Bere Regis Dragon
history of the Bere Regis Dragon, as told by John Pitfield...
A few years ago on a dark, cold, wet winter's evening, at about
nine o'clock, I was deliberating on my night-cap. Decisions, decisions....
when the door bell rang. The wind was sweeping the rain against
the windows but I dashed through the lobby to open the door. On
my way I had almost fallen over "Snowy" my cat, as he
gets much more excited about the door bell than the rest of us.
security lights had come on and I glimpsed something of a silhouette
through the glass as I pulled on the handle to open the door.
There on the step was a man clad head to toe in black surmounted
by a fine, but ancient, umbrella. His soaking black mackintosh
was calf-length and he had on brogues that had seen better days.
He had a scarf over his lower face and was wearing a trilby with
a hat-band with a feather. I only remember the detail because
I was so surprised.
the hat-brim his eyes were black and piercing, but flickered in
what seemed friendly recognition. "John?" he asked.
His slightly muffled voice revealed that this was a man of advanced
and possibly fragile years. "That's right" I replied.
"The one who did the book?" he continued. "Yeees"
I said slowly, wondering what was coming next, and beginning to
think that I might even recognise him, but with no definite luck
we had a talk the other day and decided that you should have this..."
and from his pocket he produced a wooden box and pushed it toward
me. I reached out, then he leaned slightly toward me and said
"It's all in the past now and I'm the last of them who know
and the others aren't interested." After a pause not knowing
either what to say or even what to ask, I took it from his hand
saying "Thank you".
as if to leave, he paused then told me it was up to me what I
did with it as it didn't matter any more who knew about it. He
then turned and vanished into the darkness. As he proceeded down
the path the lower security light came on again and his shadowy
figure swept past it, then he vanished completely into the teeming
closed the door and thought, well that's the night-cap problem
solved.... ...it's whisky! I retreated to my den, put the wooden
box on the table and got the whisky going. It looked like an old
cigar box but had a lock, which was broken, a brass handle on
the top and was about 9 inches by 6 inches and about two and a
quarter inches high and a bit wet now.
a fairly serious swig and a bit of staring at the box I leant
forward and pushed the lid back. There was cotton wool with some
objects embedded but the most eye-catching was a small paper label
on the inside of the lid. It was in black-faded-to-brown ink and
Leg of a dragon or Wyrm in Welsh Ydraig which of times past hung
in the Church of St John Baptist at Bere and was thrown down and
burnt in the Reigne of our Lady Ann. Ao. dni. 1721
took several readings to work out what it meant but this was definitely
a fascinating piece of Bere Regis history; something before the
fire of 1788 which had wiped out most of the centre of the village
and destroyed many things.
another slug on the whisky I began rummaging through the contents
of the box and the first item was a bronze figure, about six inches
long. It was a casting of a creature, probably a lizard or a serpent,
perhaps even a dragon. There was a mounting hole on the underside,
perhaps for it to be mounted on a staff of some sort, a head at
one end and a long tail at the other.
had noticed before that the box rattled slightly when turned,
and I then found out what was causing this. There were several
white sea-shells at the bottom of the box, all quite small, plus
something else which I did not recognise. Also there was a cylindrical
pointed flint, perhaps looking a bit like a tooth.
peeling back more of the cotton wool I was greeted with a sight
that made me jump. Recoiling back into my chair I instinctively
grabbed my drink, took another gulp, then looked again. It was
a leathery paw or hand from some animal attached to a chain and
thereto a bronze clasp. The claws were spread apart and the leather,
or whatever it was, was black with some fur still attached. It
made me uncomfortable to look at it. It was truly scary! I closed
the box and walked around for a while trying to work out what
this mysterious gift was and what can it all be about.
mister... mister... oh what was his name? That man in black and
soaking wet at the door. I am sure that I would recognise him
again, but who on earth was he? He definitely had a proper Bere
accent. I had to find out more, but it soon dawned on me that
it was his intention that I would not be able to find out anything
from him. I looked at the box again thinking '1721' over and over
again whilst looking at the closed box. Something wasn't quite
right. The box was only perhaps one hundred years old, one hundred
and twenty five years at the very most. The contents though, they
could easily be as old as the message on the lid suggested, so
perhaps it was a replacement box.
went to sleep that night wondering if this could be some sort
of elaborate hoax or joke in the hope that I would write about
it and take it seriously. It could be a hoax or it could be genuine,
but which ever way it eventually goes it makes a great story!
the cold light of the next day I began by looking up the dates
for Queen Anne (the Lady Anne on the message) and she reigned
from 1702 until 1714 in which year she died aged 48 years. The
1721 date must then be the date of the message and refer to the
period in which the ceremony took place.
to St John Baptist church at Bere pretty much confirms that this
means our church as no other Bere church has the same dedication.
