Monsterous Serpent of Henham
Robert or should this be William Winstantley of Saffron Walden wrote a pamphlet titled ‘The Flying Serpent or Strange News Out of Essex – A True Relation of a Monsterous Serpent seen at Henham on the Mount in Saffron Walden,’ published in 1699. Part of the text concerning this dragon is repeated below.
‘The place of his abode and where he hath been oftentimes seen, is called Henham, but most commonly Henham on the Mount, the town standing upon a hill, having many fair farms and granges belonging to it, in one of which named The Lodge, near to a wood called Birch-wood, by reason of the many birches growing there, in a pasture-ground close by the same, hath this monstrous serpent been often seen as he hath lain upon the sides of a bank, beaking and stretching himself out upon the same, at such time as Sol did parch the earth with his resulgent beams.”
The first time that he was seen was about the 27 or 28 of May last, a gentleman’s way lying by the place where this serpent keeps his station, as he rid carefully on, expecting to receive no hurt as he intended none, on a sudden this Serpent assailed his horse, affrighting the rider so much with his monstrous proportion and bold courage to give such an onset, that all in a maze he spurred his horse, who almost as much afraid as his master, with winged speed hafted away, glad that they had escaped such an eminent danger.
Being come home he acquaints his friends and neighbours with what he had seen of this monstrous serpent, especially makes it known to a neighbour in whose grounds this serpent doth lurk, wishing him to beware of his cattle, and to use his best indeavour for destroying it, least by protraction of time it might do much mischief when had I wist would be but small comfort to him for the losses he might sustain.
Not long after two men of the same parish walking that way, espied this serpent as he lay on a hillock beaking himself again in the sun, where they beheld his full proportion, being as near as they could guess 8 or 9 foot long, the smallest part of him about the bigness of a man’s leg, on the middle as big as a man’s thigh, his eyes were very large and piercing, about the bigness of a sheep’s eye, in his mouth he had two row of teeth which appeared to their sight very white and sharp, and on his back he had two wings indifferent large, but not proportionable to the rest of his body, they judging them not to be above two handfuls long, and when spreaded, not to extend from the top of one wing to the utmost end of the other above two foot at the moll, and therefore altogether too weak to carry such an unwieldy body. These men though armed with clubs and staves, yet durst not approach to strike this serpent, neither it seems was the serpent afraid of them, for railing himself upon his breast about the heighth of two foot, he stood looking on them as daring them to the encounter.’
A copy of the pamphlet is can be seen at Saffron Walden Libraray. In the ‘The Ingenious William Winstanley’ by Alison Barnes, the author suggests that the dragon was a fake created by William and his uncle who built a life size working model out wood and canvas which they would have making short appearances throughout the summer of 1668, before his pamphlet was published the following January.