Monthly Archives: October 2014

And the Hallowe’en winner is………..

Around ten or fifteen years ago, I was a teacher of Religious Studies as well as my main subject of French. We were  studying the Afterlife, so, towards the end of, I think, the Christmas term, I asked the boys to write down for homework their own ghostly experience or a ghostly encounter that either their parents or anyone close to them had had. Here is a selection of the stories they came up with.
And, of course, yes, boys can tell lies just like everybody else, but by then I had taught this class for four months, seeing them for an hour and a half every week and I did not really think that anybody was lying. They may have been mistaken in their interpretation of events, but I’m sure they were sincere in what they thought was happening. This effort came from the parent, or even grandparent, of one of the pupils…

“My ghost story”

from Daniel J Furse who lived in the Old Manor House from 1956 to 1964.

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“I bought the house from one of the printer Milward family and he told me that when he moved in there was a row of wire operated bells hanging in the passage by the kitchen, although they were all disconnected. Every now and then, at night, these bells would ring wildly. On investigation, no one was ever seen but the bells were all swinging on their springs!
Our own contribution was fairly mundane but baffling. In what was the dining room – next to the kitchen where there now appears to be a door, we had a very large Jacobean oak sideboard tight against the wall, and above it hung a picture. Sometimes, when coming down in the morning, we would find the picture neatly stowed under the sideboard, with the hook still in the wall, and the cord intact.”
I live in the Old Manor House in Lenton regularly referred to as haunted. We have some accounts of manifestations of the ghost in the past one of which I have quoted above. There is one room that is thought to be the “haunted” room. It was in this room that someone was so frightened by what they saw or heard that it caused the previous owners to have an exorcism in the house. We ourselves have had some strange experiences. We seem to have a “Visitor’s curse”. More often than can be explained, something has happened with our lighting, heating or kitchen appliances when a guest was either there or coming. Sometimes just one system fails, but the most dramatic was when a bar of spotlights fell down from the ceiling near some guests. Another time when we were expecting guests for Christmas, all lighting, heating and cooking appliances, including the Aga which runs on gas and the electric cooker which relies on electricity, refused to work.
Hopefully we can have a ghost- free Christmas this year!”

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This was a very popular topic indeed with boys of fourteen and fifteen.
One young man told me the story of how he had seen a ghost when he met up with one of his friends who attended another school in, I think, Grantham. The boy went from Nottingham to spend the whole weekend as his friend lived quite a long way out in the Lincolnshire countryside. They stayed in the friend’s house which was very large with a very large garden. On the Friday evening, as soon as the visitor had unpacked, both boys went outside to see if they could see the phantom which the host had already explained could often be seen as it walked in the garden. The visitor from Nottingham was very excited that the garden was haunted and that he might actually see a real ghost.
The young man told me that as he stood there with his Lincolnshire friend in the early evening they saw not a sharply defined ghost, but a pale blue patch of mist or smoke, shaped like a human form. It moved across the end of the garden from right to left and by the time it reached the left-hand edge it was beginning to disappear.
Supposedly, it was the ghost of a Second World War Luftwaffe flier whose aircraft, a Heinkel III bomber had been shot down, and he had been killed.

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Previously, I had been told about a slightly similar ghost by a now retired school technician called Frank. When he was young he used to live on the southern side of the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire. Naturally, as a boy, he was keen to explore, and on one occasion he went with two of his friends out onto the salt marshes south of the estuary. He told me that there was a lookout tower right on the edge of the land, overlooking the waters of the estuary and of the North Sea. It had been put there for military purposes, probably either in the First or the Second World Wars. It was now in ruins but the shell of the brick built building was still there.

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As the three boys made their way across the absolutely flat landscape, a saltmarsh covered in vegetation which was no more than four or five inches high, they suddenly saw a figure on the top of the tower.
Apparently an adult man, he stood there for a little while, and the boys watched him. I do not remember from the account whether he seemed aware that he was being watched, but I suspect that he did not. Anyway after five minutes or so, the figure leapt off the top of the tower which was at least twenty or thirty feet high, exactly as if he was doing a parachute jump or, as they always say, something silly. The three boys certainly thought so because they ran along the path which led to the building, to see if they could help what they presumed would be a fairly severely injured man. When they got there though, the place was completely deserted. Nobody was there.
What makes it so strange is that the landscape was such that he could not possibly have run away across either the saltmarsh or to the distant sandy beach without the boys seeing him. In any case it had not taken the boys long enough to get to the tower for him to have disappeared. He had not passed them on any of the paths which led across the marsh. They searched the tower but he was not there. They presumed therefore that he was a ghost of some kind. Later on, Frank explained that tales had been told of an occurrence just like this having been seen before in the very same location, but nobody had ever been able to explain what it was.

Two other stories were very scary indeed…..

“The crippled Ghost that learns to walk

Every so often when I lie awake in my bed at night and I leave the door open I see an old man in a brown wheel chair. He has grey hair and a mutilated face like it’s been taken off and jumbled about and then stuck back on.
It moves towards me without using its hands to move the wheels at all. Then when it reaches the door it stops and stands up. It starts to walk towards me. At that point I turn away and face the wall and try to force myself to believe it’s not real, it’s not real.

Then when it reaches my bed, it reaches out to touch me. The reason I know this is because I see its shadow on the wall. But as soon as it touches my head it disappears and so does the wheelchair which disappears as soon as he gets out of it. The only other thing that is strange about the man is that he is extraordinarily long thin fingers and shoulder length white hair.”

