WEIRD SUFFOLK: The Black Shuck of Bardwell…who wasn’t black
PUBLISHED: 18:00 03 October 2020
Another shaggy dog story for Suffolk: has Black Shuck gone for an updated image in Bardwell to match his glowing red eyes?
We know that Suffolk has more than its fair share of shaggy dog stories thanks to its link with hell hound Black Shuck: and here’s the tale of his appearance in Bardwell.
Suffolk has long-since feared the devil dog with eyes as red as glowing coals which stalks the highways and byways close to the coast. From Blythburgh to Bungay, Bury to Barham, Old – or Black – Shuck has been witnessed by terrified onlookers who have ensured that the terrifying tales of his influence over his kingdom have been passed down through the generations.
The tales are of a hell hound with flaming red eyes and shaggy black hair that stood seven feet in height and had savage claws as sharp as scalpels – a mere glimpse of the dog would impart a fatal curse on those unlucky enough to spy him, and that was if he hadn’t already sealed their fate with a swipe of his deadly claws.
At Blythburgh and Bungay in the 16th century, Shuck left the dead in his wake after bursting into churches and scattering the worshippers, killing those who got in his way. In his 1577 pamphlet A Straunge And Terrible Wunder, the Rev Abraham Fleming recounted the story: ‘This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely dyed.
Reverend ES Taylor wrote about Black Shuck in 1850: “This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight.”
And in 1901, historian William Dutt in Highways and Byways in East Anglia, published in 1901, described Black Shuck and his place in local folklore.
“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound,” he wrote.
“You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops’, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year.
“So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”
The encounter with Bardwell’s Shuck was received by Mike Burgess of the excellent Hidden East Anglia website (www.hiddenea.com), a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful in the region in 1983.
He received two letters from Janet Jones, the niece of the witness, which read: “I’ve heard my mother tell that her sister and a friend saw it [the ‘phantom hound’] as they cycled home [on the road between Bardwell Hall and Ixworth] one night...
“The two people concerned were driving home when they were confronted by two gleaming eyes; at this stage there was no shape but gradually it appeared as a dog; it was in the road but near the side. For a few minutes it stood there then turned and went into the bushes. The colour appeared reddish-brown.”
Bardwell Hall itself is said to have a ghost, that of a lady dressed in red, but whether she has a matching pet dog is a matter for debate.
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