About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Sir John Duck
Young John arrived at the brow of a hill. The view that greeted him took his breath away. A silver river coiled the city like a warm embrace. In the very centre were the most beautiful buildings he had ever seen in his life. It was the incredible Durham Cathedral and it was sat next to an astonishing castle.
He sighed long and loud.
'This will be my home,' he breathed, 'This will be my city.' John had apprenticed as a butcher and was now ready to make it on his own. His plan was to get a job in the city and eventually have his own shop. He had dreamt of it his whole life.
He almost skipped towards a bridge and then went on into the centre towards the market square. He stood on Silver Street and gasped again. The market was the busiest, most bustling place he had ever seen in his life. Market traders, mainly butchers, had stalls set up everywhere. His feet squelched as he stepped forward. He looked down and saw the cobblestones running red with blood. The metallic tang of the blood was all around as he neared the stalls. Vast wooden chopping boards with heavy cleavers displayed huge joints of mutton, beef, lamb, veal, rabbit, grouse; all manner of meat. There were fishmongers too. The stench of the fish entwined with the heavy scent of the raw meat. It made John's head swim. Then there were big bundles of dried herbs to mask the tidal waves of smells but they didn't work. John didn't mind though. He could not keep the smile from his face as he walked from stall to stall. It was tattooed there. A permanent toothy grin.
'Excuse me, sir!' he called cheerfully to one butcher, 'Do you need any help?'
'Ya wha?' the burly man barked back.
He was red-faced and had a blood-encrusted leather apron over a perfect sphere of a belly.
'I've done my apprenticeship!' John replied, 'I can butcher!'
'Where'd ya train? Which stall? Why've they got rid of ya?'
'Oh, I'm not from Durham.'
'Not from Durham?' laughed the man meanly, 'Then forget it. Ya won't work round here unless ya from here!'
But the man had turned his back on him and was busy carving pigs' trotters.
John tried anther stall and was given the same response.
Then another. And another.
The butchers of Durham would only hire those trained in Durham.
'You need to belong to our guild,' explained one butcher who was a little friendlier than the others, 'We only take on Durham Guild butchers. It's been that way since 1402 and that's that.'
'But how do I join your guild?' John asked.
'If you got your apprenticeship outside of the guild then you can never join the guild. Sorry!'
John kicked at the cobblestones in frustration. All of his dreams were dashed in the city he had yearned for.
Slowly, he trudged his way back to the bridge and away from the market square.
His attention was firmly fixed at his feet but a squawking made him look up. Circling above him was a black raven. John shrugged and continued his long journey home. But the raven squawked again.
'Shoo!' called John, 'I'm not a dead man yet!'
John hurried his pace and the raven followed. Eventually he stopped and peered up at the large bird. It seemed to be holding something in its claws. Now that John had stopped, the raven swooped down and landed at his feet. It dropped whatever it had been cradling and with a noisy scoop of air in wings, then flapped away.
Stepping forward, then crouching, John peered at what the raven had left him. It was a silver coin on the cobbles of the street that led to Silver Street.
The boy picked it up and bit it to see if it was real. It was! He smiled. At least some good had come out of the day. This would see him have a warm meal and a comfortable night in the city, then it would be back home the next day with change to spare.
Just then he heard puffing, panting and cursing. A man was struggling to move two cows.
'Damn you, you stubborn pair!' the man raged.
'Are you going to sell those?' asked John.
'I was!' the man spat, 'I've been trying to get them to the market all day long but the beasts won't move!'
'I'll buy them!' the boy said at once, 'Here!' He held out the coin to the man.
'I'd have liked more for them,' he said slowly, 'But enough is enough. They're yours and good luck to you!'
The man snatched the coin from the boy's hand and scurried away up the road.
John stroked the snouts of the cows. He talked to them kindly and softly. When he tugged at their harnesses, the cows happily walked on. Leading them back the way he had come, to the market square, the boy's smile was back.
'How much do you want for those cows?' The voice came louder than the rest of the hubbub of noise.
John's smile was wider than ever.
