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Weird Norfolk: Sharp-toothed dragon of Ludham that lurked in a labyrinth

PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 February 2019

Did a dragon once roam the streets of Ludham? Picture: EDP Archive

Did a dragon once roam the streets of Ludham? Picture: EDP Archive

Archant © 2006

It’s the impressive tale of a dragon, a labyrinth under Ludham and a daring escape to a riverside abbey. Weird Norfolk finds out if the Ludham Dragon is still lurking underground.

There be dragons in Ludham, or rather there be tales of dragons.

There are several versions of this scaly tale of the large Ludham Lizard which visited the Broadland village in 1782, and the most remarkable thing of all is each of them is based on a real story of an unexpected visitor in this quiet corner of Norfolk who caused a stupendous stir.

William Henry Cooke of Stalham compiled notes on the extraordinary incident, using local history documents, and handed them to Russell Colman, a member of the famous mustard manufacturing family, in 1911. Today, the notes are filed at the Norfolk Record Office.

“Many years ago the good people of Ludham were shocked by the appearance of a hideous monster,” the notes read, “it was said to have resembled a dragon or monstrous lizard. It was covered with scales and had wings. Its frightful mouth was rendered formidable by tremendous teeth. It was supposed to measure from 12 to 15 feet in length.

Illustration of the Ludham Dragon from documents compiled by William Henry Cooke. Picture: Norfolk Record Office, MC 2835/1Illustration of the Ludham Dragon from documents compiled by William Henry Cooke. Picture: Norfolk Record Office, MC 2835/1

“As it was only visible after sunset, none dared to leave their houses when it was dark. It formed a large burrow which was known to extend from the yard at the back of the Carpenter’s Arms just past the old school house. Every morning the exit was filled up with bricks and stones, and then as often, reopened at night by the monster.

“One bright sunshiny afternoon, to the horror of the inhabitants, it was seen to leave the burrow. As soon as it had got some distance away, a courageous parishioner dropped a single large round stone into the mouth of the burrow, completely filling it up.

“After basking in the sun for some time the monster returned. Not being able to remove the stone it turned away bellowing and lashing its sides furiously with its tail. It then made its way across the fields in the direction of the Bishop’s Palace. Turning to the left it made its way along the dreary causeway leading to the ruined Abbey Gateway.

“Round and round it ran, throwing up stones and dirt in its fury. Raising its hideous form up against the ruined walls, at last it entered the gloomy archway where it is supposed to have made its way to the vaults beneath and was no more seen. After a time the burrow was carefully filled up. To the satisfaction of the parishioners, there has been no return of the Ludham Dragon.”

The gateway in this account leads to the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey, close to the meeting place of the rivers Bure and Ant, a difficult-to-access and now ruined monument which feels as if it is a million miles and thousands of years from modern life.

In the Norfolk Chronicle of September 28 1782, the following report told a different tale: “On Monday the 16th, a snake of enormous size was destroyed at Ludham in this county by Jasper Andrews, of that place. It measured five feet eight inches long, was almost three feet in circumference, and had a very long snout: what was remarkable, there were two excrescences on the forepart of the head which very much resembled horns. “This creature seldom made its appearance in the daytime but kept concealed in subterranean retreats, several of which have been discovered in town: one near the tanning office, another in the premises of the Rev Mr Jeffery, and another in the lands occupied by Mr William Popple, at the hall. The skin of the above surprising reptile is now in the possession of Mr J(James) Garrett, a wealthy farmer in the neighbourhood.”

Could the snake have been an escapee from a travelling menagerie? And most importantly of all, Weird Norfolk would like

to know…just where is the dragon’s skin now?

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