Weird Suffolk: Black Shuck of Barham, the hell hound that chased two men before vanishing into thin air
- Credit: Archant
It’s a Suffolk shaggy dog story that has been passed down through generations. Black Shuck is a regular visitor to Suffolk, and on this occasion we visit Barham to discover how a late-night walk home became a terrifying race with a dog sent from hell.
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.”
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All these stories bring us to Barham near Ipswich in around 1917. The East Anglian Magazine, volume six, number nine of 1947 published a letter from FW Kent in May: “I well remember seeing this hell hound one night about 30 years ago. It was at Barham, near Ipswich, on the main Norwich Road. I was working as a warrener and had been out setting traps with another man,” he wrote. “We were returning home along Barham Church Lane about 10 o’clock at night and were just passing Barham Hall Gates when we saw a large dog lying in the middle of the road. It got up and began to follow us. It had a rough coat and big luminous eyes and its height was about 2 ½ feet.
“One moment it was on our heels and the next moment it had vanished. I struck at it very hard with a stick I was carrying, but the stick went right through it. Had it been an ordinary dog the blow would have killed it. It bounded away down Barham Church Lane, crossed the main Ipswich-Norwich road and disappeared through a solid brick wall. That was the last I saw of it.”
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Is Shuck still at large in Barham? And does he only favour places in Suffolk that begin with the letter ‘B’? If so, could we offer a warning to Babergh, Bacton, Badingham, Badley, Badwell Ash, Ballingdon, Bardwell, Barking, Barnardiston, Barnby, Barnham, Barningham, Barrow, Barsham, Barton Mills, Battisford, Bawdsey, Baylham, Bedfield, Belstead, Benacre, Benhall, Bentley, Beyton, Bildeston, Blaxhall, Bloodsman’s Corner, Blundeston, Blyford, Botesdale, Boulge, Boxford, Boxted, Boyton, Bradfield Combust, Bradfield St. Clare, Bradfield St George, Braiseworth, Bramfield, Bramford, Brampton, Brandon, Brandeston, Brantham, Bredfield, Brent Eleigh, Bressingham, Brettenham, Bridge Street, Brightwell, Brockford, Brockley, Brome, Brome Street, Bromeswell, Bruisyard, Brundish, Bucklesham, Bulcamp, Bures St. Mary, Burgate, Burgh, Burstall, Bury St Edmunds, Butley and Buxhall to look out for shaggy dog stories?