Weird Suffolk: Curious man-beast of Clopton charged with guarding a saint’s treasure

Freezing fog across the fields in Clopton.

Freezing fog across the fields in Clopton.

A terrifying man-dog hybrid is said to stalk the site where St Felix of Burgundy buried his treasure in Suffolk – but is it a dog-headed monk, or a monk-headed dog?

Folklore is a mysterious mistress – stories passed down over the years take twists

and turns through history, evolving as the years pass: and this strange tale of the man-beast of Clopton is no exception – not only does the location of the story change, so does the appearance of the beast.

Whether at Clopton near Woodbridge or Clopton Green near Stowmarket (our preference is for the former) the story goes like this: according to legend, St Felix buried treasure at Clopton in Suffolk in the late ninth century and left a huge, Shuck-like dog and a monk in place to guard the bounty.

Through the centuries, there were reports that the area was haunted by a terrifying beast.

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In Alasdair Alpin MacGregor’s The Ghost Book of 1955, he writes: “So the vicinity is supposed to be haunted by something half dog and half monk – an enormous hound with a monk’s head. Up White foot lane (in Burgh parish), named incidentally after this phantom, the villagers are loath to pass in the dark. In the old hall there’s a priest’s chamber which, as they say, must not be disturbed, if one would wish to avoid seeing the creature.”

But a later source says that the Clopton Hall in question boasts a reverse beast: “At Clopton Hall, Stowmarket, where he [Black Shuck] guards a hoard of gold, his appearance is especially frightening for he has the body of a monk and the head of a hound,” it says in Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain (Reader’s Digest, 1973, Weird Suffolk’s Weird Bible). Another traditional story differs slightly.

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When a farmer whose farm was next to Clopton Hall near Wickhambrook died suddenly, a rumour began that he had left riches behind that were waiting to be taken – the new owner hunted for the money, but found nothing. Three days after the farmer’s funeral, a farmworker saw a dark figure in the farmyard which looked like his old boss: he took it as a sign that his treasure was buried in the yard, but when he and co-workers turned over the yard, they found nothing. In the months that followed, the dark figure appeared again – this time at night and in the bedroom of the farmworker’s son, beckoning him to follow him – on each occasion, the young man sent the spirit packing, only telling his father what had happened after the third spectral visit. Furious, his father told him about the treasure but the ghost never returned and the boy followed in the family tradition and worked at the farm, bitter that he hadn’t taken his chance to find his fortune buried near Clopton Hall and keen to tell anyone who would listen his sorry story.

One night in a pub in Wickhambrook, a man was telling a tale he’d heard from a man from Melford about a battle that had taken place in Acton between Boudicca fighting the Romans and the warrior queen taking all the Roman treasure, other than one chest of gold which was thrown into Wimbrell pond and guarded by a ghost.The Wickhambrook farmhand suddenly realised his fortune was to be made – chasing the treasure guarded by ghosts – in Acton, where he encountered a spirit guarding a chest and lost his nerve and then at Clopton near Rattlesden where, in a pub, he was told another ghost story about treasure.

A man told him that the treasure was St Felix’s and was guarded by a monk and a dog. When he went to investigate, he heard a bark and from the undergrowth leapt the glowing figure of a monk in a habit

and sandals, with the head of a dog.

Defeated once again, he found another Clopton with a similar story, this one near Woodbridge where he was confronted with another hybid man-beast: this time a monk-headed dog.

Human-faced dogs have been persistent in the local folklore of Japan since the early 1600s – the Jinmenken are said to have the ability to speak and, if approached, will often implore onlookers, in a willowy voice, to leave them alone. The Jinmenken are thought to be a bad omen for things to come and were often blamed for accidents and disasters.

In a tale filled with questions, two persist: is a Shuck-headed monk a Shonk? Is a monk-headed Shuck a Muck?

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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