Imagine, if you will, a sixteenth century village on the coast of East Anglia. It is August, but an enormous storm has taken hold and the sky is dark and rain hammers the ground with force. A congregation are cowering inside a small church, hiding from the ferocious weather, the sounds of which are deafening and frightful.
As the air is cracked by an enormous whip of lightening, the church doors are flung back on their hinges and through them, from out of the chaos and amongst a crash of thunder and flashes of light, a beast enters.
This creature, huge and black with long fur matted and coarse with the rain, comes pounding down the aisle with red eyes glowing and a spine-chilling howl and snarl issuing forth from his mighty throat.
Into the congregation it runs and bodies press and trample one another in a bid to escape this unearthly creature. Screams and shouting are smothered by the louder crashes of thunder and cracks of lightning. The cacophony is embellished by a tumultuous crescendo when the old church roof splits asunder and falls inwards. The steeple has collapsed and brings down with it the timbers above people’s heads.
The black and monstrous creature takes his leave and in his wake, two are found dead and lasting scorch marks glow embedded upon the door.
It is easy to see how legends can take hold in a community when events such as the above occur and the stories of black dogs throughout the country abound. But Suffolk is home to some of the most abundant and infamous tales, including those of Black Shuck.
Black Shuck is said to be a ghostly black dog who roams predominantly the Suffolk coast but also the forests, small lanes, fields, open waters and, of course, graveyards of the county. He is said to be a huge creature, standing seven-foot tall with shaggy black hair and glowing, fiery red eyes. It is said that, although you will hear his howl, you will not hear his foot-steps and perhaps to see him it is an omen of death for you or a close one.
The events above have often been attributed to Black Shuck and yet accounts of various black dogs and mysterious events connected with them lays open the possibility of it being another apparition entwined in the legend.
The Black Dog legends of Blythburgh and Bungay both occurred on 4th August 1577. By various accounts it is widely accepted that on that day there was a huge electrical storm. We all know how frightening these can be and so it is not hard to imagine what it must have felt like to those living in a time with less scientific knowledge and reasoning and a heavier reliance on religion and the supernatural. If you were cowering in the dark with an enormous storm raging overhead and then the roof falls in and because of all the chaos around you two people lose their lives; it is understandable that when your clergyman writes of a devil creature being the cause, you will believe him. This is what the Rev Abraham Flemming did in a pamphlet published in 1577, entitled ‘Straunge and Terrible Wunder.’
With our more modern approach to things, we can see it is much more likely that the church was hit by lightning, causing the steeple to crash through the roof and for two people to lose their lives in the devastation. What’s more, at this time, the reformation was taking place and so the likelihood is that the Reverend Flemming used the situation and what was most probably already an urban legend of a large devil dog, to his advantage to frighten his congregation and steer them towards more godly attendance.
But you can’t beat a good legend and to this day there are sightings still of black dogs around the county. Some inspire terror, others are seen almost as a companion, accompanying lone walkers for a distance before disappearing seemingly into nowhere and I am sure these stories will continue.
If you find yourself walking alone at night through an unlit village or driving home in the early hours with no-one else to be seen, or perhaps have risen before dawn to roam along the coast in pre-daylight contemplation, then perhaps, you too will see one of Suffolk’s legendary Black Dogs.
Have you seen Black Shuck? Let us know in the comments section below, or get in touch…