The Horsham ‘dragon’

According to an account of 1614, a ‘monstrous serpent or dragon’ lived in ‘a vast unfrequented place, heathie, vaultie, full of unwholesome shades and overgrown hollowes’ within St. Leonard’s Forest, near Horsham. It was reputed to leave a stinking, slimy trail and to slay man and cattle with its deadly venom. Its existence was attested by John Steele, Christopher Holder and ‘a widow woman dwelling at Faygate’. In 2001, Horsham Council opened a children’s maze in a corner of the Park, with Hannah Stewart’s bronze sculpture of the ‘dragon’ at its centre. Or maybe it wasn’t a sculpture at all. . .

I am a legend, so they say,
And come from over Faygate way.
I’m not a dragon, as folks claim,
And don’t deserve such awful fame.

St. Leonard’s Forest I well know,
For there I often used to go;
But not to frighten or distress.
I’m really harmless – more or less.

I must admit that, now and then,
I poisoned cows, and sometimes men;
But that was in my crazy youth.
It’s over now, and that’s the truth.

One day I thought, just for a lark,
I’d slither off to Horsham Park.
(I did it in the dead of night,
Lest you should see me and take fright.

You may have noticed, on the ground,
A sign that I had been around:
A glutinous and slimy trail
Resembling that left by a snail.)

Once there, I slipped into a doze
And spent the night hours comatose.
I woke at just gone eight o’clock
And froze quite rigid with the shock,

For in the dark I hadn’t clocked
This dragon trap where now I’m locked
Within the branching, dead-end ways
Of Horsham Council’s ‘dragon maze’,

Where children trace its tortuous paths
With shouts and screams and happy laughs.
But, though my ‘dragon’ days are done,
It’s good to see kids having fun.

[Picture from Bodleian Libraries e-book collection]
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