This extraordinary tale is recounted more or less exactly as the boy wrote it down. I have not altered anything at all except to make the tense used the present tense, rather than a mixture of several different ones.
What would be really interesting would be to try and trace in the history of the house if there was anybody who ever lived there who had the long fingers and long white hair, perhaps of a musician, or the mutilated face and the wheelchair of, perhaps, a Great War victim. It is however, even with the Internet, extremely difficult to trace who has lived in any house, and what his job was, or the hardest thing of all, what he did during his life and what happened to him.
And the winner is…….
…….This very last final story, which was clearly connected with my preparations for Christmas with the class. It is dated November 4th 2005, and is entitled…

“The white man with no face”

Interview with my Dad:
What size and age did the ghost appear to be?
He was a six-foot male…age impossible to say.
But roughly did he look middle-aged or quite young?
He was oldish but that’s the most accurate description I could give.
Did you contact any spiritualists or mediums about the ghost?
No I didn’t; it never crossed my mind. It didn’t really bother me personally, but I never thought to ask my wife whether she thought we should get somebody in to try and sort things out.
What was the scariest thing about the ghost?
It would be that every time you were fast asleep, this ‘thing’ could be looking over you; I wasn’t frightened about it at all, but it didn’t do anything… just stared endlessly at you.
If only I had ever seen the ghost and you hadn’t, would you believe me about it being ‘around’ or not? Would you look out for it?
I would believe you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find something that could only be found if ‘it’ wanted to be.
How did the ghost appear and what did it look like?
I was in deep sleep and there was a wind as if all the windows were open, and my shoulders felt cold like ice. Both your mum and I woke up basically at exactly the same time, and we saw ‘it’. All it did was just look down at us. I can’t remember the curtains blowing just a fairly strong wind, so the windows were definitely not open. My wife asked me: “Tell me what you just saw?” trying not to put any ideas into my head, and her expression when I replied, confirmed this was not a dream. We both looked away, and after a period of time I cannot remember, I eventually look back to see ‘it’ had vanished.
Did you ever feel like you are being watched?
Well obviously you knew there was something around but you just had to ignore it. My wife at the time was so terrified; she nearly moved out of the house and lived with her parents for a short time.
Did you ever stay on your own in the house?
Yes, of course, it didn’t bother me that much, it was your mum who was worried about it the most. However, this was one of the reasons why we eventually moved house. My mum has told me that for weeks she was terrified of the ghost reappearing, and too many times felt her shoulders turn ice cold even during the summer (just like when she first saw the ghost).
Apparently I saw the ghost on many occasions – more than my parents – and that I asked them “Who the white man in my room was” more than once. The ghost could communicate with “the living” as it asked me what my name was.
Chloe my sister regularly saw the ghost – which was obviously concerned my mom, and on one occasion she told my parents “a white man with no face keeps waking me up and then just staring at me”. At the time she wasn’t afraid of ‘it’ as she was too young to realise what was happening. Chloe can’t recall any of this but my parents remember it all too well.

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Hallowe’en Nights (5) Ghosts in the High School

It is often supposed that in a building as old as the present High School there should be a school ghost.

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Ray Eastwood, the caretaker, once told me this story, in the early or mid-1980s, although to be honest, I have forgotten the exact date…..

“One year, a small number of boys were expelled from the school because of their appalling behaviour. They made threats that they would return, and either vandalise, or even set fire to the school. Because of this, my colleague Tony Hatcher and myself were asked to sleep in the school to forestall any problems. In actual fact, we borrowed a German Shepherd dog from a security firm that I had connections with, and all three of us moved with our camp beds into one of the rooms at the front of the school, underneath Reception, on the ground floor.

One morning, around 6.15 a.m., Tony and myself were sitting up in our beds having a cup of tea and a cigarette, when we clearly heard footsteps in the corridor above. They seemed to start near the staffroom, and then to proceed around the corner, past the staff toilets, and along the corridor towards the offices, directly above us. We both of us thought that these must be the footsteps of somebody who had broken into the school, and we rushed out of our temporary accommodation. We grabbed the dog, and threw him up the stairs to pursue the presumed miscreants. The poor animal wanted none of it, and he slunk off back into the room to his basket, his tail between his legs. We ourselves went on, rushed up the stairs and charged into the area around Reception. We could find absolutely nobody. We explored all around. All the windows were secure. All the doors that should have been locked were locked. There was no explanation whatsoever of what we had heard. There was certainly nobody there.”

In actual fact, Ray did offer me an explanation….He thought that the footsteps that both Ray and he had so clearly heard were those of Eric Oldham, a caretaker who had worked at the High School until some eight or ten years previously. One sunny Saturday evening at the end of that blistering hot August of 1976, after many years of faithful and steadfast service, poor Eric had collapsed and died as he made his rounds to lock up the school. He was found by his poor wife, lying on the sandstone paving slabs just inside the Main Gates. In the School Magazine, Mr.Oldham was described as “one of the school’s most devoted servants and a warm hearted friend”.

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When Eric used to unlock the many various rooms inside the school every morning, he invariably followed the same route at the same time of day. Eric would have been walking along those same corridors, in the very same direction as the mysterious footsteps we so clearly heard, at the same early hour of the morning. Perhaps it was him, reluctant still to pass the school into anyone else’s care.

