Penshaw Hill seems to be one of those fantastic hill forts completely missed by historians because of a later addition - A mock greek temple. Penshaw appears to be one of the few classic triple rampart Iron Age hill forts known to exist in the north. In terms of magic, it has a similar feel to Almondbury, with dates from the Bronze Age to the mid Iron Age. To add to its mystique, an apparent saucer barrow sits unnoticed at the foot of the hill, within the outer enclosure.
In 1844, before most antiquaries were interested in local pre-history worm hill, the regions greatest hill fort was 'converted' into a folly in the form of a Greek temple, to John George Lambton, first Earl of Durham (1792 - 1840). Governor - General of Canada, Grand Master of the Order of Freemasons, Member of Parliament, one time Lord Privy Seal, landowner and coal owner. Erected in 1844 by private subscription, its design by the Greens of Newcastle was executed by Thomas Pratt of Sunderland. The monument comprises Greek Doric columns (4 by 7) with entabulatures and end pediments but no roof. The columns stand upon a solid stone platform.
As a consequence, all the earthworks associated with the hill were assumed to be related to the monument and little attention was paid to the significance of this ancient site. Even the OS map of 1864, published twenty years after the erection of the monument, notes the earthworks simply as 'old quaries'
The area marked as Painshaw Hill Quarry has indeed been fully quarried out, however a crop mark to the West may still elude to the orginal outer bank of this enormous hill fort - one of the largest hill fort in the north yet totally unrecorded.
The photo's show the earthworks and an additional feature - a possible Barrow.
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Penshaw Hill is mentioned in the Mackem dialect song "The Lambton Worm" (as "Pensher Hill"), which tells the tale of the dragon:
"One Sunday morn young Lambton went
A-fishing' in the Wear;
An' catched a fish upon he's heuk,
He thowt leuk't varry queer.
But whatt'n a kind of fish it was
Young Lambton cuddent tell.
He waddn't fash te carry'd hyem,
So he hoyed it doon a well.
cho: Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
An Aa'll tell ye's aall an aaful story
Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
An' Aa'll tell ye 'boot the worm.
Noo Lambton felt inclined te gan
An' fight i' foreign wars.
he joined a troop o' Knights that cared
For nowther woonds nor scars,
An' off he went te Palestine
Where queer things him befel,
An' varry seun forgat aboot
The queer worm i' the well.
But the worm got fat an' growed and' growed
An' growed an aaful size;
He'd greet big teeth, a greet big gob,
An' greet big goggle eyes.
An' when at neets he craaled aboot
Te pick up bits o' news,
If he felt dry upon the road,
He milked a dozen coos.
This feorful worm wad often feed
On caalves an' lambs an' sheep,
An' swally little barins alive
When they laid doon te sleep.
An' when he'd eaten aall he cud
An' he had had he's fill,
He craaled away an' lapped he's tail
Seven times roond Pensher Hill.
The news of this myest aaful worm
An' his queer gannins on
Seun crossed the seas, gat te the ears
Ov brave and' bowld Sor John.
So hyem he cam an' catched the beast
An' cut 'im in twe haalves,
An' that seun stopped he's eatin' bairns,
An' sheep an' lambs and caalves.
So noo ye knaa hoo aall the foaks
On byeth sides ov the Wear
Lost lots o' sheep an' lots o' sleep
An' leeved i' mortal feor.
So let's hev one te brave Sor John
That kept the bairns frae harm,
Saved coos an' caalves by myekin' haalves
O' the famis Lambton Worm.
Noo lads, Aa'll haad me gob,
That's aall Aa knaa aboot the story
Ov Sor John's clivvor job
Wi' the aaful Lambton Worm."
Fitzcoraldo's story appears pretty much word for word in 'The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend' for December 1889 (p 548-550). It's followed immediately by this:
We may observe that what is commonly known as Fairy Butter is a certain fungous excrescence sometimes found about the roots of old trees. After great rains, and in a particular state of putrifaction, it is reduced to a consistency which, together with its colour, makes it not unlike butter; hence its name. When met with inside houses it is reckoned lucky. Why so, we cannot tell.
People have said that they have heard the fairies patting butter on the hill as they passed at night. Once a man heard them say "mend that peel!" (a peel was a long-handled shovel used to remove bread from the oven.) Passing by the next day, he found the broken shovel and took it home to be mended. The following day a piece of bread and butter was lying on a stone where he had found the peel. The man was afraid to eat the bread or give it to his horses, fearing the consequences. Unfortunately, unaware that he had offended the fairies, his horses dropped dead before they reached the top of the hill.
Myth and Magic of Northumbria
Associated with the Penshaw Monument is the tale of the Lampton Worm, which is apparently how the hill got its rings, indeed this type of hill fort would be highly unusual, even in the period in which it was built few such ornate hill forts existed for hundred's of miles.
This version of the tale of the Lambton Worm, from Edwin Sidney Hartland's 1890 English Fairy and Other Folk Tales also makes no mention of Penshaw Hill. It is notable for the poem it contains, in which the worm's death is described: I have never encountered this particular version anywhere else.
You've not heard the tale of the Lambton Worm until you've heard it. Every child in the north-east knows it because of the famous song, written by C.M. Leumane in 1867 for a pantomime that was performed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at the Tyne Theatre. This website features a recording of the song, as sung by the children of Stobhillgate First School, in Morpeth, Northumberland. Spoken versions of the song's lyrics are also available, in both the Northumbrian and the Geordie accent, as well as standard English. These files are fairly large, and take some time to download, so you'll need to be patient. I should point out that the storytellers in the spoken versions have drastically slowed down the fast pace of their natural speech in order to make it easier for non-natives to understand. Also bear in mind that the website is an educational resource for schools, and so is aimed at children. This means that the tale is illustrated with cartoon-style animations, and also that the song can only be heard a verse at a time. Although this can be slightly annoying, the site is still well worth investigating, if you've never heard the tale of the Lambton Worm (or the true pronunciation of the name Penshah!).
A prose version of the tale of the Lambton Worm. This is particularly interesting as it makes no mention at all of Penshaw Hill, associating the Worm, rather, with Worm's Hill, Worm Rock and Worm's Well.