It’s a curious fact that the animal most associated with Draycott-in-the-Moors is… a dragon.
According to legend, the last-ever dragon was slain here; the word Draycott has often been deliberately punned in the past with the Latin word for dragon, ‘draco’; and the symbol of our church’s patron saint (St Margaret) is … a dragon.
It’s all very intriguing!
But, the animal that really should be most identified with Draycott is the horse. Not only is it believed that the Romans had stabling facilities here (near where The Draycott Arms is now) 2000 years ago, but Draycott was once famous for its horse-races.
And the origin of the word Draycott in fact suggests a dray-horse. The most usual explanation of the name is that it comes from Old English ‘draeg’ (meaning to ‘drag close by’) and ‘cott’ – a dwelling place. In other words, a place where you (or your horse) had to drag heavier items up and over a stream or hill…. (probably right outside The Draycott Arms where the stream goes under the road and where the big hill starts).
But it’s dragons that appear most in the history.
In fact (maybe!) there is an alternative old spoken-language connection, this time between Draycott and dragons.
Some historians of old name-places have speculated that the word ‘Draycott’ could have come from the language of the old Britons – and dragon in old Welsh is draen, Old Irish draigen, old Breton drean. The suggestion is that these could have ‘evolved’ into Draycott.
The trouble with that suggestion is the name-place ‘Draycott’ does not appear until the twelfth century.
It’s hard to pinpoint the legend which says that Draycott is the place where the last dragon in England was slain, but the reference to it does come in a very scholarly journal – the Transactions of The North Staffordshire Field Club (1908).
The Reverend Thomas Barns wrote a piece for the journal back then describing the Anglo-Saxon myths surrounding this area, and says that the legend was still current among older folk at the time. Unfortunately, the Reverend Barns says no more on the subject!
So, where the myth comes from will need a lot more research.
However, the fact that the dragon is the symbol of St Margaret Of Antioch (the patron saint of the parish church) is easier to verify. The main legend around this 4th Century saint is that she was swallowed alive by the Devil (who had taken on the appearance of a dragon) – but she escaped through his mouth when the Devil coughed up the crucifix she was carrying…!
In St Margaret’s Church you can see evidence of this legend. The carving of her on the outside of the church shows her emerging from the dragon’s mouth.
Draycotts and the Dragon
The family that lorded it over the village for more than 500 years (having arrived with the Normans) was French in origin. But when the branch of the family that took over the local estates in the 12th Century decided they needed an English name reference, they chose the place where they were based, i.e. Draycott.
However, it was not until centuries later that the dragon symbol came into play for the family – when Anthony Draycott became its head, in the sixteenth century.
Anthony was quite the intellectual, and seemed to like the way that Draycott sounded like ‘draco’, the Latin for dragon, and he adopted the symbol.
Anthony was rector of both Checkley and Draycott Church, and he did a lot of renovation works in Checkley Church. You can still evidence of the works – including the bench-ends there carved into a dragon’s head..
Strangely enough, these things persist and persist as part of tradition – even through to today.
The church at Draycott remained in the ‘patronage’ of the Draycott family for many years, and the small enclosed chapel at the church is still known as The Draycott Family Chapel – even though the main Draycott branch died out long ago.
But what’s more, the dragon symbol itself carries on into the present day. Also at St Margaret’s Church you will still see some strange tall poles at the end of some of the pews. These are traditional ‘churchwardens staves’, carried by the wardens as an ancient sign of their authority. At the top of the staves are medallions of enamelled metal. And what is depicted on the medallions?
You guessed it: a dragon.
Thanks to Sarah Beardmore for all the research for this article.
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