The bit about it hanging in the church suggests some sort of clerical
approval for its existence, which, if not worrying, is certainly
curious. "Throwing down and burning" seems rather extreme
and one wonders if this was conducted in public or was part of
some secret ritual.
there are those two words which are unfamiliar; "Wyrm in
Welsh Ydraig" so a quick check in various dictionaries shows
that wyrm is from the Anglo-Saxon meaning snake, serpent or dragon.
As for ydraig, that is Welsh for "dragon" or fire-expelling
creature. So that's the message deciphered, if not understood.
was going on in Bere between 1702 and 1714?
not very much, but on closer inspection 1703 seems to have been
a turning point in the fortunes of Bere Regis people. After five
hundred years the male-line of the Turbervilles finally died out
in May. Then in November 1703 there was a terrible storm which
passed through here with winds of 120 mph. Damage to the church
is recorded but nothing is mentioned about the obvious devastation
caused elsewhere in the village. A lot of thatched roofs must
have been blown away. Then in May 1710 the final male Turberville
died aged 36 years and called Robert Turberville. He was never
considered for succession to Lord of the Manor, presumably for
being sickly or perhaps enfeebled in some other way.
were the vicars at Bere Regis in Queen Anne's reign?
1701 and 1711 William Hockin was vicar. He died at Bere and was
buried on 7 February 1711. John Wills was instituted on 19 April
1711 after a two month interregnum. He resigned in 1725 and according
to the Dean's Subscription Book, then went on to practice medicine.
This was shortly after the invention of inoculation.
is Queen Anne described in the history books?
was Queen between 1702 an 1714 between the ages of 36 and 48 years,
dying on 1 August 1714. Before she was crowned she was described
as self-doubting and eager to please, but also stubborn and rigid
on moral issues. She was very religious with Protestant fear of
Catholics encouraging national unease. She had terrible gout and
diseased joints, such that for her Coronation in April 1702 she
could not walk and was carried into Westminster Abbey in a chair.
She married the retiring and "colourless" Prince George
of Denmark, which was followed by many still-births and miscarriages,
and another child who died at ten years. This was the end of the
Stuart-line. The power vacuum meant that Parliament was on the
ascendant with Whigs and Tories running more of the country and
even creating the "United Kingdom" on 1 May 1707. Anne's
once-best friend, Sarah Churchill said she was "..ignorant
in everything but what the parsons had taught her as a child"
while in one notable speech in the House of Commons Anne said
"I am entirely English." The House of Hanover began
with George I (1714-1727) on her death.
was going on nationally?
seemed to be going well for the first part of Anne's reign, that
is until 1709 when famine spread all across the continent through
poor growing weather. Also in Europe the Duke of Marlborough was
winning battles all over the place - that is until he was dismissed
in 1711. The Churchill family had been very close to Anne, with
Sarah being her best friend from an early age. In 1705 Edmund
Halley realised that the comets of 1531, 1607 and 1682 were the
same one. This was also the time when 20,000 African slaves were
being imported each year to British colonies in North America,
just part of the 7 million total "imported" in the 18th
Century. 1709 was the year often regarded as the beginning of
the Industrial Revolution with Newcomen's steam engine being commercialised.
all these national and local events been the stimulus for strange
rituals at Bere Regis?
was smallpox, death of the Turbervilles, seemingly endless wars,
natural disasters, memories of comets in the sky, weak monarchy
leading to new politics and the threat of new technologies. I
am told, also, that "Queen Anne" furniture had its origins
at this time!
there any clues in the church-warden's accounts?
found two interesting entries, the first in 1711: "Paid to
a Souldier that had lately been Sick of ye Small pox ...6d."
More mysteriously, perhaps, is an entry from about March 1712
amongst detailed lists of purchases, for what and to whom, saying
"Paid ... for other things... 2s." which is the only
entry which is ambiguous. Two shillings in 1712 would today be
the big question. Is the Bere Regis Dragon genuine? It could be;
I'm not sure. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to decide!
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