Black Shuck and Other Ghostly Hounds of England

Abraham Fleming's account of the appearance of Black Shuck in the sotrm in 1577
Abraham Fleming's account of the appearance of Black Shuck in the sotrm in 1577 | Source

England is an ancient country of fertile, rolling fields, dark forests, windswept moorland and, for such a small, highly populated part of the world, many lonely, remote places. Crisscrossed by straight roads built by the Roman invaders and winding, narrow lanes, it can be a landscape of rolling mist, darkness and hauntings.

One of the most persistent stories you will be told by the locals if you are brave enough to listen is of a huge, black phantom hound with slavering jaws and fire pouring from its saucer eyes.

This fearsome beast is known by many different names across the country such as Black Shuck, the Barguest and Padfoot, and sightings have been reported in nearly every English county. But what if it were true? What if this hound from hell had once existed and really been a flesh and blood animal rather than a terrifying ghostly dog sent by the devil?

You may say this is impossible, just a lot of nonsense, but archaeologists working in the ruins of Leiston Abbey in East Anglia have recently excavated the skeleton of a huge dog that would have weighed around 200lbs and stood at least seven feet tall when it was alive. This massive beast was found buried in a shallow grave in the abbey and scientists think it would have been put there around the same time as two of the most famous phantom black hound stories supposedly occurred not too far away and entered into local folklore.

For way back in 1577 on the morning of the 4th August, a huge storm raged over East Anglia and out of the flashes of lightning, claps of thunder and pouring rain the devil in the guise of a massive black demon dog materialised in the parish church in Blythburgh. As this spectral hound rampaged through the church it caused the steeple to topple and kill three parishioners, smashed the baptismal font into tiny pieces and scorched other worshippers as it ran past them.

The marks from its massive claws were discovered on the door it fled from on its way to menace the good people also attending mass in nearby Bungay church. This second visit left another two worshippers dead and one badly injured as though some invisible, infernal flames had left him burned and shrivelled.

Street light and weather vane depicting Black Shuck
Street light and weather vane depicting Black Shuck | Source

This demon hound became known as Black Shuck and local legend said if you caught sight of the massive black phantom dog or it crossed your path, then the very life would be sucked out of you and your corpse would later be discovered in the road or remote countryside you had been walking in. The name ‘shuck’ derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word ‘scucca’ which means demon. Also sometimes known as ‘old shuck’, there have been many spectral dog sightings reported around East Anglia.

If you wish to encounter this hound from hell, you need to roam the lonely lanes, riverbanks and old graveyards which he haunts after the sun has set. But you will need great courage for he is said to be the size of a calf, but so stealthy that the first you know of his presence is the brush of his rough coat as he lopes past you or the icy chill of his breath on the back of your neck.

However, reports of the phantom hound’s behaviour vary across East Anglia. In Suffolk Black Shuck is thought of as a largely benign ghostly visitor unless you are ill-advised enough to directly challenge it, as it will then attack you until you are rendered unconscious and usually died. He is also reputed to be the guardian of a lost treasure hoard, as at Clopton Hall in Stowmarket a ghastly apparition with the body of a monk and the head of a huge black dog is sighted patrolling and protecting lost gold.

Ghost Black Dog
Ghost Black Dog | Source

In Norfolk, Black Shuck has a much more fearsome reputation as local folklore states you cannot look on the demon hound and keep your life and when someone was close to dying it was said ‘the Black Dog is at his heels’. Across the border in Cambridgeshire if you encounter Black Shuck on the roads it is said to be a bad omen there will soon be a death in your family, while in Essex it is thought to actually protect any wayfarers it encounters on its nightly prowling.

If you travel further north to Yorkshire, these black ghost dogs are known as the barguest or goblin dog. Again those who have been unlucky enough to encounter one describe them as huge, black shaggy beasts with flaming saucer eyes and sometimes trailing a jangling chain behind them. To have escaped the barguest these unlucky travellers would have had to have jumped across a stream or pond as this devil’s hound cannot cross water. One of the most famous barguest hauntings is in the historic port of Whitby where it is said to roam the darkened streets and lanes at night. But be very scared if you hear it howl as this means you will die on the following day as only the doomed can hear its hellish barking.

