The Dragon of Wantley

Episode 5: The Dragon of Wantley

Tales of Britain and Ireland
Tales of Britain and Ireland

A storytelling and folklore podcast.

Telling some of the famous and not so famous British and Irish myths, legends and folktales, in no particular order.

Coming direct from South Yorkshire it is currently regularish, and will feature all of the above and whatever other miscellaneous snippets take my fancy.

Presented by Graeme. Website at

5: The Dragon of Wantley
byTales of Britain and Ireland.

This episode we’ve a lighter tale in the form of The Dragon of Wantley. There is everything you’d expect from a good dragon slaying story: a Knight, a maiden, and a digestive complaint. Plus Sheffield steel puts in an appearance. Musical credits, sources and more at #myth #mythology #folklore #legends

Moore! Moore! Moore!

The Dragon of Wantley
I am pretty sure this picture was not originally drawn for this story Link to the broadside Ballad

A lighter tale this episode in the form of The Dragon of Wantley. I tell a unique blend of two versions of this ballad, which is set just outside my home town of Sheffield.

There is everything you’d expect from a good dragon slaying story: a knight, a maiden, and a digestive complaint.

Plus Sheffield steel puts in an appearance, for a little bit of civic pride.

“He had long claws, and in his jaws Four and forty teeth of iron”

– unknown authour, The Dragon of Wantley
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

Wantley is a village near Sheffield now called Wortley. And as our story opens its inhabitants were having a rum old time of it and no mistake.

For they were afflicted by a pest of gargantuan proportions. You’ll have guessed from the title of the story that this was none-other than a fearsome dragon. With an insatiable appetite.

The dragon lived on the nearby cliffs at Wharncliffe, and he would EVERYTHING. Not just cattle as you might expect but trees, and slates from roofs, glass from windows, stones from walls.

That was bad enough but when he began to feast on children, swallowing three at a time as though they were simply an amuse-bouche, the situation became really serious.

And it was at this outrage that Margarey Gubbins, local woman of some good standing took it upon herself to find a solution to the problem. As nobody else seemed able.

There was a man who should have been able thought Margaery. For within the vicinity lived a renowned knight who went by the name of Moore of Moore Hall. And knights fought dragons. Everyone knew that. So Margaery now found herself at Moore Hall demanding that he do precisely that.

But he was a controversial figure this Moore. For he was famous not just for knightly things. But for being roaringly drunk, brawling in the streets after accusing passers-by of beings sons of whores and, most famous of all, he once killed a horse by swinging it around in the air by its tail. Which is quite a feat.

Moore Hall was actually pretty close to the dragon’s lair but for some reason remained untouched, and so Moore’s life of all day drinking, dining and debauching was uninterrupted. Uninterrupted that is until a group of village folk, with Margarey at their lead, burst into his hall and demanded he do something about the dragon.

“Nope. Not a chance” he slurred drunkenly. “I don’t want whatever you’re offering me. No jewels or nothing. I’ve got me mind on higher things me” he continued, taking a deep slug from a jug.

“Oh for goodness sake,” thought Margaery. She had not wanted to do this but it seemed there was no choice.

She put on a pathetic, helpless voice: “Tis such a pity you cannot help us, brave knight. Not even for porr me.” She fluttered her eyelashes.

And she turned as if to leave.

“Now don’t be hasty” said Moore. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it,” he said in a bold faced contradictions of the facts… “I mean.. If it was for.. Say… not money but I would for say… a kiss?” He looked hopeful.

Margaery tried not to her roll her eyes directly in front of him.

Instead she smiled sweetly “Of course bravest Knight.”

And so it was settled. Moore would battle the dragon.

Despite his reputation Moore was not a totally stupid man. He knew full well that taking on this winged monstrosity as things stood would not be easy. Neither was he one who who subscribed to the lethal notion of honourable combat, doubly so where it pertained to fire breathing muli-tonne reptiles.

So he thought it over for a while and set off for the nearby city of Sheffield, renowned for centuries for the quality of its metal working.

And he ordered a very special custom suit of armour.

The day before the battle was arranged Moore spent like any other – generally drinking,  feasting, carousing and enjoying himself. He got his kiss from Margaery. In advance, in case he was unavailable to take the payment after the battle had played out.

And he went to bed late.

Morning dawned and the bright sunlight streamed through the curtains . “Urgghhh” Get it away.”

“Oh my head,” Slowly, gingerly and with no small amount of resolve, Moore sat himself up. 

Margaery was already waiting for him. To do the next bit of the task he had asked of her. To dress him. In his big suit of clanking armour. His unique set of armour. From which spikes protruded from near every direction.

This was to be his secret weapon.

After six pots of strong ale and a quart of water, because hydration is important, and also after some considerable time struggling with a very difficult suit of armour Moore of Moore hall was about ready for the fight.

The fight was set to take place at a local well, where the dragon came to drink daily. It was expected to be pretty thirsty having swallowed much of the church steeple the previous day.

A huge crowd had turned out to watch. It was a proper community event and it had some of the anticipatory fervour that accompanies the build up to an important football match.

The crowd’s first impression on seeing Moore’s strange and rather ridiculous suit of armour was astonishment, while some of the smaller children started to cry, and dogs and cats fled as he came clanking up to the well.

This wasn’t what they’d expected.

