Feb 8th 2015
ed. by Bob Trubshaw
"The younger Generation do not beleve a lot that the old ones tell them these days. There used to be all sorts of legends in those days, gosts of all sorts, tales of Weanling Calves and shaggy Dogs that walked on the high way, and men riden about with no Heads on, and Panthom Carrages runing about the Cuntry side, I never se none of them but the old People beleved that it was all true."
The 'King of the Norfolk Poachers', in 'I Walked by Night' (ed. Lilias Rider Haggard 1935.)
This site is about Shuck - Old Shuck, Black Shuck, Shuck Dog, Shock, Old Shocks, Old Hucks - call him what you will. He's Shuck, the ghostly dog who has wandered the dark lanes and windswept coasts of East Anglia for centuries.
Thus is he often described in the literature: "He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer's blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops', is in the middle of his head. But 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.)
Or from a more recent source: "He usually appears as a black shaggy dog of enormous size, with eyes like saucers that glow in the dark, but sometimes he is invisible, his presence only detected from the blast of his hot breath and his padding footsteps." (Jennifer Westwood: 'Albion', 1985.)
Shuck is a creature out of legend, but people still say that they see him today - and not always as he's described above. Within these pages you'll find 82 legends and 172 encounters that I've gathered over the years, and you'll see him as everything from a normal-sized Retriever type to something as big as a donkey, from a fiery-eyed fiend to a friendly walking companion, from a headless dog with saucer eyes (!) to a Labrador who shrank to the size of a cat. He's a cunning canine, is Black Shuck: he's not always black, and he's not always a canine!
Throughout much of Britain, tales persist of such supernatural dogs, with names like Barguest, Trash, Padfoot, Shag, Church Grim and Capelthwaite. Often he's just known as the Black Dog, and he travels the byways from Cornwall to Kent, from Sussex to Sutherland.
Even in the eastern counties, other names crop up for these paranormal beasts. For example, we have the Galleytrot in Suffolk, Shaen's Shaggy Dog in Essex, and in Norfolk, there's Old Scarfe, Old Rugman, Skeff and the Hateful Thing.
But predominantly, East Anglia is Shuckland. As a native of Lowestoft, right on the border of the two counties, my research has concentrated on Norfolk and Suffolk, with fewer tales emerging from Essex and Cambridgeshire. [Note: I'm using the pre-1974 county boundaries of East Anglia here.] Then again, I haven't done any active research into the subject for about thirty years, so no doubt there are many stories that I've missed. (Please feel free to send me any new tales, or to give your comments on this site, using the email address below.)
Although there's a series of pages here called Analysing the Hell out of the Beast, it's not my intention to delve too deeply into the origins of the myth of Shuck, nor to try and explain why people still think they see him today. Far more learned people than me have tried it, but frankly no single explanation seems to convince.
It seems to be fairly well accepted that his name probably derives from the Old English scucca or sceocca, which means the Devil, or a demon or goblin (sc is pronounced sh in Old English.) But it could equally come from the dialect word shucky, meaning shaggy, one of Shuck's legendary physical characteristics.
It's possible that the name isn't as old as many people think. Try as I might, I can't find any older written reference to Shuck than this:
"Shuck the Dog-fiend: This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk, and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes, and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight."
This extract is by the Reverend E. S. Taylor of Martham, and originally appeared in the 'Norfolk Chronicle; or Norwich Gazette', on June 1st 1805. From the context, it's obvious that knowledge of the dog was in existence long before this date, though no one knows just how long.
In East Anglia, the earliest account we have of a supernatural dog on the loose is Abraham Fleming's 1577 tract 'A Straunge and Terrible Wunder', telling of the events of Sunday August 4th in that year, when a "black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse", wrought havoc and death during a dreadful storm in the parish churches of first Bungay, and then Blythburgh, both in Suffolk.
Holinshed's 'Chronicle', Stow's 'Annals' and contemporary church records all mention the awful storm and its effects, but none mention the dog. It seems reasonable to suppose that Fleming added the supernatural element, giving him the opportunity to more vividly rail against the 'sinfulness' of his times, and make a call for repentance lest God strike them with even more fearful retribution.
But there must have been an underlying superstition already present in the populace for the dog motif to have been so effective so quickly, in that tales of the 'Black Dog of Bungay' began to spread soon afterwards, and underpin much of the folklore of that town even today. The association of black dogs with the Devil, and evil generally, is one of long standing, principally in connection with witchcraft and dark magic (although cats probably have an even older and stronger association.)
The earliest record I've found from England dates from the arrest proclamation for the rebel Jack Cade in 1450, when he was accused of having "rered upp the Divell in the semblaunce of a black dogge" at Dartford in Kent. Conjuring up such beasts, or having them as familiars, is common in the annals of witchcraft, but does not form part of the mythos of Shuck and his ghostly brethren. Nevertheless, I've included in this collection a couple of instances from Suffolk in 1645 where an accused witch has confessed to meeting with an unnatural dog (or the Devil in that form) - but only because they sound very much like standard phantom encounters, one with even a pre-existing local tradition.
Whatever Shuck's origins or 'deeper meaning', he's a fascinating creature to study, and one that I think will be around for a very long time yet. The stories gathered here have been collected over many years, and during that time I've weeded out a few that just didn't fit the 'profile', were too absurdly 'wrong' to be considered, or actually concerned the ghosts of family pets (which Shuck certainly isn't!)
For example, I didn't want to include the tale of the 'Foxley miller' from 1603, where a man (obviously meant to be the Devil), altered shapes between human, dog and boar - because although the dog-form here is significant, it's just one aspect of a 'satanic' encounter. Then there's the family in Southwold who had a ghostly black dog with short legs (that they called 'Shook') which they had running around their house for years, and the black dog that was just a small part of widespread psychical activity in a house at Stoke by Clare. I also felt that I couldn't include a phantom greyhound that was after chickens at Alphamstone, a Dalmatian on a bed in Ipswich, the legendary bulldog at a bridge near Littleport, or the ghostly wolf at Woolpit.
A few encounters have survived here as 'Dubious Cases', which I didn't want to include in the main collection for various reasons (chiefly because of an unreliable witness, or because of too little information, or simply because there didn't seem to be anything particularly paranormal about the encounter.)
But I have featured a page of 'Related Creatures', containing beasties that just aren't dogs at all, although they do bear some of the hallmarks of the legendary Shuck. One of them is even known as a 'Shock.'
'Analysing...' is actually a statistical analysis of the Shuck tales, looking at his characteristics, his actions, and the places where he appears. As well as that, I've taken the opportunity here and here to try to correct a couple of the most often-repeated 'mythconceptions' about Shuck. The bulk of the stories are in the 'Alphabetical List of Locations', where you can pick a place listed alphabetically by county; or from each page you can just go from one location to the next, again in alphabetical order, but irrespective of county.
For each legend and encounter, I've tried to give as full detail as possible, including my sources (I always try to go for the oldest), place-name meanings, grid references where I could, additional historical, geographical, archaeological or legendary details for the location, and my own comments where appropriate or useful. A few photographs of locations are included as well (just click on the thumbnail to enlarge.)
I must thank my old friend Ivan Bunn who, many years ago, passed to me his own research material, thus forming the core of this wider collection
Lowestoft, Suffolk. Website originally published January 2005.
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