'Who's asking?' he called back to the crowd.
One man stepped forward. It was the first burly butcher he'd spoken to earlier.
'I am,' he barked back at the boy, 'Oh, it's you!'
'It is!' beamed John, 'How much are you offering?'
'Don't trade with him!' another man said, stepping in between the two, 'He'll rob you blind!'
'Oh yeah?' said the first burly man.
The two men began arguing.
'I don't care who I trade with, I just want an honest price!'
'Then talk to me!'
Another man stepped forward. This third man extended a hand for John to shake.
'I'm John,' smiled the man.
'So am I!' laughed the boy.
'Pleased to meet you,'
John Heslop bought the cows from John Duck. He was so impressed by the boy's cheerful demeanour and enthusiastic attitude that he hired him as an apprentice, despite the protests of the Durham's Guild of Butchers. The boy did end up owning his own butcher's, but he ended up with a lot more too. He continued to trade on the market square. He was a wise buyer.
He bought and sold first beasts for farms then, at last, the farms themselves. He made shrewd investments in land and soon became known right across the County of Durham. He built himself a fine mansion in Haswell, where he lived with his wife, the daughter of John Heslop.
He eventually became the Mayor of Durham and rose to the rank of a baronet when he became Sir John Duck of Haswell on the Hill.
John never forgot the raven that helped him though. He decided that he wanted to give something back to the city that had looked after him. So, with his wealth, he built a hospital in Great Lumley for the poor and needy.
The boy without a penny to his name will always be remembered in the county as the man who rose to greatness in his beloved city. There is a pub that bears his name on Claypath that leads to Silver Street. The logo beside the name is a raven holding a coin. It stands on the place where the boy first began to make his fortune.
The Fairies from the Cave
Fairy Hole Cave sits between Eastgate and Westgate in Weardale, near to Killhope Lead Mining Museum. It is a deep cave with a long history. It is also the home to fairies.
A boy lived at a mill near to Cowshill. He was mean and nasty to all he met. He was cruel and vicious. He laughed at the unfortunate. He was also very lonely.
The boy used to collect stones to keep in his pocket. He would walk through the woods and throw these stones at squirrels and birds. He would pick flowers only to tear them to pieces. He would trample ferns and shred leaves. In short, he would take out his loneliness on anything he could.
One bright autumn morning, the boy was walking near the woods when he came across a small limekiln. The fires had long since cooled so the boy climbed on top of the tower of stones. It had a turfed roof. He peered inside from the grassy top. He decided that this would be an excellent vantage point to launch stones at passing rabbits. Heaping the pile of rocky missiles to his side, he then lay back upon the soft grass and decided to have a snooze.
A tinkling sound that sang in the distance soon interrupted his sleeping. He sat up. It was quite unlike any other sound that he had heard before. It was a ringing that danced over the hills and, quite involuntarily, made him smile from ear to ear. He squeezed his eyelids together, squinting over the green landscape to see the source of the sound.
There was a whole procession of fairy folk. Each would have been no higher than the boy's kneecap. They came dancing and singing along the land. Some carried hurdy-gurdies, turning the handles and tapping at the keys. Some played pipes, some played fiddles, some sang, some danced. They all made up a merry band and the boy flipped himself over onto his stomach. He became perfectly still. He held his breath. He was scared. He had never seen fairies before. Of course, he had heard of them, but he had always thought that the boys and girls from his village were making up stories. He had been convinced that there was no such thing. He had said it often enough and given those same children a firm punch for making up lies. Yet, here they were. Fairy folk in the flesh.
The boy slid his eyes over to the pile of stones next to him. A cruel smile slithered over his mouth. The fairies continued their merry parading dance until they got to the base of the kiln. Then the music came to an abrupt halt. The echo of it drifted on the air like a whisper of smoke.
Each fairy was wearing the colours of an autumnal landscape – reds, browns, yellows, all beautifully decorated with leaf and branch patterns. Their hair was plaited and their eyes were shining. They chatted and laughed. Their voices were high-pitched, singsong and musical. Busying themselves by unloading leather backpacks, the fairies were completely oblivious to the boy's presence above them. He was a still statue atop the stones.
