A most curious place: this ‘Well of the Dragon’ as it was first called (on the 1852 OS-map) and subsequently the ‘Pendragon Well’ (on the 1922 map) just off Pendragon Lane, seems to have been forgotten in both folklore and history. I grew up round here and no legends of dragons were known, either in my life, nor that of the old folks I knew; nor any pub of that name that might account for it.
Equally unexplained is the name of the adjacent ‘Pendragon Lane’, which has been known as that for some 175 years. We have no Arthurian myths anywhere in West Yorkshire that remains in folk memory—and certainly nothing hereby that accounts for it.
As for possible landscape associations (i.e., serpentine geological features), nothing in the vicinity has any bearing on the name. Indeed, the only thing of any potential relevance was the former existence of a healing rock known as the Wart Stone, some 100 yards to the east at Bolton Junction. Such stones are usually possessed of naturally-worn ‘bowls’ of some sort on top of the rock—akin to large cup-markings—into which water collected that was used to rid the sufferer of warts or similar skin afflictions. But such an association seems very unlikely.
The only thing we can say of this Dragon Well is that probably, in times gone by, a folktale or legend existed of a dragon in the neighbourhood that had some association with the waters here. Dragons are invariably related to early animistic creation myths, and this site may have been all that remained of such a forgotten tale. The nearest other place in West Yorkshire with dragon associations is six miles northwest of here on the south-side of Ilkley Moor. In Britain there are a number of other Dragon Wells, the closest of which is in South Yorkshire.
This seems a bittova cheat really – and on two counts: i) I aint been here yet; and ii) we’re not sure that there’s any remains left to be seen. But these notes might produce a result, so direction pointers are worthwhile I reckon! Various ways to come, but you need to end up on the weird-sounding Bonemill Lane – whether you get there via Worm Hill Terrace or Biddick Lane aint important. Once on the right road, you wanna stand by the supposedly haunted Biddick Inn, and walk down the road a short distance until you reach a path on your right which heads up towards the ruined Worm Hill. Halfway along here – or thereaboots – the old Worm Well could once be seen.
Archaeology & History
This was initially very difficult to pin down with any certainty, though after a few hours investigation, Keighley archives researcher Michala Potts found it highlighted on a field-map of the region from 1750, as the illustration here clearly shows.
During its “missing years”, several accounts describe the well as being between Worm Hill and the River Wear, which is what’s clearly shown here. So the possible confusion there may have been (which I initially had aswell) between the riverside spring opposite the pub and the now missing Quarry Well on the far western side of Worm Hill, can at least been dispelled. The position of the site was described by the holy wells writer, Alan Cleaver , who told that “the well still exists, having been restored in 1974, at the foot of Worm Hill at Penshaw on the north bank of the river.” Local history records tell that a plaque commemorating the site was put here the same year; and this note is again confirmed in Paul Screeton’s  excellent survey of the dragon legends hereabouts. Records from the mid-18th century tell that the Worm Well possessed “a cover and an iron dish or ladle” (Binnall & Dodds 1943) to protect the waters.
We find from old records that in the middle of the 18th century, “it was a wishing well and a place of festivity on Midsummer Eve.” The common veneration of crooked pins were offered at this legendary site.
…And then, of course, we have the great Legend of the Lambton Worm, whose spirit form gives this site so much importance. This well-known folk-tale tells that the great serpent emerged from this very water source. In this renowned creation myth of the landscape, and the sites upon it, we have the dragon, the cailleach, the waters, and more…
“Simon, the heir to Lambton Castle, was a wild boy who never paid attention to his lessons or his elders. He liked only to play with the local boys from the village and their games were rough and annoyed other people. They went joy-riding with carts and donkeys, they stole apples from the trees, they frightened younger children. They liked to go hunting for rabbits and fishing for eels in the local river. The lord of the manor, Simon’s father, thought his son should behave better since one day he would be in charge. Simon could not be bothered.
“One Sunday, when he should have been in church, Simon played truant with Stephen, his friend, and two other boys from the village, and went fishing in the river Wear. After hours of dull waiting, chatting and eating their picnic, Simon caught a strange-looking animal. It did not look like the regular eels and small fish they usually caught. It was no longer than his finger, dark green and with two little fins on its back. Its skin was rough and scaly, and it had four short legs, with sharp clawed feet. Its face was repellent, with a long pointed snout, twelve little teeth sharp as pins, and red glowing eyes.
“Stephen peered over Simon’s shoulder at the animal. “Yuk, throw it back,” headvised. But Simon had caught nothing else, and he was intrigued by the little beast. He put it in his pouch. As the boys walked home, kicking stones and chatting, they noticed a foul smell. It came from Simon’s pouch. They were just passing the well by the castle, so Simon tossed the squirming worm in, and promptly forgot all about it….”
This legendary-sounding spring of water was described in field-name listings from the 1770 Enclosure Acts, but nothing seems to have been written about it since. To me at least, there seems little doubt that this site would have been a sacred or legendary water-site. Curiously it is in William Henderson’s collection of northern folk-tales where we find a mention of further dragon lore from the township, albeit briefly, where he wrote:
“Near Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, A.D. 1349, was a serpent with two heads, faces like women, and great wings after the manner of a bat.”
In Nigel Pennick’s (1997) overview of dragon legends he copied Henderson’s earlier note, but neither of them gave specific indications relating the legend with our Serpent’s Well. So, to those of you who live in and around Chipping Norton (where I spent two very good years living with Sir Wilson at the Rollright Stones) – what has become of it? Where exactly is it? And does anyone know anything more behind this tale and any further history behind the ‘Serpent’s Well’?
Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire, Cambridge University Press 1953-54.
Henderson, William, Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, Folklore Society: London 1879.
Pennick, Nigel, Dragons of the West, Capall Bann: Chieveley 1997.