A Serpent Comes To Stay.


Cash: it has been burning a hole in my nine-year old son’s pocket, ever since several generous benefactors donated to the worthy cuse that was his birthday.

Felix likes to count money; I think it helps him dream about money. Phil collected his cash and put it in the bank, to prevent him sleeping on it and turning inadvertently into some small variety of dragon overnight.

The thought of the money, however, has been a constant pleasure to Felix. He loves Things; they attract him; and spending the princely birthday coffers was effortless.

He has a brand new computer consul, and I felt sure he would want to spend all his money on games to fuel its voracious appetite.

Not so. Felix examined every square inch of the toy shop and in a distant corner he unearthed something I never thought to see.

It was the most perfect stuffed dragon: longer than a little boy’s arm and covered in silver and red and gold scales. Its beady eyes have a reptilian detachmentΒ to them, and one feels that at any moment its wings might spread and it might make itself airborne.

A dragon has come to stay, the dog is certain. He is unhappy about this: it is the second major change in a week, what with the cat disappearing. A dog simply can’t relax with ancient mythical creatures making overtures at one. The cat would have seen him off, the dog is sure.

The domestic dragon is no stranger to English households. There were times, our lore insists, when small dragons made themselves known to housewives. But like rats, the housewives and the dragons were not on the best of terms.

They were far too happy to camp out in your well and makes a nuisance of themselves at water-drawing time.

Like the dragon at Hughenden.

The Hughenden dragon was part of the wallpaper in the village outside HIgh Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. My tale comes from an old gentleman’s magazine from the eighteenth century., after research by historian Alan Cleaver.

So there was this farmstead, back in 1578: facts point to it being the property of the Knight’s Templar until Henry VIII redistributed the wealth of the religious.

The lady of the place was accustomed to getting her water from a farm pond. But one day she went as usual to collect her water for the day: and a serpent of uncommon size was there to greet her. Far from eating her up for breakfast – which would be a short term measure for a creature of such wily strategy – it is said the creature ‘made advances towards her.’

Who knows what this might mean? Sure, it alarmed the lady; but advances could have been anything from brandishing a knife and fork to making overtures of friendship. Or more.

He was a bit unsightly for her tastes: she chatted it over with her friends.

Never mind, they said. Go and stand at the side of the pond and we’ll jump out when it comes to make overtures.

She did just that, and they rushed out and shot the poor scaly creature. And then, what is more ignominious, they stuffed it with straw and hung it outside the farmhouse for gawpers to stare at.

Not the way to treat a bona fide dragon.

Decades later, when the hide disintegrated, someone drew a picture of the creature on the wall inside. The drawing had wings and legs, which made even locals pooh-pooh the tale. But such was the power of a well-told story that the painting was preserved and refurbished for centuries, until a gentleman called Edgar Bochart heard of it, in 1758, investigated, and wrote a letter on the subject to his favoured publication, The Gentlman’s Magazine.

Let us hope or dragon’s stay is immeasurably more illustrious.


34 thoughts on “A Serpent Comes To Stay.

  1. Well.. that’s just fascinating, isn’t it?? So, if I’m reading correctly.. there may have been dragons at one time? I’d sure like to believe so.. and lucky Felix.. he’s got one of his own now:)

    1. The ‘may’ is a very loose one indeed, Smidge: it’s amazing what a few glasses of mead will do for the imagination. There are other similar legends about the same pond where a woman and her children are killed by a serpent…it’s too long ago to be able to investigate any of the tales with any effectiveness….

  2. Yours is certainly a handsome dragon, one any lady would regard as an attractive addition to her circle (unlike the shabby ugly beastie from Hughenden). Your son has taste in these matters

  3. Interesting choice made by Felix. As a mom, it must be wonderful to be fooled by these young people you’ve guided through life! Love the dog’s expression…”I’m sharing the spotlight with this?”

  4. I’m fascinated by dragons as well Kate… and wyverns. Images and statues of them appear all over the place, so something (or something similar) must have existed to get the tales going. I like to think that they still do exist, only they are very careful and keep themselves very well hidden…

  5. “One map from 1430 has this text written above a ferocious creature: ‘Here also are huge men having horns four feet long, and there are serpents also of such magnitude that they can eat an ox whole’.

    Medieval mapmakers, with their limited knowledge of distant lands and uncharted seas, sometimes depicted dragons on the far edges of their maps.”

    “The Lenox Globe (in the collection of the New York Public Library) bears the phrase ‘HC SVNT DRACONES’ (i.e. ‘ hic sunt dracones ‘) on the eastern coast of Asia,

    Above text (and much, MUCH more about all things Dragon) can be found here: http://www.draconian.com/home/frameset.htm

    Who knew?

    P.S. Poor, pitiful pup!!

    ‘Here Be Dragons!’, they warned “.

  6. I’m presently reading “His Majesty’s Dragon,” so like Felix, I am fascinated with the mythic creatures at present. In the book, they talk and read and fight Napoleon in aerial assaults. I heartily approve of his choice. πŸ™‚

  7. a beautiful dragon (no matter what the dog says), & much easier on the eyes than any computer game I’ve ever seen or heard of πŸ˜‰

  8. Dear Kate, is Felix a Harry Potter fan? Dragons play a significant role in Book 4–“The Goblet of Fire”–and in Book 7–“The Deathly Hallows.”

  9. What a priceless photo! I love the dragon, too, and think Mac has some serious thinking going on! It is fascinating to think of the lore attached to dragons, and you have me wondering what I really know of the dragon’s presence through history and into literature and art. I don’t think I know much, quite frankly. I’ve taken the dragon somewhat for granted…the poor specimen has just always been with us and I haven’t paid him is due! Did you ever see the old Disney movie Pete’s Dragon (Helen Reddy)? I used to love that one with my children. It’s probably very dated, but Felix might like it! Debra

  10. Ah, there be dragons here as well, Kate, in a little blue covered book I have had for forty or more years. You remind me of it here. It is called “The Dragon in the Clock Box” and is about a young boy who takes a box that recently held a new clock, tapes it up, and then tends to it like a bird to her nest, for, you see, inside the box is a baby dragon egg and all the hopes and dreams of a young boy. I love Felix’s dragon and sense of fun and imagination – and maybe Mac knows something we don’t know.

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