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.
The following story was once told by 'beach-folk' along the East Anglian coast:
An Italian gentleman once appeared in a small seaside hamlet. He spoke English and soon befriended a local fisherboy, offering to take him abroad. The boy refused and so the stranger asked him to look after his dog instead, a large black retriever.
The Italian left the area, the dog being left in the boy's care. It was noted that the dog and man had never ever been seen together during the gentleman's time there.
The lad often went for a swim in the sea, and the dog always joined him. One day, he swam far out to sea and was horrified to find that the dog would not allow him to return to shore, snapping and snarling at him as he tried to turn for land.
On and on he swam, the dog never far behind. At one point he turned and was terrified to see, not the dog but the face of the Italian! Grinning the man changed back into the dog and made for the boy's neck. At this point, the boy hailed a passing ship and was quickly pulled abroad. The dog, deprived of his victim, dived like a whale, never to be seen again.
It is hard to believe that this quiet village was once one of the most prosperous towns in England. Coastal erosion has now resulted in most of the town, including nine churches, being lost to the sea. It is said that you can still hear sunken church bells ringing out a mournful tune. Local fishermen believe that they are only heard before a storm.
The ghosts of the town’s former inhabitants – including a man dressed in Elizabethan clothes - are said to haunt the shore below the cliffs. The ghostly laughter of children has also been heard. Greyfriar’s monastery is supposedly haunted by the obligatory phantom monks.
There is a tradition that three crowns were buried in East Anglia to protect England from invasion. One was hidden in Dunwich but was lost when the town fell into the sea. The second was discovered in Rendlesham in the 18th century but was melted down for the gold. The third remains buried somewhere along the coast. M.R. James based his classic ghost story ‘A Warning to the Curious’ on this legend. Or did Mr James invent the legend himself?
To find one is said to bring good fortune - especially if thrown by a horse. The custom was to hang them on your front door with the open end pointing upwards. This was to prevent the luck falling out. A horseshoe on the door was also believed to prevent witches from entering your home.
A legend has it that under a certain gatepost in Dallinghoo lies a hidden treasure. The ghost of the former owner also haunts the site to protect his hoard - even the efforts of twelve clergymen failed to send him on his way!
Attempts to locate the treasure are now fruitless as no-one can remember where the gatepost stood!
Another ghost also haunts the area. A widow by the name of Shawe cut her throat and was later seen haunting the lanes around the village. She is always seen without her feet!
It could be that her spirit is simply a recording and she's walking on an earlier ground level.
The March issue of Starburst features a great spread on Winifred Meeks. The film was written/directed by Jason Figgis and produced by John West.
A feature length documentary devoted to M. R. James, the celebrated author, is due to be released soon. Here is the trailer vimeo.com/317799949. The film is directed by Jason Figgis and I'm the associate producer/publicist.
Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector in 1653, was said to have buried chests containing treasure in a group of ancient barrows, known as the Three Hills. Despite several attempts to locate the hoard, the chests remain hidden.
RAF Mildenhall is said to be haunted by the ghost of an American airman. In 1969, a homesick sergeant got drunk and stole a C-130 cargo plane. He crashed in the ocean after supposedly trying to make it back to the USA. His body was never found.
His ghost reportedly wanders the parking area where he took off on his last flight.
The February issue of Psychic News features my investigation of haunted churches in London www.psychicnews.org.uk/
John is a producer, TV/radio presenter and writer living in Suffolk