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.
A round barrow of Neolithic origin, excavated by William Greenwell and TW Robinson in 1877. At the time, the barrow measured 66 feet in diameter and stood 7.75 feet high. The scheduled monument details (1998) describe it as 3 metres high and 25 metres in diameter, although in 1976 the Ordnance Survey found it to be 23 metres in diameter an 1.6 metres high on the uphill side. The excavations uncovered several disarticulated inhumations burnt in situ within a matrix of burnt limestone and charcoal, the area defined by a rectangular setting of boulders with signs of burning on its inner face. This setting, located circa 1.5 metres south of the centre, measured circa 10 metres by 1.8 metres, and was aligned east-west. Terminal pits with charcoal-rich fills were present to the east. The mound itself was composed of boulders and slabs and capped with earth and stones. There were apparently traces of a boulder kerb, although the Ordnance Survey could find no traces of this in 1974. Within the mound were a series of Early Bronze Age secondary interments including traces of a child inhumation in a stone-lined cist with capstone and paving slab; an inhumation with a food vessel at its head; a cremation beneath an inverted food vessel, within a stone setting; and other traces of cremations and inhumations. Near the summit of the mound was an extended inhumation within a stone cist, believed to be of Anglo-Saxon date. The barrow is known as Seven Sisters, after the trees which stand on it.
(NZ 3534 4922) Tumulus (NR) (1)
Copt Hill round barrow measuring 66ft diameter and 7.75ft high excavated by Greenwell and Robinson in 1877. About 5ft S of the centre were the burnt and disjointed remains of an unknown number of Neolithic inhumations covered by a deposit of limestone and wood. Eight BA burials were also discovered. Four were cremations; including one deposited in a collared urn, and the remainder were inhumations. These included a child burial within a stone cist and another burial accompanied by a food vessel. Near the summit of the mound, about 10ft SSW of the centre was an extended burial within a stone cist, thought to be Anglo-Saxon. Finds in the British Museum. (2)
Supposed Anglo-Saxon inhumation listed by Meaney. (3)
A round cairn about 23.0m diameter (though slightly encroached on by ploughing in the E) and 1.6m high from the uphill E side. It is now visible as a turf-covered stony mound with four trees on it. There is no kerb. The centre contains a roughly rectangular depression about 0.5m deep, 2.5m E-W by 2.0m, but there is no trace of any cist. (See G/P from the SE). Surveyed at 1:1250. (4)
NZ 3534 4922, Copt Hill, Houghton-le-Spring. A detailed description is given of the initial deposition and later burials found in this barrow. A large number of additional bibliographic references is given. (5)
A grass and tree covered cairn, false crest sited on the scarp slope of the East Durham Plateau. Excavated 20th Sept 1877 by Greenwell and Robinson. Revealed a primary interment in what Greenwell interpreted as a 'flue cremation', but which is probably a mortuary structure of Neolithic date. Bronze Age burials were also discovered. Grave goods now in British Museum. Site known locally as the 'Seven Sisters' because of the seven trees which grow on it. Group A.
Additional bibliographic references are given. (6)
NZ 353 492. Copt Hill. Additional references. (7) (8) (9)
Copt Hill Barrow, Houghton-le-Spring. Food vessel found with a secondary inhumation in Copt Hill Barrow.16 ft. ENE of the centre and 3 ft. 4 in. above the old ground level. No further details. Now lost. (10)
NZ 353 492. Seven Sisters round barrow, Copt Hill. Scheduled No TW/12. (11)
( 1) Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 6" 1923
( 2) Archaeologia Aeliana : or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity Trechman, CT. Prehistoric burials in the County of Durham. 11, 1914 Page(s)123-130
( 3) by Audrey Meaney 1964 A gazetteer of early Anglo-Saxon burial sites Page(s)83
( 4) Field Investigators Comments F1 ISS 29-NOV-76
( 5) by Roger Miket 1984 The prehistory of Tyne and Wear : an inventory of prehistoric discoveries in the Metropolitan County of Tyne and Wear Page(s)53
( 6) by Robert Young 1980 An inventory of barrows in County Durham Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and NorthumberlandOld series vol 1 (1862) - vol 11 (1965) 5, 1980 Page(s)9
( 7) by Ian Kinnes 1979 Round barrows and ring-ditches in the British Neolithic British Museum occasional papers no.7 Page(s)10,58,80
( 8) edited by Philip Rahtz, Tania Dickinson and Lorna Watts 1980 Anglo-Saxon cemeteries 1979 : the fourth Anglo-Saxon symposium at Oxford BAR British series1 (1974) - 82 (1980) Page(s)300
( 9) by Trevor G Cowie 1978 Bronze Age Food Vessel urns in northern Britain BAR British series1 (1974) - 55, 1978 Page(s)34-5, 64, 82-3
( 10) by Alex M Gibson 1978 Bronze Age pottery in the northeast of England AR British series1 (1974) - 56 Page(s)68
( 11) English Heritage 1995 County list of Scheduled Monuments : March 1994 Tyne and Wear Page(s)8
( 12) Scheduled Monument Notification 02-DEC-1998
( 13) by I A Kinnes and I H Longworth 1985 Catalogue of the excavated prehistoric and Romano-British material in the Greenwell Collection Page(s)132
This barrow is close to the village of Chopwell, and there's also Chopwell Wood (the well chopped timber from which has been used in illustrious projects like Dunstanburgh Castle, the Tyne Bridge, and various warships. It's now managed by the Forestry Commission). Tony Henderson's article here explains that the name could come from 'Ceoppa Well' meaning a cattle watering place, or a local Saxon chief called Ceoppa.
He goes on to suggest that "legend has it he was buried in 685 at what is now Heavy Gate Farm, the site of a burial mound and well".
What a very specific date... sounds suspiciously like one of those Victorian Gentleman Speculations rather than local lore. But it makes a good story, and you get the well thrown into the local name for free.
This might not be the right site. If it's not the right site, then I think it must have been pretty close by (there are pits everywhere and perhaps it got swallowed up).
"In a field," says Surtees, "on the right-hand side of the road from Eppleton to Hetton, and only one field from Houghton-lane, is a remarkable tumulus, consisting entirely of field-stones gathered together. At the top there is a small oblong hollow, called the Fairies' Cradle: on this little green mound, which has always been sacred from the plough, village-superstition believes the fairies to have led their moonlight circles, and whistled their roundelays to the wind.
The subterraneous palaces of the fairy sovereign are frequently supposed, both in England and Scotland, to exist under these regular green hillocks:
'Up spoke the moody fairy king,
Who wons beneath the hill;
Like wind in the porch of a ruin'd church,
His voice was loud and shrill.'
But the Hetton fairies, of whom, however, there is no living evidence, spoke in a voice remarkably small and exile."
Quoted on p369 of 'An Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive View of the County Palatine of Durham' (1834).