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A natural place for the Worm’s stronghold
THE ancient village of Sockburn is famous for its position in a loop of the Tees and a legend about a local dragon, the Worm.
What, though, does its name tell us about us its origins?
Well, the first lesson that Sockburn teaches is that placenames lie. Burn, as we all know, means stream. But held within the narrow compass of the Tees, there is no room for a stream here. This is because burn was not originally burn but burg.
In fact, when it first surfaces in history in 780, it was written Socceburg.
Now burg should be familiar from tens of British placenames – though it comes in slightly different forms and spellings: Edinburgh, Bury St Edmunds, Burstead, Cantebury.
All these mean stronghold and demonstrate that at one point there was a defensive structure.
It makes perfect sense. A castle where Sockburn stands today would have had a natural moat covering four-fifths of its perimeter.
In fact, it would have been extraordinary if some Dark Age strongman had not decided to build a Camelot for himself here.
Sock, in the modern name, is, of course, that strongman who probably had the Anglo-Saxon name Socca, giving us Socca’s Fort on the Tees.
The celebrated legend of the Sockburn Worm is still told in these parts: a dragon once terrorised the neighbourhood.
There is a very real chance that the worm is a confused memory of our Socca, riding out with a dozen thugs to claim tribute from “his” territory, determined to make the life of the locals peasants as miserable as possible.
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