Thursday, 27 October 2016

Knucker Hole, Lyminster

To Lyminster in West Sussex to investigate an interesting piece of local folklore.  Knucker Hole is a deep round pool, close to the church, fed by a strong underground spring.  According to Notes & Queries (1855) such deep pools:

are called by the people thereabouts Nuckar Holes.  They are very deep, and considered bottomless, because such strong springs arise in them that they never require to be ... emptied and cleaned out.  A mystery ... attaches to them among the common people, who seem to have a vague notion of their connexion with another bottomless pit.

The Lyminster pond has been measured to a depth of thirty feet, but a local story says that village men once took the six bellropes from the church tower (a pub nearby is called The Six Bells) tied them together and still could not touch the bottom.  The word Knucker derives from the Anglo- Saxon 'nicor' or 'water-monster' (nicoras appear in Beowulf) and the Lyminster pool was said to be the home of a fearsome dragon.  For years he ravaged the surrounding area until a brave knight slew him.  A very worn medieval tombstone, believed to be that of the knight, could for centuries be found near the church porch, but more recently was moved inside to stand by the font.

Another local tale ascribes the slaying to a young villager called Jim Pulk.  The canny lad baked a huge pie, lacing it with poison, and drew it on a horse cart to the pool, where he hid behind a bush.  The dragon emerged from the water, sniffed the pie, ate it together with the horse and cart, the poison soon took its course and the dragon curled up and expired.  Having cut off the creature's head, to celebrate his victory Jim went to the Six Bells for a beer, but collapsed and died when he wiped his hand over his mouth - he'd forgotten to wash the poison off his hands; the tombstone has also been claimed as his.  Another version features a hero called Jim Puttock.  For more see Folklore of Sussex by Jacqueline Simpson (Tempus, 2002, pp.34-39).

Inevitably, there is a secret tunnel involved.  Simpson notes that: 'Some seek a rational explanation, saying, for example, that there was a nunnery in Lyminster, linked to the church by a tunnel, and that the nuns invented the story of the dragon to scare soldiers away from this tunnel at the time of the Conquest.'

Inside the church of St Mary Magdalene we were pleasantly surprised to find a stained glass window commemorating the Knucker Hole tale.  Between two angels representing sun and moon a fearsome dragon is approached by the figure of Jim Pulk bearing a much-reduced pie that would have been unlikely to finish off the monster.  The window is, however, very beautiful.  It was made by Caroline Benyon.

Unfortunately, the Hole itself - a couple of hundred yards down a wide grassy path from the church - cannot now be easily seen and sits heavily fenced off (complete with barbed wire!) and behind thick high hedges.  Only small glimpses are available through a gate.

Pictures above:  Stained glass window, tombstone and limited view of Knucker Hole through gate.

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