The Moston Dragon
There is a lane leading off the Sandbach to Middlewich road called Dragon’s Lane, whose name is rooted in a legend that there was once a lake there inhabited by a dragon which terrorised the local countryside.
The story goes that one Thomas Venables, hearing of the dragon, vowed to kill it. Having equipped himself, he arrived at the dragon’s lake just in time to see it devouring a child that it had seized. He fired arrows at it ineffectually until he pierced one of its eyes; he then proceeded to attack it from its blind side with his sword, until he was eventually successful in killing it.
His action was rewarded by being given the manor of Moston, and was commemorated in both the Venables coat of arms, and in the name of the lake and lane.
The following singular and romantic circumstance is recorded, in a Patent of Augmentation, of the Arms and Crest of Thomas Venables, of Goulbourne, in this County, who was lineally descended from Sir Gilbert Venables, Knight, (Commissioner to King William the Conqueror), and from whom, Colonel Robert Venables, the Author of the Experienced Angler, claims his descent. His Crest was a Demy Dragon, Gules, issuing out of a Welson or Weir to take a Fish, Argent. “A terrible Dragon made his Abode in the Lordship of Moston, where he devoured all such Persons as he laid hould on, which the said Thomas Venables hearing tell of, in following the Example of the valiant Romans, and not regarding his Life, in Comparison with the Safeguard of his Countrymen, did in his own Person, courageously set on the Dragon, whom first he shot through with an Arrow, and afterwards manfully slew him, at which Instant, the said Dragon was devouring of a Child; for the which worthy Act, was given unto him the Lordship of Moston, by the ancestors of the Earls of Oxford, the Lords of the Fee there. And also, ever since, the said Thomas and his Heirs, in Remembrance thereof, have used to bear, as well in the Arms, as in the Crest, a Dragon.” The Patent of Augmentation, is dated, Thirtieth of October, Anno 1560.
OFT have we heard of that fell fight,
In which old England’s patron knight,
By chroniclers St. George who’s hight
The scaly dragon slew.
But of that combat now I sing,
With which all Cheshire once did ring
A picture of the fight I’ll fling,
And of a warrior true.
A dragon Cheshire troubled sore,
Insatiate was his horrid maw;
Clotted with blood and poisonous gore,
Wide wasted he the land.
Widows and orphans would turn pale,
Were he but named, men’s hearts would fail;
Warriors, ne’er known before to quail,
Durst not before him stand.
Moston’s curst township rued the day
When in its swamp it wallowing lay;
Like the thick dust uprose the spray,
As thrashed his tail the slime.
Remnant of monsters, that the flood
Retiring left (a deadly brood),
Or sprung from some gaunt giant’s blood,
Spawn of some devilish time.
Sharp fangs gaped wide a triple row,
Its bloodshot eyes like flames did glow,
Its body like a serpent low,
And scaled o’er as with mail.
Six claws on either side appear,
Its prey to seize, its prey to tear:
’Twas said, that e’en a grizzly bear
Had crushed its whelming tail.
Where’er it roamed, its upas breath
On all sides, round, above, beneath,
Like plague-sores, belched a horrid death,
’Gainst which ’twas vain to pray.
This gallant Venables did hear
(A man he was to Cheshire dear),
And Moston he resolved to clear,
Or perish in the fray.
He vowed unto his ladye fair
To beard the dragon in his lair,
And offered up to heaven a prayer
To grant him strength in fight.
The dragon’s swamp scarce had he won,
The beast had seized a widow’s son;
He was his mother’s only one.
Loud shouted then the knight.
The morning mists that challenge cleft;
The dragon heard the shout, and left
The child of sense not life bereft,
And rushed on in his might.
Bold Venables unflinching drew
With steady hand the sounding yew;
Forth, winged by death, the arrow flew,
And pierced the dragon’s eye.
Well ’twas he aimed not at his side:
The sharpest bolt had vainly tried
To pierce elsewhere his scale-armed hide,
Or to the heart come nigh.
Fierce through the reeds the dragon crashed,
The swamp to foam in fury lashed,
Wildly at Venables it dashed
The knight ne’er dreamt to fly.