Shortly after the idea of a school ghost was first mooted, it later emerged that there had already been another claimant to the position. This phantom was in the then Preparatory School which educated boys aged between eight and eleven years of age.

Quite a number of reports had emerged that as boys walked down a particular set of stairs towards the Waverley Street end of the building, they repeatedly had felt what could only be described as invisible fingers grabbing at the bottoms of their trousers, as if somebody was trying to clutch at their ankles as they went past. This story was told to me quite a few times in the Main School by a number of boys of varying ages, so it must have been fairly well known at the time, although it was unclear whether any of the teachers in the Preparatory School were aware of it. At least one member of the Main School staff knew of it, however.
I have an explanation for this although it does require a certain “leap of faith”. The new building of the Preparatory School was constructed on the site of a magnificent Victorian house. It was still used for Sixth Form lessons for a short period during the early years of my time at the High School, and may well have been the Sixth Form Centre, although I am no longer totally certain of this. Originally, the house had belonged to Dr.Dixon, Headmaster of the school from 1868-1884. On May 29th 1876, his wife, Ada, died “of the effects of a chill”, leaving her husband with five children, who were, according to “The Forester”, “Robert, Charles, Harold, Sydney and one daughter to bring up, four sons and a daughter”.

My best guess is that the clutching fingers belonged to Ada, who, as a spirit, was unwilling to leave her children, as she could see that her husband was struggling with the job of looking after them. It may well be that the staircase in the modern Preparatory School occupied the same three dimensional space as a long forgotten room in the now demolished Victorian house.

Interestingly, neither of the two ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts, has persisted. The stories in the Preparatory School disappeared after just a couple of years at most, and as regards the tale of the footsteps in the corridor, both Ray and Tony were denying vehemently that anything had ever happened within weeks of originally talking about the event. Why that was, I never did discover, although it is always nice to have a School Conspiracy Theory.

Next time……The School Werewolf and how to apply for the job

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Periods of work……only a few days every full moon

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Paid holidays…….once in a blue moon

If you are interested in the ghosts of Nottinghamshire, there are at least two lists of reported hauntings.

Wooooooo

Hooooooo

 

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Hallowe’en Nights (4) Three ghosts from my past

My father was called Fred Knifton. He lived from 1922-2003, for the most part in Hartshorne Road, Woodville, which is to the south of Derby and Nottingham, in the East Midlands.

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Woodville at the time was a village of some 5,000 people. It was exactly on the edge of  a geological fault line, so to the west, coarse, heavy clay was mined in opencast quarries, and sewer pipes and drainpipes were manufactured. To the east there was no clay, but instead there were open green fields with Friesian cattle and tall hedges of hawthorn.

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Although as far as I know he never experienced any of the RAF’s many ghostly occurrences, Fred once told me that there was a well-known haunted hangar somewhere out there in East Anglia, possibly in Norfolk, where mechanics as they repaired aircraft late at night, would often hear dance music, even though of course, there was no orchestra within miles.

A modern day equivalent may well have been the occasion when I stood at the bathroom sink one summer’s morning, a good few years after Fred’s death, looking out over the roof tops of Nottingham. I was listening to “American Patrol” being played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra on a CD.

This moment suddenly gave me probably the most distinctive feeling of “déjà vu” I have ever had. I have wondered ever since whether my father had perhaps done exactly the same thing on some airbase in Lincolnshire on a long forgotten day some sixty or so years previously.

Strangely enough, for a man who always had so many tales to tell, ghosts and phantoms did not feature particularly highly in Fred’s repertoire, and I would struggle to think of any direct reference he ever made about the afterlife, although I am sure that he was aware of the alleged haunted house down near the Bull’s Head Inn in Hartshorne.

As a native of nearby Woodville, Fred would certainly have heard all the tales of the phantom attached to this large black and white timber framed Elizabethan house which stood between the old Georgian coaching inn and the Anglo-Saxon church in the middle of Hartshorne.

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Apparently, the story was often told of how….

“A brave group of people, made curious by the many ghostly accounts of bumps in the night, had gone up into the attic, unvisited through many decades of neglect, and found furniture piled up across the entire room. On the inaccessible far wall of the room, there was a delicate but obvious print in the centuries old dust, the unmistakeable impression of a ghostly human hand. Nobody could possibly have penetrated the great mass of tables, chairs and rubbish stacked across the floor. It could only have been the work of a phantom. ”

In 1970, I experienced an extremely strange happening when I accompanied my father, Fred, down to his parents’ house at number 39, Hartshorne Road. Fred’s parents, Will and Fanny, had both recently died recently within a few months of each other in hospital at Burton-on-Trent, with Fanny remaining mercifully unaware of Will’s demise after more than sixty years of marriage.

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Fred was paying regular visits to the property, presumably attempting little by little to clear the house out so that it could be resold. At the time, as a teenager of some sixteen  years of age, I was unaware of this, although, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been, and I could perhaps have stopped Fred from throwing away so many of his father Will’s Great War souvenirs, such as his complete Canadian Army uniform, his German soldier’s leather belt and his extensive collection of German guns and ammunition.

We entered the deserted house through the front door, and as I walked along the hallway towards the kitchen, I distinctly heard the upstairs toilet flush. I turned round and asked Fred, who had been following me into the hall, how this could have happened, and who it could have been, given that we both knew that the house was locked up and empty.

