The Shapwick Monster
On October 12th 1706, in the parish of Shapwick, a travelling fishmonger from Poole bound for Bere Regis dropped a crab on the outskirts of the village (a farm nearby commemorates this event adeptly named "Crab Farm").
The villages, who had never seen a crab before and believed it was some kind of Devil or monster, armed themselves with sticks and pitchforks in attempt to drive away the creature.
The fishmonger eventually returned in search of his lost crab saw the commotion caused by the villagers. Amused by their ignorance he casually picked up the crab, put it back in his basket, and continued on his journey, spreading the word of the dim-witted villagers of Shapwick.
Since then, the villagers of Shapwick were looked upon as a bit simple and daft. That no one from the famed village dare visit a fishmonger stall at the local markets in fear of being ridiculed. Therefore, the stigma remains today - at least that is what some may like to believe.
John Symonds Udal's publication "Dorsetshire Folklore" includes a similar tale, although the monster is identified as a tortoise or lobster. Interestingly he also mentions that, as a proverbial saying, "A Shapwick Monster" is something too extraordinary to be explained.
The story is best remembered in this amusing poem published in 1841, written and illustrated by East Anglian artist Buscall Fox (1818 - 1887), whilst lodging at the home of Mary Harrington and her family at West Street, Sturminster Marshall, Dorset.
William Barnes Society member Rod Drew reads the poem in the video below:
THE SHAPWICK MONSTER
by Buscall Fox
In every clime and country known,
'Tis held men most esteem their own;
Each County Town and Parish too,
Still hold tenacious to this view;
Wher'er we go, wher'er we roam,
The mind still fondly turns to home;
And though when jokes we tell of others,
There's scarce a man his laugh who smothers,
Against our birth but be the laugh
We think the jokes too bad by half;
Forgetting "unto others do
As you would have them do to you."
Thus of the Parish where befell
The tale I am about to tell,
I speak of Crabs they straight grow Crabbed,
And foam at mouth like a dog that's rabid:
Strange to take umbrage at a word
More than a century on record,
Made every Bumpkin run away.
No joking matter then but rather
A terror 'twas to son and father,
But brevity is the soul of wit,
Drop we our moralizing fit,
Against others faults no more we'll rail
But tell our plain unvarnished tale.
Once on a time, some years ago,
A Fishmonger it happened so,
His fish to sell o'er common wide,
Was forced against his will to ride,
For Blandford folk (so says my tale), he
Had like his fish found rather scaley,
And trotting on, by fortune crossed,
One of his finest Crabs he lost,
This happened on his road to Bere
Near Shapwick town , in Dorsetshire.
'Twas eve, the sun was going down.
When from his work a country clown,
Trudging along in simple nature,
By chance, trod on the crawling creature;
He found it more with sudden start,
Against his bosom bumped his heart,
Whilst panic fear assail'd his mind
Sideways, like Crab, he crawled behind,
And horror-struck in every feature,
He gaped upon the wondrous creature.
So strange the monster did appear
He thought the Devil himself was there.
His hair erect stood bolt upright,
As if he'd really seen a sprite,
He stood and viewed it at a distance,
Then thought he'd hasten for assistance,
"I'll run", qoth he, "to Shapwick town,
And there I'll make the wonder known."
Away he ran, and one by one,
He told them, every mother's son,
The horrid zite that he'd a-zeen,
Crawling upon the common green.
Enough, the country all did hie
The hideous monster to decry,
With stick and stone the silly elves
For their defence did arm themselves,
And confident in all their strength
The monster went to find a length,
But when the place in sight appears,
The scene of all poor Bumpkins fears,
Old Hobson who before had found him
Cried, "There, that's he, let's all surround him
For he's as zwift of foot, I'm zure
He's got a dozen legs or more,
With hooked claws upon his feet all,
And pinchers like a great black beetle."
The Crab a thymy bank had found,
And crawling on the fragrant ground
Still met their fearful eyes regards,
Tho' distance, at least fifty yards,
Then each to other of them swore
They'd never zeen the like before.
At length out spoke the Farmer John,
"Neighbours, I never look'd upon
So strange a zite as this afore.
And hope I never may no more;
Nobody knows from whence he came,
And not a zoul o' us knows his name.
Now Shepherd Rowe is the likeliest man
To tell his name if any can;
In Shapwick Parish there can't be
A cuter man than he can be,
But how to get him, there's my fears,
For he's been bed-ridden now six years."
However, to his house they went,
And told the sage their full intent,
Hoping their suit he'd not deny,
But go the monster to descry.
The Shepherd, struck with vast surprise,
Was first unwilling to arise,
But the recital of their fear
At length so wondrous did appear,
That he upon their earnest prayer
Consented to be carried there.
But of the joke now comes the marrow,
They wheel'd him there in a wheelbarrow
Such was the couch procured in haste,
Coaches in Shapwick ain't the taste,
And now a careful driver found,
For steady wheeling high renowned,
They in the barrow placed the sage,
Whose head was silver'd o'er with age,
And on they went, with all the town
Encircling the poor Shepherd round;
But when the Crab the Shepherd saw,
Each crooked leg, each ponderous claw,
Near thirty yards from where it stood,
The sweat of fear his face bedewed,
And knowing that he could not fly,
He feared the man might wheel too nigh,
And roar'd aloud half choked with cough,
"Tis a land monster, wheel me off!"
And terror-struck exclaim'd again,
"Wheel off, wheel off, or we're all dead men!"
Just at that time the man came back,
Who lost the Crab from his pack,
He saw the Crab you will not ask it,
Seized it and flung it in his basket.
Amazement seized the admiring crowd,
Who thus their fears expressed aloud-
"Take care, he'll bite, you've caught the Devil!"
"Pooh, Pooh," replied the man quite civil,
"If Devil he is, as I am a sinner,
I'll eat the Devil for my dinner."
But when they all perceived the man
Feared not the monster, each one ran
In haste the wondrous sight to view,
Asked how he risked to catch it too?
The Fishmonger with wide opening eyes
Expressed his sovereign surprise,
As with a sneer he thus replies-
"You silly fools, can it be true
A fish so common you don't know?
This is a Crab caught in the sea,
This morning it was lost by me,
So many fools upon the green
At one time sure was never seen."
Confounded they on each did look,
And rapidly the Down forsook,
Leaving the Fishmonger the pleasure
Of laughing at them at his leisure.
But ever since the shapwick folk,
By no means relish this same joke;
Like an old sore under scab,
They hate the very name of Crab
And each his coat is sure to doff,
At those empatic words, "Wheel me off!"
If one but speaks them as he passes,
'Tis ten to one he's mobbed by asses,
For ignorant fools all Banke's Mappick,
You'll find none can compete with Shapwick.