Sunday, 1 July 2012

East Anglian Folklore: Black Shuck and Others


Tales of ghostly dogs and hounds of hell are abundant in the British countryside, with most counties having their own variation on the creature. One of the most famous of these monsters is Black Shuck (or Old Shuck), popularised throughout Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as a "black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes...who visits churchyards at midnight." (Revd E. S. Taylor). 

Throughout the centuries, there have been recorded sightings of Shuck throughout East Anglia, such as from Quaker Amelia Opie, who spotted the hound in 1829 while staying at Northrepps Cottage. In her journal she writes: "Traditions says, that every evening, at twilight, the ghost of a dog is seen to pass under the wall of this churchyard...it is known by the name of Old Shuck".

Some experts say that rather than being a traditional Black Dog, Shuck is a Bogey Beast - a shapeshifter. One of Shuck's variations is Old Shock, which in 1830 was recorded to have been able to transform into a dog or a donkey. Similarly Old Scarf would appear as a goat. Probably the weirdest of all comes from West Wratting, Cambridgeshire, which has its own Shug Monkey. The name 'Shuck' itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'scucca' meaning 'demon'.

According to some accounts, seeing Black Shuck will result in your death within a year: "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." (W. A. Dutt: 'Highways & Byways in East Anglia', 1901.)

As for its origin, Mike Burgess of Hidden East Anglia  has found references to a spectral dog in Dartford, Kent, from the rebel Jack Cade in 1450, who was accused of having "rered upp the Divell in the semblaunce of a black dogge". However, this seems to be more related to witchcraft and familiars rather than traditional Shuck lore, which possibly came about a century later. In 1577 Abraham Fleming wrote that a "black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse" wrought havoc during a storm in Suffolk.

Black Shug and other spectral hound legends persist to this day, with people claiming they have seen it roaming the East Anglian countryside. Here's a short film about Leslie Goodwin, who talks about his experience with Black Shuck in the 60s. There are a couple of photos at the bottom of this article from December 2003 of a big black dog spotted in Norfolk.

Sources:
Westwood & Simpson, The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, 2006
Mike Burgess, Hidden East Anglia, www.hiddenea.com, 2005
Norfolk Coast, www.norfolkcoast.co.uk