Once the musical instruments were safely stored away, the fairy folk unpacked small sticks and kindling. They entered the kiln and busied themselves preparing a fire within. Daring to move merely a matter of inches, the boy peered down the long shaft of the kiln to see what was happening within. He felt smoke upon his cheeks. Floating, grey wafts came gently drifting from little orange flames. A cooking pot was being hoisted onto a metal tripod over the fire. Water was poured from small leather pouches and then herbs were added. One fairy was delightedly adding great handfuls of honey.
'Sweet tea,' he giggled, 'Honey makes it sweet!'
The others laughed and encouraged him to add more. Their voices mingled with the smoke and the boy beamed. But his smile was not like that of the fairies. His smile was a cruel and taunting thing. He slithered his arm over the grass until he could feel the hard stones against his fingers. He slid them closer to the opening of the kiln. Then he waited, like an ancient spider.
The fairies were stirring the heavily scented tea with a large wooden spoon. Some were sat in a circle around a fire, some had taken up their instruments again and were playing slow, melancholic tunes while others stared into the now large flames.
Several minutes passed and the boy remained still and silent. The fairies had passed around acorn cups and were all busy sipping their herbal tea. The taste of honey was in the air and the boy licked his lips. He inched himself forward, very slowly and very quietly.
Gripping a stone in each hand, he aimed carefully. The fairies were utterly oblivious to the boy above. He dropped both stones, which landed perfectly into the pit over the fire. Boiling tea splashed in every direction, soaking the shocked fairies. The boy rolled onto his back and exploded with laughter. Rolling back again, he looked down into the kiln. The shocked fairy folk were up on their feet; the acorn cups fell to the ground. They rubbed at themselves gasping in surprise.
The boy laughed and pointed at them.
The fairies looked up at their attacker. Their faces instantly changed. The eyes that had previously shone with laughter and music narrowed. Their expressions, once filled with kindness, now bore rage. Arched eyebrows framed fury.
'Burn and scald.' one fairy said, 'Burn and scald.'
The fairies all pointed up at the boy at exactly the same time.
'Burn and scald,' others joined in, 'Burn and scald.'
Laughter soon stopped from above the kiln. The boy saw and heard the fairies and became frightened. He sat up on his knees.
'Burn and scald!' All the fairies now chanted together. 'Burn and scald!'
The boy was now up on his feet. He scurried away from the kiln top as fast as he could. The fairies had emerged from the kiln entrance though. Their voices a shriek upon the wind.
'Burn and scald!' They pointed at the fleeing boy, 'Burn and scald!'
He kept looking over his shoulder and fell to the floor. He landed with a soft thump. He turned and saw the fairies running over the grass towards him.
'Burn and scald! Burn and scald!'
Jumping back to his feet, the boy cried out in terror as the mass of fairies tore across the landscape. His foot fell into a rabbit hole and the boy tumbled to the floor again.
'Burn and scald! Burn and scald!'
The fairies were almost upon him. He lunged forward. He felt the scratching of fingers on his legs. They were upon him. He had to be fast.
'Burn and scald! Burn and scald!'
The firm fingers found soft flesh. The fairies gripped the boy's legs and he sank to the ground once more. Then they were climbing over him, scratching and tearing at his leg.
'Burn and scald! Burn and scald!'
The boy kicked wildly and managed to get back upon his feet. He raced over the grass and did not look back. He sprinted to a cluster of trees. He could not hear the fairies. He turned and could not see them either. He hunched himself over, breathless and panting.
'Stupid fairies,' he said at last. Standing up to his full height he looked back at the kiln.
'They didn't scare me.'
That night, sleep did not come easily for the boy. He turned in his bed this way and that. His mind was buzzing with memories of fairies that stung. The boy did at last fall into a fitful sleep. But, in the middle of the night, a terrible pain in his leg awaked him. It was the leg that the fairies had scratched and torn at.
