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A Dragon in Herefordshire

The little village of Mordiford sits nestled inside a double bend in the river Lugg, deep in the heart of Herefordshire. It is perhaps best known for its dragon legend, in common with many other riverside villages in England, so much so that a painting of this beast was always applied either inside or outside the local church. Today the last remnant of the final image is almost gone but there are drawings of its newer appearance in existence, sketched by antiquarians of the time.


It is told that a little girl named Maud found a strange and colourful lizard by the banks of the Lugg – or one of the brooks that feed into it - which she took home as a pet. Her parents were aghast, telling her to get rid of it, but the child wanted to keep the reptile as a friend if nothing else and so she walked into Haugh woods above the village where she built a den for it. Maud fed the sickly animal on milk she took from home and it seemed to be quite tame for her. As time went on the lizard grew at a frightening rate and before long took to walking off to grab its own food, squirrels, birds and small deer, but as it grew it began to attack the sheep in nearby fields.


The villagers were horrified, and when the beast was big enough to take down cows and horses its true form was obvious – this was a dragon, a wyvern to be exact. By now it had built itself a mound at the site where Maud had first created its little den and nobody was willing to go there to try and dispatch it. They went to their lord for help, asking him to send men-at-arms to kill this dragon that no hunter could deal with, and it is here that we have three versions of the ending of the tale.


A knight from the Garstone family, with perfect practiced timing, hurled a lance at a weak spot on the dragon's throat as it blasted its flame at him, ending its life. Another version has a man sentenced to death given the chance of reprieve if he was willing to make an attempt at slaying the monster. He had some barrels of cider opened at the river's edge where it came to drink which it gulped down greedily. The strong apple nectar made the dragon dozy and it nodded off, allowing the condemned man to dart forward and stab it in its weak spot. Unfortunately for him the dying dragon breathed poisonous fumes at his face, killing him too. The final iteration has the Lugg and surrounding streams flooding, as they often do, drowning several cattle which bloat and swell in the sun. The dragon ate them up and fell ill, unable to move, so the local folk gathered every available person they could and simply bashed it to death.


In each version when the dragon dies Maud is beside herself, distraught, as she loved the winged reptile and it never harmed her. It is curious why the tale kept coming back throughout history, indeed some of our early historians and antiquarians took it as a true story, but for the life of me I can't think of any kind of creature in England that might be taken for a dragon. It's possible that this is a cautionary tale to make children stay away from the river, as sudden flash floods are common there.


The legend has always had a strong hold on the village, as it is recorded by the then rector of the Holy Rood church that in 1875 he encountered two old women in the village who were trying to kill some newts that they had caught, believing that they would grow into dragons!


This brings us to the curious stone set at the centre of the village. It is there as a memorial to a whole family that drowned when their entire house was actually swept away when the Pentaloe, a stream that runs into the Lugg, flooded suddenly and burst its banks. William Husbands, his niece Ann, his sister Blossom and her baby daughter Amelia all passed away when William's mill suddenly collapsed on a summer evening in 1811.


The little stone bridge near the spot where the mill was is quaint, sitting near to the 400 year old Moon inn, but the main bridge over the Lugg to the north of Mordiford is the oldest in the county with parts of it dating back to 1352.


The name of Mordiford is thought by some to derive from a Welsh phrase for a way across a ford, but my imagination likes to think that it was named for little Maud, perhaps the villagers felt sorry for her after her loss?


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Bridge over the Pentiloe close to where the old mill stood

Church of the Holy Rood at Mordiford, which once had a dragon painted on its exterior wall

Old sketch of the last dragon painting inside the church

Medieval bridge over the Lugg at Mordiford

Memorial to the family who drowned when the mill was washed away in 1811

View from Haugh Woods down to Mordiford - as the dragon may have seen it!

Haugh Woods

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