On the blind side advanced he then,
And smote the beast once and again
Between the scales: soon in the fen
Black heart blood soaked the ground.
Far, far, that dying shriek was heard,
E’en distant Beeston’s warders stirred,
And springing up some onslaught feared,
So awful was the sound.
Who, who, may paint the widow’s joy?
Again, again, she hugs her boy.
What can the mother now annoy?
Her lost child breathes again!
Broad lands in Moston for that deed
(Fortune’s reward, and Valour’s meed),
For Cheshire saved in utmost need,
The Venables did gain.
But what than lands he valued mair,
Was a dark tress of glossy hair
(For this, what would not true knight dare?),
Gift of his ladye fair.
A dying dragon bathed in gore,
Which e’en in death an infant tore,
In arms he proudly thenceforth bore,
Emblazoned on his shield.
Still, children at the dragon quake;
The fight to list they’ll play forsake;
Still by the name of ‘Dragon’s lake’
Is called that Moston field.
Venables (Antrobus, co. Chester). Az. betw. two bars a mullet ar. in chief two mullets of the last. Crest—A wyvern pass. gu. issuing from a weir ar.
Venables (Agden and Horton, co. Chester). Az. two bars ar. in the centre point a mullet of the second. Crest—A demi wyvern erect, wings elevated gu. issuant from a weir basket erect or.
Venables (Reg. by Roberts, Ulster, to Colonel Robert Venables, who landed with his regiment in Dublin, 22 July, 1649). Az. two bars ar. in chief as many mullets pierced of the last. Crest—A wyvern, wings elevated and tail nowed ar. beaked and legged or, swallowing an infant in swaddling clothes ppr. swaddled gu.
There is a legend that one of his [Gilbert de Venables] manors—Moston, “then consisting chiefly of swamps and morasses”—was won by a hand-to-hand encounter with a dragon, further commemorated by the extraordinary crest borne by his posterity; a wyvern, pierced with an arrow, issuing out of a weir for taking fish, and devouring a child. “It chaunced in his tyme,” (so runs the story) “a terrible dragon to make his abode in the lordeshippe of Moston, wheare he devowred all suche p’sons as he laid holde on, whych the said Venables hering tell of, dyde in his awne p’son valiantlie and couragiouslie set on the saide dragon, where firste he shot him throwe with an arrowe, and afterward with other weapons manfullie slew him, at whych instant tyme he was devowring a childe.” Moston, however, was only acquired through an heiress in the time of Henry IV. Ormerod suggests that the legend relates to an ancestor of this heiress, whose crest was adopted by the Venables.
The Venables of Kinderton were a noble Cheshire family in the days of Edward I., from which there sprang many branches which settled in different parts of the county. Thomas Venables was a son of Sir William of that ilk, and cousin-german to the Conqueror. We have here a variant of that other dragon of Malpas—that of Wantley, and other dragons which appear to have inhabited different parts of the country in mediaeval times. According to an old chronicle, “yet chanced a terrible dragon to remayne, and make his abode in the Lordshippe of Moston in the said countie of Chester, where he devouryed all such p’sons as he laid hold on, which ye said Thomas Venable heringe toll of, consyderinge the pytyfull dystruction of the people, w’thoute recov’ie, who in following th’ example of the valiant Romaines … dyd in his awne p’son valiantlie and courragiouslie set on the saide dragon, where first he shotte hym throwe with an arrow, and afterwards with other weapons manfullie slew hym, at which instant tyme the sayd dragon was devouring of a childe.”
The people of Moston township were once harassed by a terrible dragon, who settled in their district and lived upon human flesh. We are told that “he devoured all such persons as he laid hold on.” This unhappy state of affairs continued until Thomas Venables heard about it. He prepared to give battle to the monster. He first shot him with an arrow, and when this proved insufficient, he “afterwards with other weapons manfullie slew him, at which instant the dragon was devouringe of a child.” This is the legend which explains the Venables crest—a dragon with an arrow in its eye, destroying a child. There is an old carved screen in the Venables Chapel in Middlewich Church which shows this crest. The memory of the tale is also preserved in the name of the Dragon Lake at Moston.
