Whisht! lads ‘ I’ll tell ye aboot the Tangled Worm

County Durham-based Tangled Worm is a new  North East based business publishing poster prints with a bit of difference with an emphasis on Northern heritage,  fun facts and just a little frivolity.

Worm legends poster
Worm legends poster print

“We specialise in colourful poster prints with an emphasis on information, quirky facts and northern history as well as occasionally delve into other educational themes like science” says owner David Simpson, 50.

David Simpson
David Simpson

Based near Durham City Tangled Worm was set up in November  by David, a former writer with The Northern Echo best known as the author of a number of books about the North East.

“I want to produce prints that are colourful, fun and informative” says David  “and I’m especially keen to focus on Britain and particularly the North of England but also want to produce prints that are just for fun”.

A colourful print featuring 150 jokey 'batty book titles'
A colourful print featuring 150 jokey ‘batty book titles’

One of David’s most popular prints is a map featuring over 1,000 rude and curious place-names in North East England which includes such wonders as Common Slap, Old Man’s Bottom, Comical Corner, Goodwife Hot, Make Me Rich, Crackpot and Stinking Goat. It also includes explanations for some of the more familiar unusual names like Pity me and Unthank as well as a wide range of place-names with an international flavour like Moscow, California, Boc Chica, Philadephia and Toronto that pop up throughout  the region.

Curious place-names of North East England
Curious place-names of North East England

Northern history themed maps include the troublesome Border reiver surnames: Robson, Charlton, Milburn, Elliot, Armstrong and many others whose murderous raiding and livestock rustling culture dominated Northumberland and neighbouring border counties in Tudor times. The map includes a few tales associated with some of the most notorious reiving families.

Representing a more distant period is a map showing the Iron Age tribes of the North and the routes and events of the subsequent Roman invasion. Another map features the principal Roman features of the North and two very detailed poster print maps depict the Kingdom of Northumbria in the Viking age and in the pre-Viking era complete with details of raids, invasions, murders, settlements and lists of the all the Kings and Earls based at Bamburgh and York.

The Iron Age North
The Iron Age North

It’s not just about history though, Northern culture is well represented. Products include a Geordie Dictionary poster featuring explanations and origins for over 500 North East words and a unique map showing the names of 1,400 notable northerners ranging from scientists, celebrities, singers, comedians, inventors and notable industrialists from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull in the south all the way up to Berwick. All the northern counties from Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire up to Northumberland are featured.

There’s even a map depicting the North East ‘worm’ legends which provided the inspiration for the business name.  In case you’re wondering, worms are wyverns, legendary serpents that feature in ancient stories that are entwined and entangled with the mythology of invading Vikings, Angles and Saxons.

David says he loves unravelling such tales and history in general to reveal strange roots and sees the world as a place of entangled mysteries and puzzles waiting to be solved, untwisted and enjoyed with wonder. This goes for science too – his colourful Periodic table is one of his latest additions which explains how the elements combine in ways to make up our universe.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

“In the same way as the knights of old defeated the by slicing up those worms I like to break up knowledge into morsels for entertainment and enlightenment. It hopefully whets the appetite to learn much more.”

Visit Tangled Worm Poster Prints at


Tangled Worm


4 thoughts on “Whisht! lads ‘ I’ll tell ye aboot the Tangled Worm”

  1. Hi David. I applaud your new venture and love your posters, but would like to correct your natural history. A Northumbrian ‘worm’ (or ‘wyrm’) is not a wyvern, and not even closely related. Wyverns have wings and legs (2, whereas dragons have 4), but our local worms have neither. They are less lizard-like and much more, well, worm-like. ‘Geet big teeth and geet big gob and geet big goggling eyes’ yes, legs and wings, no. No fiery breath either. Their origins lie in the Old Norse word ‘orm’, a sea serpent.

    1. Hi Chris,

      The description of the teeth, gob and eyes that you mention come from the lyrics of the Tyneside music hall pantomime song written by Clarence Leumane in 1867. A poster created for that pantomime at the time certainly depicts the beast without wings and legs but this seems to contradict most of the earlier traditions relating to our northern worms. Older descriptions of the North East/Northumbrian worm legends such as the Lambton Worm seem to point us is in the direction of wyverns, dragons, fire-breathing creatures and ‘worms’ whose features certainly seem to have included feet or sometimes claws and occasionally wings.

      Although I accept that anything termed ‘Norse’ is an attractive and popular explanation within our region despite our region’s very limited Norse history I find little to suggest that worms were ‘sea serpents’ in the case of our region’s legends. The sea features in only one (and then only very marginally) of the ten ‘Northumbrian’ worm legends known to me and as far as I can see the sea is not described as the worm’s lair in any of the legends.

      I agree there is a great deal of scope for confusion over the similarity of terms like orm, worm, wyrm, wyvern, dragon etc., particularly over a long period of time when the original but sometimes ambiguous and clearly related meanings have been forgotten.