Fred gave me some non-committal answer at the time, but afterwards, perhaps when he had regained his composure a little, he told me that, as he was some way behind me, he had been able to look up the stairs when he heard the sudden noise of the toilet being flushed. He had distinctly seen his recently deceased father, Will, walk out of the bathroom, across the landing and into the front bedroom.

My father Fred certainly knew the story about how an aging Mrs.Edwards had sadly passed away. This old lady had lived in the village a hundred yards further down Hartshorne Road from Fred’s own house, in a Victorian house next to the entrance of a factory making drainpipes.

Her old  friend, and our own family friend, Gertrude Betteridge, went down to Mrs.Edwards’  house to pay her respects and offer her condolences to her daughter, Margaret Edwards. The latter greeted Gertrude and showed her into the front room. Margaret then invited her guest to sit down on the settee while she went into the kitchen to make “a nice cup of tea”.

After a couple of minutes, as Gertrude sat there quietly and politely with the sunlight streaming brightly through the front windows, the door opened. It was not, however, Margaret with the expected tray of tea and biscuits, but Mrs.Edwards herself, exactly as she had been in life, who came in. She walked across the room to Gertrude completely normally, and quietly and calmly said to her, “Tell Margaret not to worry. I’m all right.” Then she turned and walked away, opened the front room door and disappeared back out into the hall, never to be seen again.

 

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Hallowe’en Nights (3) Black Shuck in Notts

In my first blog post about the cryptic canid, it becomes perfectly obvious that for hundreds of years Black Shuck has been seen fairly frequently throughout all of East Anglia. Not only that, but he can still be seen there right up to the present day. Well known folklorist Ivan Bunn continues even now to find regular examples of Black Shuck’s appearances in our 21st-century world.

And so too, Black Shuck has been seen throughout the whole of the country. One website details 329 different places in the British Isles where spectral dogs of various size, shape, colour and attitude have cropped up over the centuries.
But has this famous dog ever been seen in our own county of Nottinghamshire? By careful searching on the Internet, I have managed to find just three examples. Read them through very carefully and make sure that you follow all the directions on the maps provided. There will be a test at the end!
The first tale is of a little village which now has the high-speed A631 dual carriageway constructed around it to the south west, allowing the peaceful, quiet community to preserve its rural tranquillity. Centuries ago, though, the main road from Sheffield to Gainsborough went right through the very middle of the village, which, with the frequent passage of mail coaches, it may well have been livelier than it is now….

bigger scale

Perhaps this is why Beckingham’s most famous phantom, a colossal Black Dog, always keeps faithfully to his old tried and trusted route. The animal is reputed to be up to five feet tall and has dull red eyes that burn with an inner fire like the glowing embers on a coal fire
black_shuck_by_mearcu-d3lgpnd ccccccThe Black Dog invariably leaves from the churchyard of Beckingham’s parish church of “All Saints” which dates mostly from the thirteenth century, although the exterior is apparently fifteenth century.

church beck

The Cryptic Canid leaves the little church with its square tower and makes his way, presumably down Walkeringham Road and then Station Street, before finally leaving the village along the Old Trent Road, walking purposefully out towards the marshy water meadows.
This map shows the church with its square tower and the red arrow points to the Old Trent Road.
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Some of the streets are indicated on this larger scale map. The red arrow points to the church…

at long last

The Black Dog always leaves the Old Trent Road (yellow on the map) near the Old Shipyard and then sets off along the old path to the south, alongside the old River Trent. The red arrow points to the riverside route he invariably uses.

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Black Shuck though, for it is no less than he, is not a dog to mess with.  Anybody who tries to get in his way or to prevent his progress from church to river does so very much at their own risk. A good many years ago a man from Gainsborough attempted to stop Black Shuck by refusing to stand aside and allegedly asking it what it was doing. The dog looked with great anger at this foolish person, who was later found unconscious in the middle of the road. He was paralysed down one side of his body for the rest of his life and never recovered the feelings in his arm or leg.

A second Black Shuck has occurred not too far from Newark-on-Trent. In the Nottingham County Library there is a manuscript dating back to as recently as 1952 which records the words of a Mrs Smalley, who was then about seventy five years old.
Her grandfather, who was born in 1804 and died in 1888, used to have occasion to drive from Southwell to Bathley, a village near North and South Muskham, in a pony and trap. This involved going along Crow Lane, which leaves South Muskham opposite the school and goes to Bathley. Along that lane he frequently, used to see a large Black Dog trotting alongside his trap.
Here is a map of South Muskham, with all the landmarks in the story visible.

better map soujkth muskbhanmThe red arrow points towards Crow Lane, which goes westward  to Bathley. In the other direction, to the east, it runs, typically, past a church with a square tower.

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St. Wilfrid’s Church in South Muskham is medieval but seems to have taken a long time to construct. The square tower, therefore, has its lowest section of thirteenth century construction, the middle section is fourteenth century and the top is fifteenth century. One of the more interesting features are the carved ends of the wooden benches in the chancel, which include a number of “hideous monsters” and one crab.

“Round about 1915, Mrs Smalley’s son Sidney, used to ride out from Newark on a motorcycle to their home at Bathley. He went into Newark to dances and frequently returned at about 11 o’clock at night. He too often saw a black dog in Crow Lane; he sometimes tried to run over it but was never able to. One night Sidney took his father on the back of the motorcycle especially to see the dog, and both of them saw it.”

Overall, South Muskham is an area with a good deal of water in the landscape.

south musk is wetzzzzz

The third story is considerably more modern. It was 2.14 a.m. on May 11th 1991 and….

