster.

(8) The Dragon is seen by Paul Devereux and others as a symbol for the unusual forces and energies associated with sacred sites in the British landscape. These earth energies are centered on megalithic structures such as Stonehenge and are channeled into invisible streams that coincide with "leys," or alignments of roads, trackways, standing stones, and other landmarks.

Sources: Jacobus de Viragine, The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine [1265], ed. Frederick S. Ellis (Hammersmith, England: Kelm Scott, 1892), vol. 1, pp. 454-455; The Flying Serpent, or, Strange News out of Essex (London: Peter Lillicrap, 1669?); Samuel Rudder, A New History ofGloucestershire (Cirencester, England: Samuel Rudder, 1779), pp. 402-403; True and Wonderfuil: A Discourse Relating a Strange and Monstrous Serpent, or Dragon, Lately Discovered and Yet Living to the Great Annoyance and Divers Slaughters Both Men and Cattel, by His Strong and Violent Poyson; in Sussex, Two Miles from Horsam, in a Woode Called St. Leonards Forrest, and Thirtie Miles from London, This Present Month of August, 1614, in The Harleian Miscellany (London: Robert Dutton, 1809), vol. 3, pp. 227-231; William Eastmead, Historia Rievallensis (Thirsk, England: R. Peat, 1824); James Dacres Devlin, Helps to Hereford History, Civil and Legendary (London: J. R. Smith, 1848); William Henderson, Notes on the Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (London: Longmans, Green, 1866), pp. 245-247; Egerton Leigh, Ballads & Legends ofCheshire (London: Longmans, 1867), pp. 223-227; J. O. Halliwell, "The Serpent of St. Leonard's Forest," Sussex Archaeological Collections 19 (1867): 190-191; Llewellyn Jewitt, "The Dragon of Wantley and the Family of Moore," Reliquary, new ser. 18 (1878):

193-202; H. A. Heaton, "St. George and the Dragon," Antiquary 35 (1899): 113-118; Cornelia Steketee Hulst, St. George of Cappadocia in Legend and History (London: David Nutt, 1909), pp. 12-39; John Francis Campbell, The Celtic Dragon Myth (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1911); H. R. Ellis Davidson, "The Hill of the Dragon," Folklore 61 (1950): 169-185; Richard Carrington, Mermaids and Mastodons (New York: Rinehart, 1957), pp. 64-77; Gwyn Williams, Green Mountain, an Informal Guide to Cyrenaica and its Jebel Akhdar (London: Faber and Faber, 1963); Ruth L. Tongue, Somerset Folklore (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1965), pp. 79, 129-131; Rosemary Dickens, Dragon Legend of Burley Beacon and Bisterne (Salisbury, England: Rosemary Dickens, n.d.); Whitall N. Perry, "The Dragon That Swallowed St. George," Studies in Comparative Religion 10 (Summer 1976): 136-172; Janet and Colin Bord, The Secret Country (New York: Walker, 1976), pp. 69-88; Paul Screeton, The Lambton Worm and Other Northumbrian Dragon Legends (London: Zodiac House, 1978); Jacqueline Simpson, "Fifty British Dragon Tales: An Analysis," Folklore 89 (1978): 79-93; Paul Newman, The Hill of the Dragon (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979); Peter J. Hogarth and Val Clery, Dragons (London: Allen Lane, 1979); Ralph Whitlock, Here Be Dragons (London: Allen and Unwin, 1983); Clive Harper, The Hughenden Dragon (High Wycombe, England: Torsdag, 1985); Mark A. Hall, Natural Mysteries, 2d ed. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Mark A. Hall, 1991), pp. 43-50; Carl Lofmark, A History of the Red Dragon, ed. G. A. Wells (Llanrwst, Wales: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1995); Karl Shuker, Dragons: A Natural History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), pp. 12-15, 58-63; Gordon Rutter, "The Lambton Worm: A Cryptozoological Folklore Story from the Past," Cryptozoology Review 3, no. 2 (Autumn 1998): 29-31; Dragoncrafts, http:// www.dragoncrafts.co.uk.

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