They were further disappointed to see Moore descend into the lip of the well (with surprising agility given his encumbrance). This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

They wanted a fight out in the open.

But Moore ignored them. He would fight in his way. He waited.

And after a few minutes the dragon did indeed appear. A gigantic shape, all loathsome and terrible, blotting out the sun with the mass of its body, acrid smoking streaming from its nostrils. It settled itself next to the well and lowered its awful maw to drink.

And, with even more surprising agility Moore leapt out of the well and smacked the dragon right on the nose shouting “Boooo” as he did so.

The dragon bellowed: ““Oh! Pox take you! Disturbing my drink like that!”

And the dragon turned its tale on Moore, lifted its tail and doused the Knight with a great quantity of wretched smelling dragon dung. The crowd sat in stupefied revulsion, some covering their mouths with handkerchiefs, while the more sensitive simply passed out. This was definitely not what dragon fights were supposed to be like.

But opening salvos from both combatants dispensed with and the battle not yet decided Moore and the dragon now fell upon one another. And the fight the crowd had wanted began. There came a great cheer.

And what a fight it was, no half measures here, Moore and the Dragon went for each other, metal spikes meeting impenetrable hide. Both combatants displayed tremendous strength and prestigious skill. On and on they fought, wrestling, clawing, punching, for two days and a night. Some spectators went away got a meal and a good night’s sleep and returned to find the two mighty pugilists still going at it.

But the heroic combat had to come to an end at some point. Both were showing signs of exhaustion when a great blow from the Dragon’s tail knocked Moore to the ground. And he lay still.

His sword had been flung far away from him. The crowd gasped in horror. 

The Dragon reached for his prone opponent, who at the very last moment rolled out of reach of the claws, down towards the dragon’s most sensitive and exposed spot. He sprung up and gave one powerful kick with his spiked shoes. The crowd winced in unison.

The Dragon let out an anguished scream, and in its pain and madness turned itself around six times crying out: “You’ve pricked my arse gut! My one weak point! What an awful way to go! You rascal, you murderer!”

The beast collapsed. And died.

A  great applause and rejoicing came from all the rooftops around. Margaery ran to Moore, taking with her all the ale she could carry!

“Oh you’ve done it your brave man!”

Moore removed his helm, took an ale in one hand and Margery in the other, making sure not to impale her.

“From now on all shall know the name of Moore of Moore Hall!” A

nd he took a swig from the bottle gave Margaery a great kiss, with lots of tongue and the credits begin to roll to the rapturous bellowing and clapping of the grateful people of Wantley!

The End


Keep scrolling for a hodgepodge of illustrations, photos, links, asides and various other odds and ends somehow connected to the story, the episode the discussion section, or whatever else takes my fancy.

The Dragon Map

While this is a local story to me in Sheffield I didn’t hear about it until I found a picture of the dragon on this exquisitely detailed railway map of Yorkshire by Estra Clark, who you can read a lot about in this fascinating blog here:

Map featuring image of the Wantley Dragon
You’ll notice that above the dragon is Peniston. Just saying.

It really is a beautiful map of Yorkshire featuring other myths and legends, as well as many fabulous illustrations of the towns and cites and their key sites, I absolutely love it. I spied the map first at the Hull Streetlife museum (my life is a non-stop roller coaster), and a copy of it now adorns my wall.

See it in all its high quality glory here.

You’ll notice that above the Dragon is the town of Peniston. Just saying.

Thomas Percy

“The Bishop” – Thomas Percy was a trailblazing figure in the world of ballad collection with his work “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry”

Keep reading

The poem and the arse/shat controversy

Wantley Dragon stage production
Good spikes. Shame about the tiny dragon

Looking for the original source to link to you, gentle reader, I was somewhat horrified to find that pretty much all versions of Percy’s Reliques of ancient English Poetry (volume III) which I can find online have fallen victim to a prudish censorship!

A misguided puritanical effort to protect gentle readers one imagines.

I link you here to Percy Reliques at project Gutenberg here as an example: The Dragon of Wantley

BUT… Should you be minded read it then please do note that where it reads “a…” you should read (loudly and vocally if possible) ARSE and where it timidly venture “s…” you should proclaim SHAT. It’ll make the whole thing a lot more fun to read.

Whore” is fine apparently.

Comic opera and American Novel

While the key source for this tale is the Percy’s Reliques I also combined it with a very few select elements of this eighteenth century burlesque opera. According to Wikipedia this opera “pointed a satirical barb at Robert Walpole and his taxation policies”. And I’m sure that’s just as hilarious today as it was back then.

There is also a sequel to it… which is even less relevant and from which I took nothing apart from outdated gender stereotype based comedy.

I also didn’t use anything from the much later 1892 novel of the same name by Owen Wister (a man whose publishers really wants you to know is the author of “The Virginian”). That story has nothing in common with the ‘real’ Wantley Dragon.

But below is the opening pages to the second edition I mention in the episode as it really tickled me.
I promise it’s worth reading the two pages in full.

The whole Owen Wister novel is here, but I don’t recommend it!

Wharncliffe Crags
Wharncliffe Crags Today
Mick Knapton at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Selected Sources

Musical credits for Episode 5: The Dragon of Wantley

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:

Denis Murphy’s Polka. I’ll Tell Me Ma. John Ryan’s Polka

Main Square
Railroad’s Whiskey Co

Hot October

Damiano Baldoni
Sol Draconis

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