“Victoria Rice-Heaps had been visiting her boyfriend in Worksop, and was on her way home when she had her unusual experience. It was a journey she had made “thousands of times”. She wasn’t particularly tired, having slept earlier in the evening. Making her way out along the Blythe Road, she soon left the comforting glow of the streetlights for the dark country roads beyond.
After a mile or so, near to Hodsock Priory, Victoria saw illuminated in the beam of her headlights about 150 yards ahead “two red dots.”

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“I slowed right down to a crawl as I saw a huge black dog. It looks like something from hell! It had very shiny fur and a short coat; the nearest thing I’ve seen to it in size was a Great Dane, but it had a good 18 inches over a dog of that breed. Its ears were erect and it appeared to be dragging something quite large across the road.”

Victoria had lived with dogs all her life, but had seen nothing like this creature.
As she waited for the dog to get out of the way of her Fiat Panda, the headlights of another vehicle announced its approach from the opposite direction. The driver of the red Montego estate, evidently seeing her at a standstill, pulled up and wound down his window to ask if anything was wrong. Victoria, having wound down her own window, asked the man if he could see the dog in front of her car.

“At this moment he shouted “Oh Jesus!” and sped off into the night. I looked in front of me again and to my joy and amazement the creature had vanished. I drove home as fast as I could. I did a little research later and found a tumulus nearby, a river and an old boundary as well as the priory”.

There is a lot less exact geographical detail for this particular story and I have therefore made one or two “best guesses”.
Victoria was driving north out of Worksop along the B6045 in the direction of Blyth. This road is fairly straight and leads quickly to the Hodsock area. The very narrow yellow road to the west of the B6045 is the turn off to Hodsock Priory, which is a big country house, rather than anything of particularly religious significance. In Nottinghamshire, it is very famous for its magnificent displays of snowdrops in the very first days of Spring.
B6045

My contention, though, is that Victoria only saw a single snapshot moment of Black Shuck’s usual journey. I believe that the huge dog would have started his journey in the northern section of the B6045.  Here is a map with the middle of Blyth and the old unnamed northern section of the B6045 (see arrow). It leads past a church with the square tower, St Mary and St Martin.
wet blyth

Shuck’s exact point of departure would surely have been the churchyard of this ancient church which dates from as early as 1088, when it was a part of a Benedictine monastery. Clearly, if you are driving down the B6045 in a saloon car at 40-50 m.p.h. in the darkness of the night, you will see Black Shuck for a lot less time than if you are on foot, or in a pony and trap, or even on a slow motorbike back in 1915.

The one thing I would really like to know, though, is what “quite large something”  Black Shuck was dragging across the road. And the driver of the red Montego, how had he not seen the ghostly dog when he first stopped? He was going in the opposite direction to Victoria, and Black Shuck was right in front of her car. The driver of the red Montego must have been parked almost directly next to the “Hound from Hell”. Indeed, she actually asked him if he could see the dog in front of her car.

When he apparently and finally saw this enormous beast, he shouted out in terror and drove off into the night. Why? He left a defenceless young woman behind on her own. Did he see what Black Shuck was dragging? Given the Hell Hound’s connection with the imminent death of those who see it, did the man see his own ghostly corpse?
If you have followed the directions and maps carefully, you will not find my next question a particularly difficult one!

“What is the connection between all three of the Black Dogs seen in Nottinghamshire?”

Well, if you have paid attention, you will have realised the elements which occur and recur throughout all three stories.

There is always a church, and the Ordnance Survey map shows that it is always a church with a square tower. That church of course, will have a graveyard around it. Black Shuck then follows a route which is always a very ancient one, rather than opting for the new bypass or the new dual carriageway. It is always a road which has been there for centuries, almost as if he has been following that path for that same amount of time. And as the road continues away from the church, it will gradually become more and more lonely and isolated. At the same time it will lead through a landscape which contains enormous amounts of water, either in the form of lakes, rivers or streams. In one case, namely that of Beckingham, the road leads to the wettest place of all. This is an area of riverside water meadows, which have now been taken by the RSPB to form an official wetland nature reserve.

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Black Shuck makes his departure from this route not only at an old shipyard, but he also sets off southwards alongside the River Trent itself. As if to prove that this is the strongest manifestation of Black Shuck in the county, the phantom animal will pass an ancient hill which is called “Black Island”. This may have been a tumulus in the dim and distant past. Somewhere as flat and wet as this area is certainly a strange place for a completely natural hill.

Victoria Rice-Heaps mentions a tumulus near the B6045, but I have been unable to trace it, although I have not visited the area personally. This does not mean that it is not there, of course. But there is a “Hodsock Red Bridge”, red with the colour of Black Shuck’s eyes, perhaps? And what is “Black Screed”? Nowadays, a screed is “a levelled layer of material (e.g. cement) applied to a floor or other surface.” Earlier than this, it was “a fragment cut from a main piece”, and then “a torn strip”. Was it called “Black Screed” because it was connected with Black Shuck and being “torn to shreds”?
I was delighted to find all these various connections, because they fit in perfectly with the book “Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America” by Linda S Godfrey. She provides a key quotation about the appearance of spectral canids. And this quotation applies not only to North East Nottinghamshire, but also to the state of Wisconsin in the north eastern part of the United States.

I will be looking at all these various connections and trying to explain why they are so important in another blog post in the future.