      If you’re correct in your perceived understanding that our North East worms are without wings or legs – and you seem very confident on this – I would suggest this perhaps derives from the modern understanding of the term ‘worm’ in the context of genuine natural history features such as the snake-like slow-worms and more specially earth-worms which is what most people would understand by the term ‘worm’ today. Clearly these are creatures without wings, feet etc.

      There are several worm legends associated with the former Kingdom of Northumbria region. I know of at least ten. In my mind there is no doubt that these legends are all somehow rooted in and adapted from either Norse mythology or the closely related Anglo-Saxon mythology but it would be impossible, given their hazy individual origins to pinpoint when they originated and what the specific nature of each beast might be. Furthermore they are of course only legends, not genuine beasts from nature, unless some remarkable fossil discovery or similar find proves otherwise.

      However, there is little evidence beyond the popular modern imagination to confirm they were featureless sea monsters. I’m only a little familiar with the term Jörmungandr, for a Norse sea monster and also the Danish /Norse terms lindormr or linnorm which have multiple meanings ranging from dragon to serpent monster (as I understand). In Norwegian heraldry a lindorm is what we would call a wyvern but in British heraldry a lindworm is technically a serpentine monster with two clawed arms in its upper body. However that is heraldry.

      Many of the legends – as suggested in the interesting attached audio podcast by Professor John McKinnell of Durham University seem to have been created to justify the rights of a local family of high reputation to hold land in a specific neighbourhood. I’d agree with that. Listen from 2:33 if time doesn’t allow a full listen, but the whole podcast is of great intertest.

      Many of these families were established in the post-Norman conquest era when such deep-rooted aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Viking culture were still presumably fresh in the hearts and minds of the native people.
      Professor McKinnell makes the compelling suggestion that the legends of Northumbria derive from the Norse legend of Fafnir – in which Fafnir I believe is usually depicted as a dragon but which could be a serpent.

      However, you say that our North East worms are Norse sea serpents so let’s look at what scant evidence there is on a worm by worm basis:

      Best known of the legends is of course the Lambton Worm, though historically the Sockburn Worm – County Durham’s other worm legend – seems to have been the better known legend and is perhaps of greater antiquity.

      Examining the evidence for the Lambton Worm, aside from Leumane’s comical music hall song, which I’m sure you’ll agree is not a reputable source we find there is rather little evidence to go on. All we know is the legend was passed down over the centuries. An historic manuscript once held by the Middleton family of Offerton on Wearside only points to the slayer of the worm being a John Lambton, a Knight of Rhodes.

      In the gardens at the Lambton estate, a statue (later removed to Biddick Hall) is described by the historian Surtees in 1820 as “being of no great antiquity” but it does depict the knight in battle with a worm that has four legs and ears. One thing that is missing from this is the blades of steel from the armour which is mentioned in the usual version of the legend.

      There may have been some artist’s licence at work here but presumably the work was commissioned by the Lambton family according to their understanding of the legend’s details.

      We know little else in terms of description although the initial baby worm creature fished out of the well by ‘Young Lambton’ at the beginning of the story is described by Surtees (1820) and other early historians as an ‘eft’ or ‘worm’. An eft, I understand, is a newt.

      We have slightly more descriptive details for the Sockburn Worm. The well-known, traditional sword presentation ceremony that takes place at Croft-on-Tees Bridge near Darlington in which each new Bishop of Durham is presented with the falchion (the Conyers Falchion) that was allegedly used in the slaying of the Sockburn Worm somewhat hedges its bets in its description of the worm slain by Sir John Conyers.

      The Conyers family (of Norman origin) interestingly claimed that Sir John Conyers had performed the act in pre-Norman times, which looks like a definite case of backdating justification for land rights.

      The presentation ceremony begins:

      “My Lord Bishop I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent which destroyed man, woman and child…”

      Certainly, there’s no suggestion of a ‘sea serpent’ here.

      Furthermore Fordyce, another Durham historian writing in 1857 quotes a Bowes manuscript (dating from around the 1600s) in which it is stated that:

      “Sir John Conyers Knt., slew yt (that) monstrous and poysonous vermine or wyverne, and aske or werme, which overthrew many people in flight, for that ye sent (scent) of yt (that) poison was so strong that no person might abyde it”.

      Again, no certainty in the description of the worm but it seems a long way from being a ‘sea serpent’. There’s more evidence. There are two other pieces of evidence. Firstly, on the Conyers coat of arms the beast is represented as a lizard. Secondly on the Sir John Conyers’ effigy at Sockburn church it is a winged worm or ‘aske’ that is depicted at his feet.

      Sockburn, which is within a serpent-like loop of the Tees just downstream from Croft had been a major religious centre in Anglo-Saxon times with links to both Lindisfarne and York but came under the influence of the Vikings in later times and was a centre for Norse sculpture.

      In the North East the Tees valley was the part of the region that came under most Viking influence as evidenced through place-names etc. though east Durham and Wearside were also seized by the Vikings at one point. If you search for Olaf Ball and Scule within my Norrth East site you’ll find more about this.

