Knucker is a dialect word for a kind of water dragon, living in knuckerholes in Sussex, England.
The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon "nicor" which means "water monster" and is used in the poem Beowulf. It is also local word in some areas of Sussex for a pond where the source is hidden (such as an underground stream). The term can also be seen in the word nix, which usually refers to some form of water spirit and perhaps "Old Nick", a euphemism for the Devil.
Knuckers are water dragons but have been represented with wings.
It was believed that knuckers could be found at knuckerholes in various places in Sussex, including Lyminster, Lancing, Shoreham and Worthing. The Knucker Hole is reputedly bottomless though is actually around thirty feet deep, as discovered by divers. Despite this, it is said that the six bell ropes of Lyminster church were tied together and let down to try and find the bottom, it couldn't. It is fed from a strong underground spring which keeps the pool clear and the temperature of the water relatively constant throughout the seasons. The hole at Lancing was known back in 1937 as bottomless and could be found near an old Inn called the Sussex Pad, which stood on the banks of the old River Adur. It was believed that the countryside was filled with such holes as this, and some believed that they went down to the other side of the world.
The most famous Knucker lived, according to legend, at Lyminster. Knucker apparently caused a lot of trouble, consuming local livestock and even villagers, and so it was decided to slay the monster. A number of different legends recount how this was done.
Inevitably one version has the dragon slain by a knight-errant after the king of Sussex offered his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever rid them of the beast. Legend says that after marrying the princess the knight settled in Lyminster and his gravestone, the Slayer's Slab can be seen in Lyminster church.
An alternative legend has the dragon outwitted by a local farmer's boy, called Jim Pulk or Jim Puttock, said in some versions to be from Wick, after the Mayor of Arundel offered a reward. He killed the dragon by cooking it a giant poisoned pie, which he took to the knuckerhole on a horse and cart. The dragon ate up pie, horse and cart. When it had expired he returned and cut off its head. In some versions he then dies himself, probably of the same poison he used on the dragon, though this is probably a later addition designed to explain the Slayer's Slab.
The story of Jim Puttock of Wick is similar to both that of the Knight and that of Jim Pulk, though has its owns differences, firstly in that the reward was offered by the Mayor of Arundel rather than the King of Sussex. The Dragons death is both by poison and axe when the Dragon is weakened, but the Hero survives, to be buried in the usual manner of the tale at the end of his life. The story is told by an old hedger :
They do say, that a dunnamany years ago there was a gert dragon lived in that big pond there, Knucker his name was, and Knucker Hole we calls it to-day. And thisyer ole dragon, you know, he uster goo spannelling about the Brooks by night to see what he could pick up for supper, like few horses, or cows maybe, he'd snap 'em up soon as look at 'em. Then bimeby he took to sitting top o' Causeway, and anybody come along there, he'd lick 'em up, like a toad licking flies off a stone.
So what with that, and him swimming in the River otherwhile and sticking his ugly face up agin the winders in Shipyard when people was sitting having their tea, things was in a tidy old Humphrey up Arndel way, no bounds.
So the Mayor of Arndel, as was then, he offered a reward for anyone as ud put an end to en. I misremember how much t'was, but something pretty big, I reckon. Howsumever, everybody was so feared on en, that they was onaccountable backward in coming forward, as you might say.
So Mayor, he doubled the reward; and this time a young chap from Wick put up for it. Now some people says he was a Arndel man; but that an't true. Young Jim Puttock his name was, and he came from Wick. I've lived at Toddington all my life, so I reckon I oughter know. Sides, my great-aunt, Judith, what lived down along there where you turns up by they gert ellum trees, just t'other side o' the line, uster say that when she was a gal, there was a marn lived 'long o' them as was courting a gal that 'ventuallv married a kind of a descendant of this Jim Puttock.
Let be how t'wull, this Jim Puttock he goos to Mayor, and tells him his plan. And Mayor he says everybody must give en what he asks, and never mind the expense, 'cause they oughter be thankful, anyway, for getting rid of the Knucker.
So he goos to the smith and horders a gert iron pot 'bout so big. And he goos to the miller and asks en for so much flour. And he goos to the woodmen and tells 'em to build a gert stack-fire in the middle o' the Square. And when t'was done he set to and made the biggest pudden' that was ever seen.
And when t'was done-not that t'was quite done-bit sad in the middle, I reckon, but that was all the better, like-they heaved en on to a timber-tug, and somebody lent en a team to draw it, and off he goos, bold as a lion.
All the people followed en as far as the bridge, but they dursn't goo no furder, for there was ole Knucker, lying just below Bill Dawes'es. Least his head was, but his neck and body-parts lay all along uo the hill, past the station, and he was tearing up the trees in Batworth Park with his tail.
And he sees thisyer tug a-coming, and he sings out, affable-like :
"How do, Man" "How do, Dragon?" says Jim. "What you got there?" says Dragon, sniffing. "Pudden" says Jim. "Pudden?" says Knucker. "What be that?" "Just you try" says Jim.
And he didn't want no more telling-pudden, horses, tug, they was gone in a blink. Jimmy ud agone, too, only he hung on to one o' they trees what blew down last year.
"T'weren't bad" says Knucker, licking his chops. "Like another?" says Jim. "Shudn't mind" says he. "Right" says Jim. "Bring ee one Sadernoon"
But he knew better'n that, surelye. Fore long they hears en rowling about, and roaring and bellering fit to bust hissel. And as he rowls, he chucks up gert clods, big as houses, and trees and stones and all manner, he did lash about so with his tail.
But that Jim Puttock, he weren't afeared, not he. He took a gallon or so with his dinner, and goos off to have a look at en. When he sees en coming, ole Knucker roars out :
"Don't you dare bring me no more o' that 'ere pudden, young marn!" "Why?" says Jim. "What's matter?" "Colly wobbles" says the Dragon. "Do set so heavy on me I can't stand un, nohows in de wurreld" "Shudn't bolt it so" says Jim, "but never mind, I got a pill here, soon cure that" "Where?" says Knucker. "Here" says Jim.
And he ups with an axe he'd held behind his back and cuts off his head.
- Knuckers are described as a type of dragon in the Dragonology fiction book. Dragonology knuckers attack with venom or constriction.
- The Knucker is the name of the eponymous characters dragon in the Sláine series of comic books featured in 2000 AD.
- Hamilton, A. : Legendary Lyminster, SCM Vol. 22, No. 4 1948
- Joiner, Charles G. : The Knucker of Lyminster, SCM Vol. 3, No.12 1929