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Hallowe’en Nights (2) The Beast of Auxerre

After researching “The Beast of Gévaudan”, I was amazed to find that over the centuries, a large number of different areas of France have been ravaged by man-eating creatures, such as the monsters in the countryside around Auxerre, Lyon,  Orléans or the Vosges Mountains. On a number of occasions what was probably one single animal might even be called by several different names as it wandered widely around various places. «La Bête des Cévennes », « La Bête du Vivarais » or « La Bête du Gard », for example, were all one and the same monster.
The majority have always been considered wolves, although of course, in our time the wolf no longer seems to behave in this aggressive way. Strangely enough, for a substantial number of these less widely known beasts, the witnesses were often keen to say that it was a wolf but not an ordinary wolf like the ones which they saw virtually every single day. It may have had a wider muzzle, or a belly that dragged on the ground. It may have had pale or even white underparts. Ironically, this latter identification feature on its own actually excludes the wolf as a possibility.
All three of these details, of course, the muzzle, the belly and the underparts were  features of the “Beast of all Beasts” in Gévaudan.  The peasants, shepherds and shepherdesses were armed only with a stick, or a pole with a knife attached to it, because the lower classes were forbidden to carry firearms, which was the exclusive right of the nobility.  Agricultural workers, though, were all highly experienced  at identifying wolves. And lightly armed as they were, the population of the average administrative area in rural France in the eighteenth century might still kill a hundred wolves a year between them.
Nowadays, the wolf seems a much calmer animal. They have become extremely rare in Western Europe, and even in Eastern Europe they seem to be less dangerous than old oral traditions would have us believe. Furthermore, it is certainly a fact that only one person has ever been killed by wolves in North America, and even then the wolves involved had become over-habituated to Man through frequent feeding on a landfill site.
The process by which wolves are believed to have become man killers in France is described in a French Wikipedia article, entitled “Le Loup dans la culture européenne”…“The Wolf in European Culture”

….Thanks to the improvements made in the field of agriculture, Man ceaselessly extended his cultivated land and increased the area for his livestock at the expense of woods and forests. The Feudal System and hunting as a leisure pursuit constantly reduced the number of animals to hunt, and attacks by wolves became therefore increasingly frequent. Flocks of sheep were an easy prey item during a period when food was short.
In normal times the wolf does not attack Man and indeed, even when he is hungry he fears human beings, above all when he is forced to confront an upright enemy. Faced by a man, the wolf always backs down or just runs away. Nevertheless wolves in the Middle Ages used to follow men around when they were out at night walking between villages. The wolves always remained a certain distance away from them. Without doubt they were doing this to get food, thinking that the man must be hunting and that they could grab any unwanted food that was left behind. These stories of wolves which followed men at a distance, sometimes over dozens of kilometres, accentuated the phenomenon of fear of the wolf.
However, attacks by wolves on men were reported for the first time towards the end of the Middle Ages, from the time of the Hundred Years War onwards. These attacks also correlate with epidemics of rabies which can change a wolf’s behaviour completely.
At this time of famine the wolf might have started devouring the corpses left behind by the warring armies. Not rabid wolves, but wolves used to the taste of human flesh would have committed acts of predation towards weak human targets. These cases of predation disappeared around 1820 because of the disappearance of open air mass graves from this period onwards. There will always remain nevertheless a small number of isolated attacks linked to epidemics of rabies, but in this case the cause of the illness is easily identifiable.”

(My own translation)

Further ideas come from « Mikerynos » writing on his own excellent website. He sees the entire French population as having within them a deep seated fear of the wolf, much as other nations might have traditional fears of people of a different race or cultural background from themselves.

“Nowadays beasts still appear in the French countryside but they only kill sheep or other animals. The most famous of all was the Bête des Vosges in 1977.
Feral dogs, escaped zoo animals, animals trained by malicious pranksters and sometimes wolves are used to explain these episodes.
But the Old Demons are not yet ready to fade away. The arrival of Italian wolves in the Parc National du Mercantour has brought about the raising of a protective shield wall on the part of livestock farmers and hunters, who have not been at all afraid of introducing the question of the danger to human life, for in the collective subconscious of the whole French nation, some monstrous beast can still be seen lurking dimly behind these innocent wolves, which have absolutely no connection whatsoever with it.
Over the course of the centuries in France there have been many other episodes similar to the Beast of Gévaudan, even if they were less blood soaked. And the explanations are always exactly the same. Wolves are the guilty ones.

