The Brave and the Odd guest post by PJ Martin

Peter James Martin writes novels and stories steeped in folklore. They also feature a covetous rat that swear a lot. He puts a great deal of research into the folklore that features in his novels. He may also have put a lot of research into swearing rodents, I always suspected Roland Rat was a sweetheart personally but Kevin the Gerbil* is another story, as soon as the cameras stopped running his language would have made half the Royal Highlanders blush at the annual regimental vicar and tarts party.

*for those not old enough to remember, Roland Rat and Kevin the Gerbil were staples of UK kids TV in the 80’s, also, lucky you…

Here then is a guest post from Peter about some of his favourite North East folklore.

The Brave and the Odd ~ Some of my favourite Folklore

By Peter James Martin

Seeing as Mark graciously allowed access to his blog for this hallowed month, I thought it would be nice to get out from under the thumb of a particularly talkative rat, and spread my wings, and prattle on to all of you instead. 

To those who don’t know me (you lucky few), I’m Peter James Martin, and I write the Brennan and Riz short stories (and a few other things but they’re not important right now). These stories are greatly inspired by folklore and tall tales from across the world, but the focus is definitely on those that I find around me, in lovely, sunny, Teesside. There’s tales of lost love, bold action, and quite the oddity that I’ve never fully got my head around, and I want to share them with you. So, sit there (yes you, stop fidgeting), and let me spin you a yarn about some of my favourite folklore from the area* 

The first one is a local one, and it’s twisting the concept of folklore already. Why, I may hear you ask? Well, because for starters, it’s actually true.  

What I’m referring to, of course, is the tales of tunnels that criss-cross under the town of Stockon-on-Tees. Starting at one end of the highstreet and terminating at the far end under the remains of the burned out church. I was first told of these by my dad when I was a young lad. Ever since then I’d been mindful when out and about in the town, of what lay under my feet. Later on, after some digging (and some literal digging by a company expanding it’s premise) more facts came to light about the tunnels, linking them to subterranean streets that now exist under modern office buildings. Further research hinted that the tunnels served the purpose of moving prisoners around, as one of the tunnels led to a former court house (now a pub, of course).  

Another tidbit I found while conducting my own research was the tunnel’s connection to Stockton Castle, which sounds far more grandiose then what the reality was, where the ‘castle’ was a fortified manor house,  a far cry away from places like Richmond Castle! The Castle had actually been torn down following the English Civil War, after the Scottish had occupied it. So far, pretty factual for folklore, especially considering one of the next items on the list, until I mention that some believed that Red Caps made their home in those tunnels. Don’t know what a red cap is? You’re probably not alone with that, these are a breed of goblin, known for dying their caps in the blood of their enemies, hence the name. They certainly aren’t friendly, or mischievous, skipping straight to murderous in their intent to protect their territory. Was it any wonder that I used this folklore for the basis of my second Brennan and Riz story, Goblins in the Tunnel. I liked having the distinction between two different types of goblin, as I wanted the more mainstream, normal goblin to portray a neutral role in my worldbuilding, instead of making them all one note. 

To veer away from this direction, I want to look at a different piece of folklore, a very well known one at that given the amount of other works that have been inspired by it! Though I cannot count any of mine in this number…Yet. For this story, we’re going to the River Wear, part of the Tyne and Wear area. The place where the folklore hails from used to be known as the Lambton estate…Yes, we’re talking about the infamous Lambton Worm. 

Our story starts with the young heir to the estate, John Lambton deciding that instead of going to church one sunday morning, that he’d much rather fish, and goes to the River Wear, where he encounters an old man (or an witch, as like some stories, this one has it’s differences depending on who’s telling it). The old man tells him that no good can come from missing church, and our hero pretty much ignores him. He only catches one fish that day however, and it is unlike any fish that he’s ever seen. Some descriptions call it a lamprey-like creature that is either as big as his thumb, or 90cm at its biggest. The head was said to resemble a lizard with 9 holes running along its snout. What does our hero do? He throws it down a well to be rid of it. 