Dragon’s Lane, named from Dragons Lake 1839 TA, 1842 OS, the Dragon’s pool 1819 Orm, so called from its association in popular tradition with the dragon of the Venables family (a wyvern as their crest, Orm III 236).
Round about the beginning of the twelfth century, Moston was terrorised by a horrifying dragon. According to a contemporary report, it had triple rows of fangs, flaming eyes, and a scaly, reptilian body. Six claws extended from each foreleg, and its tail was capable of crushing a bear. To meet this fearsome beast went forth Thomas Venables, son of Sir Thomas Venables, first cousin of William the Conqueror. After a lengthy fight, Venables managed to wound it with arrows before moving in to finish it off with his sword.
The field where the fight took place was called Dragon’s Lake, and the Venables family commemorated the achievement in their coat of arms, which showed a dragon with an arrow in its eye, killing a child. The coat of arms can be seen carved on a screen in the Venables Chapel of Middlewich Church.
Sir Thomas Venables is said to have shot and killed a dragon just as it was about to eat a child in Bache Pool, near Moston, Cheshire, in the sixteenth century. A 1632 carving in the church vestry shows the crest of the Venables as a Dragon swallowing a child.
In the Middle Ages a dragon used to live in Bache Pool and terrified the people of Moston. It was killed by Thomas Venables as it was about to eat a baby and the Venables chapel in Middlewich church has a crest showing a dragon with a baby in its mouth.
While there is no doubt that there is a connection between the dragon of the legend and the dragon (or wyvern) of the crest of the Venables of Kinderton family, it’s not possible to tell which came first. However George Ormerod, in his The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, sheds some light on the background to this curious tale in his chapter about Moston. To summarise:
Sir Thomas Venables, the 19th Baron of Kinderton, in applying for the Patent of Augmentation in 1560, wanted to attribute the slaying of the dragon to the Thomas Venables who was his great-great grandfather. But Moston had already been acquired in 1412 by William Venables, the father of the putative dragon-slayer, which rules out the possibility of the story having originated with him. Furthermore the crest must already have been in use for several generations by this time, as variants of it appear in at least two branches of the family that had already split away from the Venables of Kinderton. For example the Bradwall branch of the family had as its crest a wyvern issuing from a fish weir, devouring a child, and pierced with an arrow – and this branch separated from the Kinderton one somewhere in the second half of the 13th century, and whose male line became extinct at some time in the 14th century.
But in the patent it appears that Sir Thomas claimed that the original crest of the Venables of Kinderton was ‘a demy dragon Geules, yssuinge out of a wylson or wyer to take fishe’, and that he wanted it to be changed to ‘a dragon Silver scaled, and pi’ced throwe the body with an arrowe Gold hedded and fetheredd Silver, devowringe a child chernell, heired Gold, sett on a wyar or wylson Silver banded Blewe, on a wreath Silver, Blewe and Redd.’ In other words, he wanted the addition of a half-devoured child to be made to a crest that originally showed only a dragon issuing from a fish weir. If this reading is correct, the Bradwall branch of the family was using the half-devoured child and the arrow-pierced dragon in its crest before the Kinderton branch was. Of course that may be down to ambiguous wording in the patent, but that is how it appears. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any way of determining what a family’s coat of arms was at a series of specific dates, or this could be clarified, because if this interpretation is right then it should be the Bradwall branch of the family which should be claiming credit for slaying the dragon.
There is another unexplained aspect. All the branches of the family who have a dragon (or wyvern) in their crest describe it as issuing from a fish weir, or a weir basket. It’s this mention of a fish weir that doesn’t fit the Moston legend, as there is no river passing through Moston, meaning there can have been no weir, for fish or otherwise. The Dragon’s Lake of the legend, and of the 1842 Ordnance Survey map, would have been a small pool that was part of the marshland that originally formed Moston, prior to being drained. The implication is that the fish weir element came from elsewhere, but from where it came, and whether this is evidence that it either preceded or followed the simpler Moston pool legend – which mentions no weir – remains obscure.