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Nowadays all zoologists are in complete agreement with each other that the wolf practically never attacks Man. Indeed on the contrary, the Wolf always flees from Man. The idea that a Wolf is a man eater is essentially a French one which has led some people to deduce that the wolves in France must be the only ones to exhibit such behaviour! In the same way the theme of the werewolf, a man who can change into a wolf, is above all a French one.  And The Beast who brings together both of these two themes is, in exactly the same way, as we already said, a very French concept.
In a word, though, it is the fear of untamed nature which shines through these themes, a fear which has become particularly focussed on certain species such as the wolf. Every animal attack which seems beyond rational explanation very quickly leads to gossip and rumours. The Beast of Gévaudan is not the only animal to have spread terror across France. There was “la Bête d’Evreux”  (1632-1633), “la Bête de Brives” (1783) and “la Bête du Cézailler” (1946-1951).
The most ferocious seem to have been “la Bête de l’Auxerrois” and “la Bête du Vivarais”.
The former appeared in 1731 and killed 28 victims. It was described as a tiger or a wolf. The “Bête féroce de Sarlat” was famous in Périgord from 1766 onwards. Its peculiarity was not to attack women but to kill exclusively men. In 1814 it was the turn of the « Bête féroce d’Orléans » to achieve a certain success. It ripped to pieces and devoured the poor inhabitants of the countryside, massacred entire families, destroyed and devastated everything which appeared in its path and carried out the most appalling carnage, if one is to believe the caption explaining an etching of the period. A lament was even written about it; the style is not too clever but we can imagine the fear of the audience who were listening to such verses. The official disappearance of the wolf from France came in 1937 when the very last one was killed in Limousin. Or more precisely, the Wolf was presumed extinct insofar as the breeding population was diminishing between 1930 and 1939.
From 1818 to 1829, more than 14,000 wolves were killed in France every year. That was the era of the appearance of the single shot rifle (1830) then there were repeating rifles and the double barrel shotgun. Firearms became henceforth extremely accessible and extremely effective. Wolves could be killed at a range of more than 100 metres. The number of hunting permits awarded just grew and grew. In parallel, the use of poison spread among wolf hunters: monkshood the wolf killer, added to ground glass, meadow saffron, a concoction with tamarack, water hemlock and nux vomica.”

(My own translation)

I have found it a fascinating idea that only two hundred or so years ago a highly developed European country like France could have been repeatedly ravaged by man-eating animals, whether they were wolves or, just plain, simple monsters of the type the Hillbilly Hunters chase after on a weekly basis in the TV show “Mountain Monsters”.
I intend therefore to bring these unknown creatures back into the public eye. Had they been active in an English speaking country, I am sure that they would be a lot more famous than they are now, although, of course, they do appear in a good many French websites on “la cryptologie”. The first one to feature, on a purely alphabetical basis, is the “Bête de l’Auxerrois ou la Bête de Trucy”….

Called by two alternative names, the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” was either one or several man-eating animals which were behind an extensive series of attacks on humans. Nowadays, the tiny village is called “Trucy-L’Orgueilleux”.

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The first incident came in November 1731 when a young boy of 12 years old was working close to the wood of Trucy-sur-Yonne to the south of Auxerre with his mother. She managed to snatch him back from the carnivorous animal which was trying to devour him, but he died in her arms as they made their way back home.

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Attacks then succeeded each other in such quick succession that King Louis XV offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast. Beats were organised and numerous wolves were killed. The poisoned carcasses of sheep were left out in the fields but the attacks continued, with young children the principal victims. The beast even ventured into the village of Mailly-la-ville and carried off a young child who was playing in front of his house. Trying to snatch him back from the beast’s fangs, his nurse was only able to recover one of his feet (or just one of his arms according to other witnesses).

Illustrations of the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” seem pretty well non-existent on the Internet. The engraving below appears on one website, but it is also featured elsewhere as being the  “Beast of Orléans”…

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In five months the local priest of Val-de-Mercy recorded 14 deaths due to the attacks of this carnivorous animal. By the end of the year 1734 a grand total of 28 victims had been listed. The animal supposedly killed a total of nine children, nine women and ten men according to the death certificates which have so far been located. In 1734 two wolves were killed in the course of a hunt and the attacks stopped shortly afterwards. There was however, no irrefutable concrete indication that either of these two animals was behind the attacks which had lasted for three desperate years. Contrary to the Beast of Gévaudan, these killings seem to have concerned as many men as women
In 1817 a second carnivorous beast ravaged the forest around Trucy for a few months, strangely, at the very same place as the animal from eighty years previously. One child was devoured close to Charentenay, another at Fouronnes and numerous people were injured. Poisoned sheep were placed close to the woods and the beast duly disappeared without leaving any trace whatsoever. No carcass was ever found but mercifully the attacks stopped.

This picture allegedly shows the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” but it had previously been used in pamphlets about the Beast of Gévaudan.

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For the attacks of 1731–1734, contemporary rumours talked of a werewolf, of several wolves and even of demons. The witnesses spoke of either a huge wolf or a tiger. Following the usual pattern, the witnesses’ descriptions indicated an animal that was “like a wolf” but which nobody thought was just an ordinary wolf. According to the experts nowadays the monster was probably some exotic wild animal which had escaped from its owner, but given the descriptions, it was most probably not a common-or-garden wolf.

Unlike the countryside though, in the towns, certainly, the majority of the people had little idea at all of what a wolf was like. Here is a contemporary picture of a wolf….

concept of wolf xxxxxx

For the second series of attacks in 1817, local talk was of a hyena although one statement described a mastiff dog with pointed ears.
It is always worth looking at a second account of what are clearly the same events

“In 1731 there appeared in the woods around Trucy, to the south of Auxerre, a beast which terrorised the region. The first attack was on a boy of twelve in November 1731, very close to the tiny village of Trucy-l’Orgueilleux. The number of victims quickly increased, with 17 in three years, of whom the majority were children. The king offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast but without result. The creature then continued its carnage until 1734 when it quite simply disappeared without anyone having been able to kill it despite numerous beats being organised. Overall it killed approximately 30 people, the majority of them children.
In 1817 it was a different beast which ravaged again the very same area of Mailly-la-ville and the Forest of Trucy. Described as a tiger or an enormous wolf, people finally concluded that it was a wolf of enormous size and particular ferocity. It killed 28 people (nine children, nine women and ten men) and was never killed despite numerous beats being organised and the poisoned carcasses of sheep being placed randomly in the surrounding area. Like its predecessor this animal just disappeared “back into Nature” so to speak.”

