The Wherwell Cockatrice
Nothing now remains of Wherwell Priory and a Manor House now stands in its place. The priory was founded by Queen Elfrida, widow of King Edgar the Peaceful circa 986AD. Elfrida arranged the assassination of her step son King Edward the Martyr (see also Shaftesbury Abbey) at Corfe Castle on 18 March 978. He was the eldest son of Edgar and his death meant her son Ethelred could take the throne. Elfrida retired to Wherwell, spending her last years in the priory and was buried there. The priory did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was surrendered on 21 November 1539. There is also a legend of a cockatrice being incubated in the priory.
A duck’s egg was incubated by a toad in the cellar of Wherwell Priory. It grew into a cockatrice and set about withering everything around. A reward of four acres of land was offered to anyone who could kill the beast. Several champions came forward only to be slain by the deadly glare of the cockatrice.
Finally, a Priory servant named Green lowered a polished steel mirror into the dragon’s cellar lair. Unlike most of its kin, the Wherwell cockatrice’s reflection was not instantaneously lethal to itself. It took its own reflection for another, rival, cockatrice and attacked it. Once it had exhausted itself fighting its own image, Green leapt down and killed it with a spear.
Up until the 1930s older residents of Wherwell refused to eat duck’s eggs! There is an area of Harewood Forest called “Green’s Acres” where no trees grow. This is reputedly the land given to Green for killing the Cockatrice.
A weather vane shaped as a Cockatrice adorned the church of St. Peter and Holy Cross in Wherwell. It is now in the Andover Museum. The Wherwell cockatrice is also displayed in Andover High Street with a mosaic by Alan Potter and two cockatrices adorn the coat of arms of Aelfred of Wherwell.