Weird Suffolk: Does White Shuck haunt a cursed hill in Suffolk?
- Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers
A white hell hound stalking a hill belonging to a water-loving demon – it’s double jeopardy for anyone daring to walk late at night in Burgh near St Botolph’s Church in Suffolk.
Call the beast what you will – White Shuck, Grendel, Gally Trot or Cacodaemon – something sinister has been associated with the Woodbridge neighbourhood for centuries.
Over hundreds of years, a selection of stories have formed a dark cloud over this particular section of Suffolk, a seemingly-peaceful pocket of land with rolling hills and quaint villages watched over by a church built within an Iron Age enclosure where a substantial Roman villa once stood.
St Botolph’s Church at Burgh sits on a hill which, legend has it, is itself the home of a demon who loves water.
Witnesses have reported seeing a beast in the shape of a dog as big as a bullock and pure white. Sometimes, the shape of the creature is somewhat indefinable and it prefers to lurk in boggy areas and will give chase to anyone that it sees.
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Some believe that the creature is a church grim, a supernatural beast which takes the form of a large dog and would guard the churchyard from thieves, vandals, witches, warlocks and the Devil – once upon a time, it was a custom to bury a dog alive under the cornerstone of a church as a foundation sacrifice so that its ghost could serve as a guardian.
This somewhat grisly superstition was, in its way, an act of kindness: before the dog ritual it had been believed that the first person buried in a new churchyard would be bound to guard it themselves, burying the dog exempted them from a lifetime of purgatory.
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Dr Sam Newton is an expert on the Old English epic, Beowulf, a majestic poem about a young warrior who comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, whose kingdom is being terrorised by a monster called Grendel. Warrior Beowulf slays Grendel in Hrothgar’s mead hall and then Grendel’s mother in her underwater lair. He later becomes kind of the Danes.
In the seventh century, villagers in nearby Grundisburgh – whose name itself is said by some to come from the Anglo-Saxon word for Grendel – wanted to exorcise the demon under the hill at Burgh. St Botolph, was one of the earliest and most revered of East Anglian saints and was revered for his ability to expel Suffolk’s swamps of their “devils”.
The truth of the matter was that Saxon noble Botolph and his brother Adolph had actually drained the marshes and eliminated the “marsh gas” with its luminescent glow at night. He died in 680 and his remains were divided into three, the relics brought to London through various towns and villages.
Some say that St Botolph’s remains stayed at the Burgh church for 50 years, regardless of the length of his stay, it is said that villagers felt safer after the Saint’s bones had reached Burgh, perhaps because they had heard of his abilities as an exorcist in the case of marsh-dwelling monsters.
In his book The Origins of Beowulf: And the Pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia, Dr Newton notes similarities between Beowulf’s Grendel and Shuck – he notes that both have been described in a number of different ways and that Grendel, like Shuck, is somewhat wolf-like.
Grendel has “bright and flame-like” eyes, Shuck has eyes which are saucer-shaped and which burn like coals, and Shuck – like Grendel - is associated with fens and marshland where he emerges, usually at night, to prowl in his favoured haunts.
Did St Botolph’s saintly remains exorcise the spirit that once haunted this place before they were removed and reburied in Bury St Edmunds? And could Black (or White) Shuck be the inspiration for one of the most famous stories of all time?
For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.