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Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or simply Shuck is the name given to an unknown creature said to roam in East Anglia. Black Shuck is one of many ghostly black dogs recorded across the British Isles.

The famous sighting in Bungay and Blythburg is a particularly famous account of the beast, and images of black sinister dogs have become part of the iconography of the area.

In Wales a very similar creature is called a Gwyllgi.

Myths & Legends

Sometimes recorded as an omen of death, sometimes a more companionable animal, it is classified as a cryptid.

According to folklore, the spectre haunts the landscapes of East Anglia, primarily coastline, graveyards, sideroads, crossroads, bodies of water and dark forests.

Appearance

For centuries, inhabitants of England have told tales of a large black dog with malevolent flaming eyes (or in some variants of the legend a single eye) that are red or alternatively green. These eyes are described as being 'like saucers'. In some accounts, it only has one eye, which is in the middle of its forehead like a Cyclops.

There are varying accounts of the Black Shuck's appearance, especially in size. According to reports, the beast varies in size and stature from that of simply a large dog to being the size of a calf or even a horse. Sometimes Black Shuck is recorded as having appeared headless, and at other times as floating on a carpet of mist. However, it is generally described as about the size of a mastiff, with shaggy black fur and glowing red eyes.

W. A. Dutt, in his 1901 Highways & Byways in East Anglia describes the creature thus:

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. 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.

Killing Parishoners in a Church

One of the most notable reports of Black Shuck is of his appearance at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk. On 4 August 1577, at Blythburgh, Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the church doors to a clap of thunder. He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day. The encounter on the same day at Bungay was described in A Straunge and Terrible Wunder by the Reverend Abraham Fleming in 1577.

Adams was a clergyman from London, and therefore probably only published his account based on exaggerated oral accounts. Other local accounts attribute the event to the Devil (Abrahams calls the animal "the Divel in such a likeness"). The scorch marks on the door are referred to by the locals as "the devil’s fingerprints", and the event is remembered in this verse: All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew, and, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew. Dr. David Waldron and Christopher Reeve suggest that a fierce electrical storm recorded by contemporary accounts on that date, coupled with the trauma of the ongoing Reformation, may have led to the accounts entering folklore.

*Some peoples describe these as separate from black dogs or black shuck and classify this as a hell hound. A famous representation would be in the American television series, "Supernatural". In this famous representation, however, the hounds are invisible.

Omen of Calamity or Benign Guide?

According to some legends, the dog's appearance bodes ill to the beholder - for example in the Essex Maldon and Dengie area of Essex, the most southerly point of sightings, where seeing Black Shuck means the observer's almost immediate death. However, more often than not, stories tell of Black Shuck terrifying his victims, but leaving them alone to continue living normal lives; in some cases it has supposedly happened before close relatives to the observer die or become ill.

By contrast, in other tales the animal is regarded as relatively benign and said to accompany women on their way home in the role of protector rather than a portent of ill omen. Some black dogs have been said to help lost travellers find their way home and are more often helpful than threatening; Sherwood notes that benign accounts of the dog become more regular towards the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries. In Northern England the spectral black dog who acts as a guide to travellers is known as the Gytrash.

Origins

Many suggest that this creature originated, or at least became more well-known, from the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Conan Doyle.

Dr Simon Sherwood suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is an account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles] around 1127. This account also appears to describe the Europe-wide phenomenon of a Wild Hunt:

Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after [Abbot Henry of Poitou's arrival at Peterborough Abbey] - it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare - many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and their hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Lincolnshire Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.

Modern Depictions

Literature

  • This variant of black dog is the one most connected to the novel Sherlock Holmes: Hound of the Baskervilles, where it makes an appearance.
  • It is a comparative to Frederick Marryat's 1837 novel Snarleyyow, or the Dog Fiend, which tells the tale of a troublesome ship's dog.
  • The Kettle Chronicles: The Black Dog of Bungay by I.S. Morgan (2006) is a historical novel recounting the events and aftermath of August 1577.

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