Trollers Gill with Black Dog
Trollers Gill with Black Dog | Source

In the more rural country around Appletreewick the barguest also reputedly haunts the lonely countryside. It is said that in 1881 a very brave, or very foolish depending on your point of view, man visited a gorge called Trollers Gill after darkness fell to investigate the area where the spectral hound was rumoured to roam. Concern grew when the man failed to return and, tragically, his ripped up, mauled corpse was found by some local shepherds the next day after the sun rose.

Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | Source

One of the most famous phantom hounds in England is the fictional ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, the literary creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This spectral beast terrorised the Baskerville family around their home on Dartmoor in the county of Devon in the south west of the country and it took the genius of Sherlock Holmes to solve the case and stop the murders. Conan Doyle could have based his novel on stories he had been told by locals of the yeth hound or yell hound said to haunt the Devon woodlands after dark. This ghostly dog is particularly horrific as it is believed to be the wraith of an un-christened baby that is headless, but still manages to sob and moan.

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Scientific tests and DNA analysis are being undertaken on the massive dog skeleton unearthed in Leiston Abbey which will hopefully provide more evidence and information on which breed of dog it was, when it died and what killed it. We will probably never really know why it was given a burial in sacred ground. Perhaps it was a favoured pet or maybe it really was thought to be the dead body of Black Shuck. But we have to ask why legends of ghostly black dogs are so prevalent throughout England? Are they based on real dogs like the skeleton that has just been excavated which were bigger and more terrifying than most of the dogs at the time?

Or were these stories deliberately spread by the medieval church? The old religion and pagan customs lingered for centuries in England after the arrival of Christianity, especially in remoter, rural areas. The church was very threatened by this, so could have made up stories of ghost dogs which haunted the old places of pagan worship to frighten their parishioners into compliance and fill their pews each Sunday. Or the stories could have been spread purely for the practical reason of deterring the unwary, especially young children, from getting lost and possibly injuring themselves if they wandered into isolated backwoods, mountains or gorges.

But the next time you are walking or driving down a lonely English road after dark or are tempted to take a short-cut through the woods or across a graveyard at night, be sure to look away if you see a flash of black fur or flaming eyes out of the corner of your eye. And if you are unlucky enough to hear fiendish howling through the mist and darkness, maybe you should start praying for your soul.

Black Shuck weather vane image Keith Evans Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 generic

Trollers Gill Image Gordon Hatton Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 generic

Sources:

Black Dog Ghosts Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_dog_(ghost)

Daily Mail Black Shuck - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2629353/Is-skeleton-legendary-devil-dog-Black-Shuck-terrorised-16th-century-East-Anglia.html

Yorkshire Dales Barguest - http://www.yorkshire-dales.com/barguest.html

Mysterious Britain Phantom Black Dogs - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/phantom-black-dogs.html

Reader's Digest Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain

© 2014 CMHypno

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Comments 26 comments

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 18 months ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub again Nell and sharing Must get back to writing them again!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 19 months ago from England

Came back for another read, voted up and shared!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 24 months ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Like everything, it will happen when you least expect it!


Pollyanna Jones profile image

Pollyanna Jones 24 months ago from United Kingdom

I've not seen him yet, despite hanging around the ruins one night. We gave up after getting cold and tired! ;-)


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 24 months ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub Pollyanna. Have you ever encountered your black dog? I think we are very lucky to live in a country with such a rich folklore and so many links to our ancient past.


