In 1901 William Alfred Dutt wrote William Alfred Dutt, in which he described a legendary ghostly dog called ‘Black Shuck’, a traditional folklore tale in the area.
This should be a morning to set the church bells ringing in that vanished village of Shipden which lies beneath the sea! But all I can hear above the roaring of wind and sea is the scream of a sea-bird and the song of a lark which the storm cannot keep from soaring. If there were any truth in those old legends of tolling bells in the sea depths, such a gale as this should make the East Anglian coast as musical as the “City of Churches” on a Christmas Eve; for many a hamlet, and many a church which was a landmark to seamen, has gone down cliff between Aldborough and Lynn. But now it is the children only who listen for the bells, just as it is the children only who go about at night in fear of Black Shuck. If this were a stormy night instead of a stormy day the old fisher-folk of the coast would say it were just the time for Black Shuck to “be abroad; for he revels in the roaring of the waves and loves to raise his awful voice above the howling of the gale. Black Shuck is the “Moddey Dhoo” of the Norfolk coast. 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. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling — shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast. Scoffers at Black Shuck there have been in plenty; but now and again one of them has come home late on a dark stormy night, with terror written large on his ashen face, and after that night he has scoffed no more.
All October, in the lead-up to Halloween, I am presenting a ‘Creepy History’ series, featuring extracts from old books that have been largely forgotten. Normal service (journals and snippets) will be resumed in November. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen.