31 July, 2017
Below Arundel, the westward A27 does a strange thing; it diverts onto a slip road and avoids a stretch of dual carriageway that comes to a sudden stop. Those who know no better believe that the road building halted because of local opposition to the march of industrial civilisation, resulting in an unexpected triumph for nature. After all, the road was due to cross some environmentally sensitive wetlands. However, they’re wrong - nothing as mundane as the preservation of the habitat of many rare and beautiful migrant water foul ever stops the incessant encroachment of the internal combustion engine. The truth is the road stopped because of the danger of upsetting a rather fearsome local dragon. That dragon is said to live in the village of Lyminster, just a stone’s throw from that rather strange junction of the A27.
(Lyminster is pronounced Li-minster, not Lie-minster, as you might think, given the spelling. But English place names are funny things. Consider that the people of Ardingly live in Ardinglie, not Ardinglee. Then there are the Cockney folk of Plaistow, who live in Plarstoe, not Playstoe. And don’t even get me started on the Lancashire town of Ramsbottom)
In Lyminster, there is a church called St Mary Magdalene, and a pathway behind the church leads past a pond that exudes an atmosphere that unnerves the unwary. On a hot day, as you walk past, the temperature will drop, and when a sea breeze blows in, the reeds whisper the dark secrets of distant lands. And sometimes, the water there emanates strange vapours that are said to have a disturbing effect on the sanity of those living close by. That pond is called the Knucker Hole.
The word ‘knucker’ may well have evolved from ‘nicor’, the old Saxon word for a water monster. However, it may also relate to the Saxon word ‘cnucl’, whose regular use referred to the joints on your fingers. However, it was also the name for the surface of a lake that was thought to be the entrance to another world. Whatever the truth of its origins, the name of that pond reveals the secret of the Knucker Hole because knucker became an old Sussex word for a dragon. And at the very bottom of that watery abyss, is where such a beast is thought to lie.
Indeed, there was a time when the knucker of Lyminster would often venture out of his watery home. Long before King Henry VIII decided he’d had enough of the Vatican meddling with his extra-marital affairs, the knucker regularly dragged itself from the depths of the pond to feast upon the locals. Fortunately for them, the knucker was not the only fantastic beast to make the area its home - the mighty giant Bevis had reigned those parts since time immemorial. Bevis spent his days surveying his domain from the ramparts of a magnificent castle he had built on the hills overlooking Arundel, only deigning to rouse himself when he needed to smite any intruders. When Bevis realised the knucker was laying siege to the people of those parts, he mounted his magic horse, Hirondelle, and rode to challenge the fearsome lizard. Drawing from its sheath his sacred sword, Morglay, Bevis fought the knucker for four terrible days and three desperately long nights. He managed to drive the watery beast back into the pond, but not before suffering a mortal wound. Legend has it that a mighty mound under the trees at Pugh Dean in Arundel Park, not far from Swanbourne Lake, is where you will find the grave of Sir Bevis. If you happen to visit his burial ground there, be sure to honour the fallen hero, for if it weren’t for him, the good folk of Sussex might not be quite so plentiful.
As is the way of humanity’s memory, the giant’s fearsome battle with the knucker of Sussex had soon passed into legend. And the knucker would have gone that way, too, had it not been for the stupidity of two Lyminster drunks. The story goes like this; the pond, as well as being home to the knucker, was also thought to be bottomless. Now, sensible people, wary of the dragon, would have decided to leave the pond be. However, Jim Pulk and Sam Puttock were not sensible people (particular when they had consumed a few too many beers), so Jim bet Sam that he could fathom the pond’s depths. Jim needed a plumb, so he spent a good while thinking of the most massive thing he could find. Then, with the chiming of the hour: “Dong!” it struck him - literally - the bells! Now, God-fearing men would not have stooped so low, but this pair, soaked in alcohol as they were, were not so religious and, besides, they lacked morals. So, with the help of his friend, Jim stole one of the seven bells from the belfry of St Mary Magdelene, after which, Jim tied a long hemp rope to that bell and lowered it into the pond. When it didn’t touch the bottom, he tied a second rope to the first. And so on and so forth until Jim had used all but one length of the rope in the whole of Lyminster. Jim would have done well to settle his bet with Sam there and then, but he was not only stupid, drunk and irreligious; he was also stubborn. So he commandeered that last length of hemp and proceeded on his quest to plumb the depths of the watery abyss.