Pollyanna Jones profile image

Pollyanna Jones 24 months ago from United Kingdom

I really enjoyed reading your article. There are so many black dogs roaming Britain through folklore. We have one in my hometown, the Black Dog of Bordesley Abbey. Thanks for this, I've shared it on my FB page.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub Peter and glad you enjoyed it


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 2 years ago from Southeast Asia

Great article. Thank you.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

I will definitely update the phantom black hound story when i see any results from the DNA tests suzettenaples - I'm sure they will be very interesting. Thanks for reading and leaving a great comment


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub and and sharing it on FB. British folklore is very rich and there are many old traditions and hauntings over here


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub Dolores and leaving such a great comment. Very interesting story about your grandmother and the black dogs foretelling death - very spooky!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Such an interesting story and legend. Perhaps this legend will become true with the finding of the dog skeleton. It will be interesting to hear these archaeological findings and report. I have read the "Hound of the Baskervilles" and it is a great story. Now we may learn it is non-fiction. Please do a follow-up story when the findings are made public.


CarolynEmerick profile image

CarolynEmerick 2 years ago

I've read about the black ghost dog legend but never with so much detail. I love British folklore, so thank you for this! Upvoted, shared in HP and will share on a FB page called mythology and folklore as well ;-). I look forward to more of your hubs!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

Though it is morning, bright and clear with the birds singing, I could feel darkness, as if we are all sitting in some dim room or around a campfire. leaning closer to hear the tale. I think that many legends are built up around some truth. I also think this stuff comes in handy to keep the kiddies out of trouble or to warn people from wandering around in the dark.

My grandmother was German and told about black dogs coming to the house and howling to fortell death. Weirdly enough, my mother said that when my grandmother approached death (she died before I was born) a dog did show up to howl outside. They chased it away but it kept coming back. (voted up and shared)


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for the read and vote up Jodah. It will be fascinating to see what they do discover about this canine skeleton, so I'll keep you all posted if I see anything in the press


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Fascinating hub CMhypno Folklore is always an interesting read and usually based on some fact...how much is the question. I am interested to hear more about the huge canine skeleton that was found. Creepy stull. Always loved Hound of the Baskervilles. Voted up.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading Alicia. If I see any results from the testing in the press, I will update the hub - can't wait to see what they find out


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for the vote up and pin FlourishAnyway. England is a very spooky place and we have lots of tales of hauntings to tell, so you should come and visit for a ghost hunt


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading Mel. There are all kinds of large predators supposedly on the loose in England. There are regular reports of sightings of black panthers and other big cats and farmers find slaughtered livestock, so I suppose a large feral dog could be on the loose undetected. But we will probably never really know how these particular hell hound stories became so deeply embedded into our collective psyche


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is very interesting, Cynthia. I'm looking forward to the results of the tests performed on the skeleton, too. It would be exciting to learn about a new animal species, especially such a big one!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Spooky! I've never heard of this but was thoroughly engrossed by your telling of the tale. Voted up and more, plus pinning to my Halloween and Spooky Stuff board.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. I doubt a pack of 200 pound dogs could still roam free in modern England without the knowledge of the scientific community, but they probably did at one time and their shadows still linger in the collective imagination. Great hub!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thanks for reading the hub on Black Shuck bearnmom. England is a country full of hauntings and folk tales and the phantom black dogs are one of the most widespread and persistent


bearnmom profile image

bearnmom 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I've always been partial to folklore and well written renderings of such happenings. Your expose' on the hounds in England is very informative and a story I've not heard before.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun Author

Thank you Alastar, I always treasure a compliment from such a talented writer as you. How fascinating that you have had an encounter with a phantom black hound and can confirm they do indeed have red eyes. If I see a report on the DNA analysis I will update the hub with the results. People tend to laugh off reports from history about such things, but back then they lived very closely to the land and would certainly have been able to tell if an apparition was a real animal or an apparition


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 2 years ago from North Carolina

You've done it again, Cynthia; and you know that's a big compliment my friend. Where to start with this fascinating article? Ghostly canines are certainly real- whatever they are - and definitely not nonsense to those who encounter them. I've read in passing about your Black Shuck and seen pictures of the scorched church door. That is simply incredible with the massive beast remains and wonder if you'd update when the DNA tests are revealed. And Cynthia, yours true can attest from an experience, that they, or at least some of them, do indeed have red eyes.

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