To confuse an already confused matter, Ormerod mentions that the Mostons of Moston (from which family the Venables of Kinderton gained Moston) had a wyvern as their arms, and it’s possible that it’s from here that the story originated. But since there is no date for when they adopted these arms it can’t be determined whether it predated the Venables’ dragon. As Ormerod sums it up:
There is still a lane called Dragon’s Lane, and the 1842 Ordnance Survey map shows the name ‘Dragons Lake’ just to the north of it, though there is no discernable evidence of there ever having been a lake there. Ormerod writes that the lake was drained somewhere around the end of the 18th century, but since he was writing not long after the event he took it for granted that its location would generally be known, so we are left to guess. One possibility is that the Ordnance Survey knew the location, but due to restrictions of scale placed the name in the nearest place they could fit the words. There’s a slight depression just to the south of the lane that may mark the site, and a ditch that may have been the original drain for the pool appears both on the 1842 map and the maps of today. However due to the enormous amount of salt subsidence in the area since the mid-twentieth century it will never be possible to be sure.
This subsidence has resulted in the appearance of several new lakes, called salt flashes, including one that Dragon’s Lane now bisects. This lake seems to have become confused with the lake of the legend, under the name Bache Pool (as it is called in the two 21st century sources I’ve cited above), though it appears to be known – locally at least – as Moston Flash. The use of the name Bache Pool has probably arisen as a result of confusion between the Moston near Kinderton (the latter now being part of Middlewich), and another Cheshire Moston that lies just to the north of Chester. This confusion is understandable, given that various members of the Venables family of Kinderton have held both Moston and Golborne; Golborne is now effectively part of Chester, and roughly halfway between it and the Moston near Chester lies Bache, which, up until the mid-nineteenth century, had a pool called Bache Pool. It’s easy to see how someone, reading of how a Venables of Kinderton held the manors of Golborne and Moston, would assume that the Chester Moston was the one being mentioned, and Bache Pool would be the obvious spot for the dragon to live. However it’s the Moston near Kinderton that was held by the Venables of Kinderton, and it’s this one that has a Dragon’s Lane and formerly had a Dragons Lake. The fact that there is no longer a pool near the Chester Moston, but there is now one near the Kinderton Moston seems to have reinforced this misconception.
The effect of salt subsidence and the development of these salt flashes can be seen on the maps below.
‘Dragons Lake’ as it is shown in 1842, despite the fact that the lake had already been drained by this time. The lane running east-west across the upper-middle section of the map is Dragon’s Lane. Note the ditch that runs roughly north-south across the lane and the words ‘Dragons Lake’, which may have been the original drain that emptied the pool.
By 1947 a small pool has appeared; the first of the salt flashes. It would later gain the name ‘Foden’s Flash’ from the nearby Foden Motor Works. Note the contour line that corresponds with the drainage ditch (though the ditch is no longer shown). This long hollow may well be due to salt subsidence too, but it was clearly there at an earlier stage than others.
By 1959 the number of flashes has grown: the long north-south one is Moston Flash. Two others can partly be seen on the southern edge of the map.
The salt flashes continue to expand to the north of Dragon’s Lane. There is also another flash that has just appeared north of Foden’s Flash, called Plex Flash, as well as one near Limerick Hill Cottage.
Note that the large number of tiny pools are marl pits, which are extremely common across Cheshire. In this area there may easily be ten to every square kilometre.
The flashes to the north of Dragon’s Lane, Sparrowgrove Flash and Tetton Flash, have grown considerably, as has Plex Flash.
The slight hollow just where the letters ‘Cr’ of ‘Crow’s Nest Bridge’ are printed is where I would tentatively locate the original lake; the drainage ditch that appeared on the 1842 map is still there, winding its way from it to the north, across Dragon’s Lane. If it was anywhere else it will have been lost to the salt subsidence.
You can use Google Maps to see an aerial view of Dragon’s Lane and the newly-appeared salt flashes as they are now.