It was on a spring day in
the year of 1405 that the town of Sudbury, busily going about its affairs,
slowly but surely became engulfed by a wave of panic.
Word was spreading that a horrific and fearful sight had been witnessed
down on the banks of the River Stour.
According to several reliable townsfolk, who had seen it with their own
eyes, an enormous monster had emerged from the water and was breathing
fire in the general direction of anything that moved.
As people fled to the north side of the town and doors and shutters were
bolted, several brave and resourceful fellows decided that the town must
Armed with bows and arrows they cautiously approached the riverside, and
proceeded to fire upon the strange creature.
And, although their arrows made little impression - merely bouncing off
its tough skin - they were successful in that the beast became agitated
enough to return to the water and retreat downstream in the direction
The event became the talking point of the town for many days, and the
townsfolk eventually logically concluded that as they had never seen anything
remotely resembling such a monster as this, it must have been a dragon
containing the spirit of the devil.
Word spread of the alleged dragon's presence in the river and villages
downstream from Sudbury were made aware that they may receive a visitation.
Sure enough, to the horror of the village of Bures, the "dragon"
suddenly appeared at the top of an area called "Clappits", which
is probably the site of the present Claypits housing estate.
A shepherd and most of his flock of sheep were killed by it as it apparently
made itself at home in the grounds of Smallbridge Hall, which was then
owned by Sir Richard de Waldegrave.
The men and boys of Bures, again armed with bows and arrows," made
an all-out assault on the intruder, but again failed
to seriously harm it because their arrows merely bounced' off its tough,
They retreated and much discussion was had in the village on how to get
rid of the dragon, which by now appeared to have no desire to continue
Eventually the entire populace from miles around were summoned, and, gathered
together they approached the beast.
On seeing the oncoming crowds, who were fully armed and more than a little
noisy, the dragon apparently decided to flee
It was seen to hurriedly make its way, overland and on foot, to the village
of Wormingford, where it plunged into a mere, never to be seen again.
One version of the story has it that the bowmen who had made the attack
at Bures, retired to the Eight Bells public house to enjoy a hearty meal
of the sheep which had been conveniently roasted on a barbeque by the
dragon's fiery breath.
The only account to survive that was actually written at the time appears
to be contained in the chronicles of Monk John de Trokelowe, his writing
was, of course, all in Latin and was later translated into English
The monk writes, in a remarkable matter-of-fact style, that the creature
was "vast in body with a crested head, teeth like a saw, and a tail
extending to enormous length."
Of the attempted slaying by the locals he observes, ". . . the dragon's
body, although struck by the archers, remained unhurt, for the arrows
bounced off his back as if it were iron or hard rock."
"Those arrows that fell upon the spine of his back, gave out as
they struck it a ringing or tinkling sound just as if they had hit a brazen
plate and then flew far away off by reason of the hide of this great beast
The Monk's account concludes with the statement that the dragon fled into
a mere and was never seen again.
The mere in question is that in the grounds of the present Wormingford
A further tale has it that there is still from time to time, a mysterious
bubbling in one corner of this mere, allegedly resulting from the presence
of the Devil, who lives there in the form of the beast.
On the wall in Wormingford Church, however, is a 500-word legend that
suggests the dragon was slain where Wormingford Grange now stands by a
dashing knight called Sir George of Layer de la Haye.
This, of course, has led to speculation that the famous "George and
the Dragon" legend springs from this particular incident.
The legend hangs in the church beside a stained glass window which depicts
a knight in armour on horseback attempting to kill a creature resembling
The legend reveals that the King of England, while abroad was given a
beast, called a "dragoun", and that he ultimately brought it
to England where he kept it in the Tower of London.
From here it is alleged to have escaped and disappeared without trace,
despite proclamations and offers of reward.
The legend continues, "Time passed and swimming, crawling, ravaging,
it found its way to that small settlement on the banks of the Stour, then
called Wither-mundford." "
"The few natives were terrified at the new arrival and a rumour spread
among them that it could only be pacified with human sacrifices and so
Apparently the supply of virgins in Withermundford (now Wormingford) soon
ran out and the dragon could no longer be pacified.
So the natives, at their wits end, sent for Sir George of Layer de la
Haye, the Son of the Earl of Boulogne, who bravely took up the challenge
to slay the beast.
"Sir George chased the I dragon, which really put up a poor fight
and slew it, according to tradition, about where the Grange now stands,"
says the legend.
It adds that the killing may have taken place in the field that has always
been known, for no obvious reason, as the "Bloody Meadow."
Today, most believe the beast was in fact, a crocodile - it was then called
a dragon because this was what the simple, uneducated natives genuinely
believed it to be.
Whatever the nature of the creature, the evidence of its visit is certainly
For instance, after the event the village of Withermundford even changed
its name, it became Wormiton, then Wormington and, finally, Wormingford,
which means "ford of the worm".
The belief that the creature was in fact a crocodile. "It is quite
probable, from the monk's description, that the "Dragon" was
a crocodile which had escaped from its keeper."
Although the modern memorial window in Wormingford Church depicts the
creature as a crocodile the one in nearby Wiston Church illustrates a
creature that is far more dragon-like.
So, in the meantime, the legend lives on, with the details of what actually
happened becoming more horrifying and unbelievable each time the tale
But, of course, this is the way of all legends worth their salt and the
story of the Stour Valley Dragon is certainly no exception.
Courtesy of Robert Hadgraft
& EADT 19/08/76