At last! Bedongggggg! The bell tolled, loud and clear. Jim and Sam thought they had struck the depths. Alas, it was not the bottom the friends had found, but instead, the sleepy head of the knucker! Indeed, Jim’s delight (at what he thought was the successful end of his quest), soon turned to fear when the water started to boil and he realised he had awoken something horrific. Shortly afterwards, above the bubbling surface appeared a pair of searing yellow eyes. Then came a long, green scaly snout, followed by an enormous, green scaly head and a long, green scaly neck, followed by a great, green scaly body and a long, green scaly tail. Suddenly, the ghastly beast burst clear of the pond; it spread its vast bat-like wings, opened wide it’s terrible jaw and revealed layers of very long, sharp teeth.
Then the terrible knucker of Lymninster let out a terrifying: “meow”. Something of an anti-climax - unfortunately, the pond’s waters had doused the knucker’s fire! But this knucker was no ordinary knucker; it wasn’t ready to admit defeat. It tried again: “woof”. Better, but still not quite the fearsome effect it wanted, so after muttering some Old Saxon obscenities, it gave it another go: “ROAR!” Even better still, but unfortunately, to accompany the dreadful cry, it only managed a pathetically dissatisfying puff of rather dull, grey, watery, smoke: “Pfuff”. Then, finally: “ROAR!” and this time, bright orange flames sprang forth from its awful jaw. THE KNUCKER WAS BACK.
Jim and Sam fled. Unable to feast on the two hapless friends (and ravenously hungry after its long sleep in the depths of the pond), the dragon soared up beyond the castle at Arundel and promptly ate seven children.
Arundel, by this time, was in an uproar! The people there prayed the knucker would not return. Alas, it heard not their prayers and returned the very next afternoon, when it swept down on the town and ate seven more children.
“Call out Sir Guy!” screamed the people of Arundel. And so it was that Sir Guy, Lord of Arundel, was called forth to do battle with the mighty knucker. “Oh dear!” moaned the elderly knight, a little unsure he wanted to disturb his afternoon tea and biscuits having a deadly duel with a fearsome dragon. “Do I have to?” Sir Guy pleaded with the people of Arundel. “Yes, you do!” they all cried.
Because of the sea air and lack of use, Sir Guy’s armour had gone a little rusty. However, after a squirt of WD1 (a pre-fossil fuel equivalent of today’s favourite lubricant), the excellent folk of Arundel had squeezed Sir Guy into his plated mail and had managed to hoist him up onto his faithful steed. Then the knight was handed his trusty sword and his sturdy shield that was emblasoned with the arms of Arundel, and after the town’s Mayor delivered a swift kick up the horse’s hindquarters, the gallant Sir Guy was set on his way to do battle with the repugnant knucker.
Soon enough, a barely distinct dot appeared, high in the sky. It was the deadly dragon! It got larger and larger as it neared closer and closer to the quivering knight. “I do so like my lunch in tins,” grinned the knucker, as it loomed over Sir Guy. But it was for good reason that Sir Guy had once dined at Sir Galahad’s roundtable; suddenly, the withered old knight found his courage: “Have at thee, foul fiend from hell!” he bellowed. “Prepare to meet thy doom!” Sir Guy raised his shield, drew his sword, and charged, full speed, at the knucker. “Yum!” thought the dragon, as he engulfed the charging knight in flames. “I do so like my meals cooked, too”, and with that, the dastardly dragon gobbled up Sir Guy whole. Afterwards, to take away the awful taste of the rusting armour, the knucker flew up to Arundel and ate seven more children.
After Sir Guy’s demise, knights from all over England went into battle with the wretched knucker, in an attempt to avenge their fallen comrade. Unfortunately, they all got eaten, too, so it wasn’t long before the honourable members of the English knighthood considered that discretion was the much better part of valour and stopped going to Arundel. It was a terrible time for the poor folk that lived there. The town was under siege.
