The name of Salesbury is well known in Denbighshire, and you will find several stories within these pages in which the Salesbury family are involved, whether it is the siege of Denbigh Castle during the English Civil War, or the astonishingly decorated Rug Chapel. It is perhaps not a surprise then, to find the name being linked to variety of stories which probably originated with others. One such is the tale of the Denbigh Dragon. The hero is said to have been John Salesbury, of which there have been a few, though there are various suggestions as to the date of the tale. It is more than likely that the original hero of the tale, was a giant of a man, one Sion y bodiau (John of the Thumbs), so named for the curious fact that he had eight fingers and two thumbs on each hand.
Denbigh Castle was at this time possessed by an immense dragon, which had fell upon the town and slept in the Great Hall. Several times a day, it would take to the skies and prey on anything which it spied with its lizard eyes, whether human, sheep or cattle. Fear swept through the area, and few would venture out for fear of being swept up by the fearsome beast.
The call went out for a hero to rid the townsfolk of the dragon, and the call was answered by Sion y bodiau, a warrior of great renown. Wielding an enormous broadsword in his huge hands, and in full armour, he rode into the Castle upon a huge shire horse, boldly calling out the dragon for the evil creature it was.
Slithering out of the Great Hall, the dragon immediately confronted the knight. Battle was met at once, with claw meeting shield and plate, swords raising sparks upon the scales of the dragon. For hours this continued, as neither man nor beast seemed to fade. The townsfolk could hear the awful sounds of battle from the homes in which they cowered, they could see the sparks and arcs of fire from the dragon’s breath rising from the Castle’s inner ward.
It is said that the stalemate ended as Sion saw two bald patches at the base of each wing, unscaled and so unarmoured. Sensing his opportunity, Sion waited until the beast reared up, extending its wings and raining its lithe serpentine head as if ready to spew its molten breath at the knight. The giant knight lunged forwards, driving his broadsword up and into one of the weak spots beneath the beast’s wing, skewering the dragon. The beast fell back and began to writhe in on itself at speed, screaming in pain. Choosing his moment carefully, Sion brought down his blade and cut through the dragon’s neck, almost severing the head from his body. In truth, it took a few more mighty blows before the head fell to the ground.
Sion stuck the dragons head on the end of his blade, and holding it up he proudly descended the hill to town. As the noise from the Castle had died, the townsfolk had timorously begun to emerge from their homes, and upon seeing the blood smeared figure of Sion y bodiau riding through the streets with the dragons head on his sword, they cheered, shouting, ‘Dim bych!’, which translates as ‘No dragon!’ The story goes that this is how the town gained its name.