      As you may be aware Lewis Carroll was raised in the rectory overlooking the bridge at Croft where his father was rector. Lewis Carroll wrote the opening and identical closing verse for the ‘Jabberwock’ poem at Croft about the slaying of a creature of some kind and the remaining verses were composed at Whitburn near Sunderland where some of his relatives resided. It is hard to believe that a person of Lewis Carroll’s nature was not influenced by the worm story in some way particularly given its connections to the Church of England.

      The Jabberwock is depicted in the illustration by Sir John Tenniel in ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ as a wyvern, presumably with Lewis Carroll’s approval. The Conyers Falchion (perhaps Lewis Caroll’s ‘vorpal blade’) is incidentally on show in the fabulous ‘Treasures of St Cuthbert’ exhibition at Durham Cathedral. The pommel of the falchion seems to feature the emblem of Morcar, a pre-conquest Earl of Northumbria.

      Moving on to the Laidley Worm (laidley means ‘loathsome’) legend of Bamburgh this is certainly geographically close to the sea but the sea doesn’t specifically feature in the legend as the worm’s lair and this particular worm’s appearance does not seem to be known.

      The story is said to have been first recorded by a Cheviot mountain bard called Duncan Fraser in 1270 but there is no record of the legend until 1776 when it was published as a ballad by the Reverend Robert Lambe, a vicar of Norham on Tweed, who may well have invented it.

      Of the other worms associated with the Kingdom of Northumbria there is only one other that I know of connected with the historic counties of Northumberland Durham. This is the Longwitton Worm near Morpeth in Northumberland which was supposedly slain by Guy Earl of Warwick and is associated with three nearby wells with water of a vitreous quality (a well features in the Lambton legend too).

      The Longwitton Worm is described in Tomlinson’s Guide to Northumberland (1888) as a winged serpent or dragon with the magical power of invisibility and the well is a source of its power of regeneration.

      Hodgson’s History of Northumberland of 1827 concurs with the ‘winged serpent or dragon’ description given by Tomlinson but Hodgson has a s source. He gives thanks to a 90 year old farmer called William Hepple of Cambo for the information about the worm.

      I’ll try to be brief about some of the other worms from outside the two old counties but still within the old Kingdom of Northumbria. The Loschy Worm of Nunnington near Helmsley was described as a fire-breathing dragon with poisonous blood. The hero in this incidence, a Sir Peter Loschy employed his dog to carry away the chopped up pieces of the beast before they could rejoin. However, the dragon’s blood was poisonous and since the dog had licked its owner’s face, they both unfortunately died.

      The Handale Worm of the Loftus area near Redcar in Cleveland, North Yorkshire apparently breathed fire and had a poisonous sting. It had a penchant for devouring maidens, destroying crops and drinking milk.

      The Slingsby Worm near Malton in North Yorks is described as a serpent or dragon and was mentioned by an antiquarian Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654). It was slain by Sir William Wyvill with the assistance of a dog. A dog also features in the Lambton Worm story and it’s worth listening to Professor McKinnell’s podcast for his thoughts on this.

      The Linton Worm in Roxburghshire, Scotland (formerly part of Northumbria) was slain by Sir John Somerville and this beast it seems had a particularly huge mouth. Somerville employed a blacksmith to create an iron spear with a wheel at its tip which was then coated with tar, peat and brimstone to be set alight. It was with this weapon that this particular creature met its end.

      Interstingly, the beast is depicted on the Somerville family crest as a wyvern perched on a wheel.

      The Dalry Worm (north west of Dumfries) lies within the fringe of what was Northumbria and was depicted as a four-legged dragon. It was killed with a retractable spike.

      Then we have the Renwick Worm in Cumberland which escaped from the local church that was being demolished there and terrorised the neighbourhood. Remarkably this event is said to have occurred in 1733 and the creature is described as resembling a large bat. If it is to be believed, it seems that this worm was in fact a cockatrice – a winged serpent with a cockerel’s head. I know of only one other dragon in the north – the Wantley Dragon near Rotherham but as far as I know this is not referred to as a worm.

      It would be interesting to find out more about the early records for all of these myths and any others that I may have missed out, but of course they are legends rather than historical fact.

      I am happy to remain open-minded but I’m certainly not convinced by the idea that they were sea serpents straight out of Norse mythology.



      About Fatfield, Penshaw and The Lambton Worm: http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/penshaw-monument-worm-hill/
      About Croft, Sockburn and the Lambton Worm: http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/croft-sockburn-sadberge/

      Worms Stags and Other Folk Performances a podcast by Professor John Mckinnell http://community.dur.ac.uk/reed.ne/?page_id=2208

  2. “Sockburn … is within a serpent-like loop of the Tees”. That has struck me before. Could it be that the Worm is actually the river itself? And then is the story perhaps a creative way of commemorating some act by Sir John Conyers in defending the populace from the flooding that the river is prone to?

  3. “Sockburn, which is within a serpent-like loop of the Tees”

    That has struck me before. Could it be that the Worm is actually the river itself, which is prone to severe flooding? And that the tale is a creative way of commemorating something that Sir John Conyers did to mitigate that?

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