Jim Pulk, feeling ever-so-slightly guilty for being the cause of the misery, hatched a plan to slay the giant lizard. Now, when he wasn’t getting drunk in the Six Bells (newly named, after the theft from St Mary Magdelene), Jim was the Lyminster Baker, renowned for his Churdle pie. As you know, that’s a tasty mix of sizzling bacon and rich lambs liver, somewhat similar to a Cornish Pastie, only better, because it’s from Sussex. Jim decided he’d bake an especially poisonous pie for the knucker, so he picked some fly agaric, the very toxic red and white toadstool that’s the feature of many a legend, as well as some shiny-black berries of the deadly nightshade, which is even more lethal than the fly agaric. He mashed up the malignant mix, kneaded it into a stuffing for the Churdle, and baked the largest pie Lyminster had ever seen, the sweet aroma of which drifted up to Arundel itself, whereupon the folk there temporarily forgot their misery.
The smell had titillated the knucker’s tastebuds too, so after Jim had commandeered some oxen and hauled the Churdle to the soggy banks of the pond, the dreadful dragon was already anticipating a deliveroo of Jim’s incredible pie. Sure enough, the water started to boil and above the bubbling surface appeared a pair of searing yellow eyes. Then came a long, green scaly snout, followed by an enormous, green scaly head and a long, green scaly neck, followed by a great, green scaly body and a long, green scaly tail. Then the ghastly beast looked down at Jim and his tremendous tart. It opened wide its terrible jaw and licked its lizardly lips: “Yum!” it thought. “Ah, Mr Knucker”, quivered Jim. “Magnificent, Mr Knucker”, he grovelled, “We’re running out of children in these ‘ere parts, so I wondered if I could persuade you to try my most delicious pie, instead?” Of course, the knucker needed no second invitation, so without further ado, he gobbled down the pie in one great gulp. In fact, he also gobbled down the oxen, the cart, and would have done for Jim, too, had the brilliant baker not managed to duck out of the way in the nick of time.
“Oh!” spluttered the knucker, simultaneously letting out the loudest, most ghastly fart, Sussex has ever known: “Pfffffffffffffftttttttt!” Clutching his stomach, the knucker rolled onto his back and farted again: “Pfffffffffffffftttttttt!” Then it crawled back into the pond, nursing the most dreadful of gut aches. Indeed, cursing its fate, the knucker vowed never to venture into Sussex’s poisonous pastures ever again; to this day, the terrible dragon has not reappeared. Many think he may be dead, but now and then, the water of the Knucker Hole boils terribly, and with that comes an awful smell, so no one dares find out the knucker’s fate for sure. Besides, the idea of a deadly dragon has served the area well, as the demise of the A27 testifies.
But our story doesn’t end there - once the people of Arundel had recovered from the sewery smell of the beastly bowels, they rushed down to the Knucker Hole, whereupon Jim Pulk was hoisted onto the crowd’s shoulders and cheered, loudly. Everyone chanted: “For he’s a jolly good fellow!” as they marched off to the Six Bells to celebrate. “Well done, Jim!” shouted the landlord, over the celebrating crowds. “Here’s a beer on the house”. Jim gulped down his drink and gratefully wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Oh dear, that proved a fatal mistake for poor old Jim, because after concocting the terrible concoction of fly agaric and deadly nightshade, he had forgotten to wash his hands. Unfortunately, what gave the knucker a terrible tummy, killed Jim instantly.
The people of Arundel were inconsolable. The hero Jim had saved them, but now he was dead. They had been shouting and cheering, but now they were bawling and crying instead. Then a realisation dawned - they could combine a win with a wake! As you may well imagine, never since have the people of Arundel witnessed such a hangover, as that witnessed following the demise of the knucker and poor old Jim Pulk.
Nowadays, if you go into the Church of St Mary Magdelene at Lyminster, you will see a stained glass window with a picture of a dreadful dragon. And in the graveyard, you’ll find a strange old gravestone. The endless march of time, as well as the sea air, have worn away the inscription, so most people don’t know whose gravestone it is, nor what it says. But we know - it’s the grave of Jim Pulk, embossed with the epitaph: “Mark thee well: wash thy hands before dinner, or answer to God, as a Saint, or a Sinner”. So next time you sit down to eat, give your hands a good scrub and remember the legend of Jim Pulk and the terrible knucker of Lyminster.
The Knucker of Lyminster by Steve Huckle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://glowkeeper.github.io/assets/stories/TheKnucker/.