He bolted up and flung the covers to the floor. The pain was terrible. It was a burning pain. A scalding pain.
He pulled up his pyjamas and saw that his leg was blackened and scorched. He tried to cry out in anguish but the pain had taken his voice. Wild, wide eyes gulped in the scene. His leg was withered. He would never walk again.
'I'm sorry,' he gasped at last, 'I'm sorry! I'll never hurt anyone or anything again!'
With those words his leg was healed. The flesh returned to its normal colour. The pain was gone. He fell back onto the bed and breathed out long and hard.
The next morning, the boy was out in the woods. He saw a squirrel scamper up a trunk of a tree. He grinned and found a stone in his pocket. But as he went to pick it up his leg burned. The stone fell to the floor and the pain went away.
Later, as he went to strip a young tree of its leaves, that same scalding pain returned.
The boy nodded. He stared at his leg. At last he understood. The fairies had left their mark upon him forever and he would never be the same. It was not a mark visible to anyone else. It was a mark inside of him. He looked from the trees towards the kiln in the distance. Beyond that he saw the mouth of a cave. The boy smiled. He was changed. For the better.
The Sockburn Worm
The River Tees coils and snakes its way around the North East of England. The serpentine river fuels High Force Waterfall, not far from its source, and slithers east, past Barnard Castle, continues to travel near to Darlington and finds its way into the North Sea once it has past Stockton and Middlesbrough. It can be seen from the Bowes Museum, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, Durham Tees Valley Airport and Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium. It invades both counties of Yorkshire and Durham. But it is at the southernmost point on this river's journey that it surrounds a place known as Sockburn. This was a land said to have been plagued by a terrible dragon. The creature was known as a 'worm'. This name came from the Anglo Saxon word for dragon, which was 'wyrm', and also the Germanic word, also for dragon, which was 'wurm'. The Sockburn Worm was a legless dragon that coiled and snaked across the land just as the River Tees still does today. It could breath poisonous gas that filled the air with deadly toxins on each exhalation. This meant that no living soul could even get near it, let alone fight it. It fed on cattle mainly, but also on people.
When Sockburn was known as Storkburn, the manor house did not yet belong to the Conyers family. It was the youngest son of the Conyers, whose name was John, who got the idea into his head that it should be he that killed the creature.
'I've had enough!' bellowed a farmer. 'It's already eaten my entire flock of sheep! How am I meant to make a living?'
This was met by much nodding and mumbling.
'We're cursed!' added the tanner. 'That's what we are! We must have done something! This worm is a plague sent by God to punish us!'
Some agreed. Plenty didn't.
John Conyers sat and listened. He heard the people of Storkburn. He was just a small page, not even a squire, but he had big plans and even bigger ideas.
He raced to the castle where his father was talking to his knights.
'The people of Storkburn call upon us!' His father boomed, his voice authoritative and theatrical, 'We must kill this monstrous creature.'
Excerpted from "County Durham Folk Tales"
Copyright © 2017 Adam Bushnell.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Sir John Duck,
2 The Fairies from the Cave,
3 The Sockburn Worm,
4 Venerable Bede,
5 The Seer from Cotherstone,
6 The Devil's Boy,
7 Nicky Nacky Field,
8 The Bishop Auckland Boar,
9 A Vampire in South Shields,
10 The Picktree Brag,
11 The Pensher Hill Fairies,
12 The Ghost of Hylton Castle,
13 The Dun Cow,
14 The Easington Hare,
15 The Pickled Parson,
16 The Monkey Hangers of Hartlepool,
17 The Faery in the Quarry,
18 The Soldier in the Wall,
19 The Sculptor on the Market Square,
20 Lily from Lumley,
21 The Stanhope Fairies,
22 The Grey Lady of Durham Castle,
23 The Giants of County Durham,
24 The Battle of Neville's Cross,
25 Dobbie and Cloggy,
26 St Godric,
27 The People's Piper,
28 Bridget and Bobby,
29 The High Green Ghost,
30 The Brawn of Brancepeth,
31 The Durham Puma,
32 The Lambton Worm,
About the Author,