Last weekend’s Bungay Black Shuck festival shows that fascination in this intriguing myth still endures. Many East Anglian residents believe the beast, shaggy in appearance with shining eyes and slavering lips, still patrols our lanes. The festival celebrated the beast by holding art exhibitions, a parade consisting of “costumed characters depicting all of our local legends, Tudors, Fire Sprites and of course Black Shuck himself”. It also featured talks from Helen Bruce and Christopher Reeve about ghosts, folklore and the black dog myths, among other activities.
A beast of terror
According to legend Black Shuck entered Bungay church in 1577 and then made its way to Blythburgh church where it was imprisoned, and its claw marks can still be seen on the church’s doors today. Two people were alleged to have been killed by the dog in Bungay before it travelled the 12 miles to Blythburgh, where a further two people are said to have lost their lives. The Norfolk visual artist and writer, Nick Stone, has written about the subject of black dogs and mythology in his Invisible Works series, where he has discovered that stories about this restless canine are narrated across the world and not simply the UK. Lincolnshire calls the mutt the hairy beast, in Germany the ghostly hound is known as the Roggenwolf.
Much of the Suffolk tale appears be accompanied by bad weather. 1577 was the year of the ‘great comet,’ and the Bungay shuck appearance coincided with horrendous thunderstorms. The steeple of Blythburgh church collapsed, due to a lightning strike. Perhaps this is the reason behind the marks on the door – not Shuck’s claws.
This tale also may have been due to the English reformation – a turbulent period of English history. Good old-fashioned propaganda was put out by the catholic church, citing the work of the devil in a bid to retain Catholicism across the UK, not forgetting the infamous witch hunts that took place throughout East Anglia.
Many tales of mysterious hounds
It was the 1127 fenland apparition recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle where the word ‘shuck’ is first employed, taken from the Old English for devil, ‘succa.’ Apparently the arrival of the new abbot, Henry of Poitou, set the wheels in motion for the appearance of mysterious huntsmen riding their black hounds and wreaking havoc in the area from the start of Lent until Easter.
The Bungay apparition was described by the 16th-century Cambridge historian, Abraham Fleming, in A Straunge and Terrible Wunder, and the story is further narrated in Highways and Byways in East Anglia by William Alfred Dutt.
Black Shuck today
Whatever the truth behinds these tales, or even if there is a truth, the story of Black Shuck still intrigues and fascinates. The Norfolk author, Chris Spalton, has made a video about the subject and even the Suffolk band, the Darkness, wrote a song devoted to Black Shuck.
There was a terrible storm last Saturday, 6 August. Thus far, no Black Shuck appearances are on record. The Bungay Shuck Shop at the Market Place, featuring works by local artists, books and crafts celebrating Black Shuck, is open until 18 August.
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