East Anglia has long been known as the haunt of a ghostly dog known as Black Shuck. He is usually described as being a very large black dog with blazing red eyes. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning demon, or possibly from the local word shuckymeaning "shaggy" or “hairy".
It is said that to see him is an omen of impending disaster or even death, although not always! A former acquaintance of mine once saw a very large black dog – described by him as being as the size of a pony – while driving down a Suffolk lane. He suffered no ill-effects!
On the 4th August 1577, Shuck is alleged to have entered St Mary’s Church in Bungay during a violent storm. He ran down the aisle, attacking several members of the congregation.
An old verse records:
'All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew
And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew'
An account of Shuck's appearance was described in "A Straunge and Terrible Wunder" by the Rev Abraham Fleming in 1577.
"There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer...in the parish church...of Bongay, the people therabouts inhabiting...Immediately hereupon, there appeared in a most horrible similitude and likenesse to the congregation then and there present a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour; at the site whereof, togither with the fearful flashes of fire which were then seene, moved such admiration in the minds of the assemblie, that they thought doomesday was already come. This black dog, or the divil in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth all who worketh all) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed betweene two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died… There was at ye same time another wonder wrought; for the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that therewith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up ,as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with string. The man albeit hee was in so strange a taking, dyed not, but as it is thought is yet alive. The Clark of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten downe, and beside his fall had no further harme...there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church dore which are mervelously renten and torne, ye marks as it were of his clawes or talans. Beside, that all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were wrung in sunder, and broken in peces...These things are reported to be true..."
It should be noted that the Churchwarden’s account book from the time does indeed mention the storm. The parish register also records the death of two men in the belfry. Neither mentions a dog or even attribute the incident to the work of the Devil.
Some modern scholars attribute the whole mysterious event to a lighting strike. And did it coincide with the appearance of a terrified dog seeking shelter from the storm?
Scratch marks on the inside of the north door are still pointed out as evidence of Shuck's visit.
A few inhabitants of Bungay claim the dog still haunts the town.
John is a producer, TV/radio presenter and writer living in Suffolk