Black Shuck or Old Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog which is said to roam the Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk coastline.
For centuries, inhabitants of East Anglia have told tales of a large black hellhound with malevolent flaming eyes (or in some variants of the legend a single eye) that are red or alternatively green. They are described as being ‘like saucers’. According to reports, the beast varies in size and stature from that of simply a large dog to being the size of a horse.
There are legends of Black Shuck roaming the Anglian countryside since before Vikings. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning “demon”, or possibly from the local dialect word shucky meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”. The legend may have been part of the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sometimes Black Shuck is referred to as the Doom Dog. It is said that his appearance bodes ill to the beholder, although not always. 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.
Sometimes Black Shuck has appeared headless, and at other times he appears to float on a carpet of mist. According to folklore, the spectre often haunts graveyards, sideroads, crossroads and dark forests. Black Shuck is also said to haunt the coast road between West Runton and Overstrand.
Appearance in Bungay and Blythburgh
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. He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church tower 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: “ This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) runing 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 mome[n]t where they kneeled, they stra[n]gely dyed. ”
Other accounts attribute the event to lightning or the Devil. 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. ”
The appearance in Chignal St James/Chignal Smealy, small villages near Chelmsford, Essex are said to have occurred many years ago. All those said to have seen the devil dog are rumoured to have met an untimely end within a year of seeing the red-eyed devil dog, matching the legend that all that see Black Shuck will perish within a year of looking into his eyes.
These are of course all rumours and superstition, however, many websites exist acting as directories of sighting of Black Shuck, and these can easily be found on the popular search engines. In recent times, sightings of Black Shuck in the Chignal area have been put down to sightings of black dogs that belong to resisidents roaming the village, such as The Three Elms pubs large black labradoodle and the Gardening Express nursery terrier cross.