Years pass, and our hero ends up joining one of the Crusades (this fact has allowed people to try and date the story, suggesting the 14th century), and while he’s away, the forgotten worm begins to grow. A pause here to briefly mention the fact that in the old english, a worm wasn’t strictly talking about earthworms which is what most people would think of today. Back then, a worm resembled a snake, with scales and such. There is also Wyrm’s which is different again, being more akin to dragons. Then there’s also Wyrvens, which is different again but I’ll stop there and get back to old Lambton Worm… 

Anyway, the Lambton Worm quickly outgrew the well (after poisoning it of course) and coiled itself around a local hill where it became a nuisance that could only be placated by John’s father giving it the milk of 9 cows everyday in tribute. Villagers tried to kill the beast, as did many a wandering knight. Suffice to say they all failed in this task, often ending up dead for the privilege. Sounds like everyone needs a hero, enter the returning John Lambton, stage right. 

Seeking advice from a witch on how to deal with the worm threatening his home, John learns of how the beast is all his fault and aside from the lecture, he gets the help he needs. The witch tells him to cover his armour in spearheads to turn the creature’s tactic of crushing it’s prey to death against it, but she also tells him that after slaying the beast, he needs to kill the next living thing he sees…Can you see where this is heading? 

Having prepared his now pointy armour, John rides out to fight the Worm. The fight goes down as the witch suggested, with the worm moving in to crush him, but is cut to ribbons by the special armour, and so, the foul creature is laid low, restoring peace to the land, but the tale doesn’t end there. 

Before the fight, John arranged with his dad, that if he should succeed, he’d blow his horn three times, and his dad would release a dog that would run to John, allowing him to kill it and placate the witch’s curse. Things didn’t go to plan, John’s father got too excited on seeing him return to the castle, so even though John blew the horn, it was his father running to embrace him that he saw first. Not wanting to kill his father, John didn’t raise his sword, and in an attempt to try and keep the witch happy, the dog was released and killed (poor thing, it’s only crime was that it loved it’s owner). John thought that would have settled matters, but instead, a powerful curse was laid on the family for 9 generations, meaning that no Lambton would die peacefully in their beds. This held true for the first couple as accidents and warfare saw off some of the family members (but in reality, others did in fact, die in their beds, like Henry Lambton’s brother).  

With a tale like that, you can see why it’s popular, this last one, however, is less well known. It’s also downright bizarre, reading more like a drunken tale that someone made up by the seat of their pants.What is this tale? Why, it’s the tale of Johnny Reed. Johnny was a parish clerk in a village near Newcastle upon Tyne. One night, he was walking back home when he spotted nine cats lurking near a country gate. One of them turns to him and shocks him by talking. It says: “Johnny Reed, Johnny Reed, tell Dan Ratcliff that Peg Powson is dead.” Frightened beyond belief, as you probably would be if a cat spoke to you, he raced back home and immediately told his wife of the encounter. His own cat was nearby, resting near the fireplace and as soon as he heard what was said, he jumped up with a start, and shouted: “If Peg Powson is dead, it’s no time for me to be here!”  

After that outburst, the cat then ran out of the house, never to be seen again. 

Sadly, there’s not much else that can be said about the story. The book I learned this tale from, Supernatural North East by Tony Liddell, does question the sobriety of the person who first came out with the tale. Which I think most people will agree with… 

Well, there you have it. Some of my favourite tales, and while I’ve already used one of them as a basis of a story, the other two may still work their way into the Brennan and Riz stories yet… 

Till we meet again, 

Peter James Martin. 

*- I may stretch the word ‘local’ here, but bear with me, I like talking about these. 


About Mark Hayes

Writer A messy, complicated sort of entity. Quantum Pagan. Occasional weregoth Knows where his spoon is, do you? #author #steampunk
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