Clearly there has been some confusion between the two websites over victim totals, but it is always best to see at least two variations of the same story. If you want to see more than just these two then go to the French Google and search for either “La Bête de Trucy” or “la Bête de l’Auxerrois”.

Another website…..

 “…a mother grabbed her twelve year old son from the jaws of an enormous beast without managing, alas, to save him… After this they killed a number of wolves, but the beast continued to attack young children, women and men…… 28 victims were eventually listed. Then they killed a couple of wolves, and the attacks ceased. People talked of werewolves, of wolves gone mad, and even of Demons. Witnesses spoke of the “Beast like a Wolf” but actually “Not a Wolf”. The experts nowadays tend to speak of a wild animal, but seldom of a mere wolf.”

At least one other website which lists “The Monsters That Ravaged France” clearly places “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois” not in the category of the wolf but in that of the “bête mystérieuse”.
These same details are given by that great expert, « Mikerynos » in the very first article on the page….

“(Elle) est apparue en 1731 et a fait 28 victimes. Elle est décrite comme un tigre ou comme un loup.”

What is most striking about “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois”, though, is the sheer number of victims consumed. In English we say “as hungry as a wolf”. I don’t know if the French have an equivalent but if they do, it should probably relate to Trucy or Auxerre!

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Hallowe’en Nights (1) Black Shuck

Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of a huge, phantom black dog which roams, for the most part, the fields, fens and even beaches of East Anglia. The main areas are Norfolk and Suffolk, but there are also parts of Cambridgeshire and Essex which it is alleged to haunt.

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His name of Shuck may well come from the old Anglo-Saxon word “scaucca” or “scucca”  which means a “demon”, or possibly it is based on the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”.
There are those who believe that Shuck derivers his name from the Black Hound owned by Odin.

Odin_DarkW1azzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzThis would be a very neat fit, given that the Vikings settled for the most part in the eastern parts of England. Unfortunately, there is little if any mention of any dog, black or otherwise, that Odin owned. He had an eight legged horse called Sleipnir, which gives us the present-day eight reindeer used by Santa Claus, although it may be more accurate to suggest a coffin which is usually borne to its final resting place by four pall-bearers, hence the eight legs. This fine modern statue is in Wednesbury, a town which obviously owes its name to Woden.

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Odin had two ravens called Huginn and Muninn, who flew all over the world of Midgard, finding out information for their master. Huginn means thought and Muninn means memory or mind.

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Odin did have two wolves called Geri and Freki, but I have been able to find little indication that he ever owned a dog.

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Such a domestic animal as a mere dog just would not have been big enough and fierce enough for the King of the Gods.
On the other hand, Odin was well known for leading “The Wild Hunt”, which in England seems usually to have been a mechanism for the pagan god to ride his sleigh across the storm tossed and windy night sky, pulled by faithful Sleipnir, chasing Christian sinners or the unbaptised, and then carrying them off in his huge sack.(another connection with dear old Santa Claus).Like any red-coated fox hunter, Odin would always use a pack of dogs, but in his case, it would invariably be the black Hounds of Hell. In pagan Scandinavia and northern Germany, this frightening event was called Odin’s Hunt. People who saw it and laughed at it would mysteriously vanish, presumably into Odin’s sack. Sincere believers were rewarded with gold.

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In the wake of the passing storm, with which the Wild Hunt was often identified, a black dog would sometimes be found upon a neighboring heath. To remove it, it would need to be exorcised.

However, if it could not be removed in this way, the hound must be kept for a whole year and carefully tended. We shall see just how this relates to Black Shuck later on.

Black_Shuck_by_watchful_eye xxxxxxxxIn appearance, Shuck is generally jet black and can be of any size from that of, say, a black Labrador, up to that of a calf or even a horse. The more ancient the mention of Shuck, the weirder he tends to be. Nowadays, he usually has two large bright red shining eyes, but centuries ago he was often seen as a Cyclops with only one eye. He can also be invisible, so that you might just hear his footsteps in the road behind you, or hear the noise he makes as he walks across grass, or on some occasions in East Anglia, through the reed bed. Sometimes, all you will hear is just the noise of his chain scraping on the ground.


In his “Highways & Byways in East Anglia”, published in 1901, W. A. Dutt describes Shuck in these terms…

“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths.

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 (Hell Hound) 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.”

Shuck is said to help travellers find their way, and can be protective towards people who are lost, particularly young children. Similarly, he likes to accompany women on their way home, acting as a protector, more helpful than threatening; Writing as recently as 2008, Dr. Simon Sherwood, of the University of Northampton Psychology Department, notes that “benign accounts of the dog become more regular towards the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries”.

Sometimes he seems almost worthy of our pity…

“A seaside tale on East Anglian television a few years ago related the tale of a large black dog who was seen regularly on the beach near Cromer, always at the very edge of the breaking waves. When approached, he would just disappear into thin air. Observers were certain that he must have been a ghost dog, whose master had been drowned, and whom the poor dog was destined to search for through all eternity. Others explained him as being yet another appearance by East Anglia’s famous Black Dog, Old Shuck.”

In general, though, Shuck is more negative than positive. At the seaside, he can actually be rather sinister…

“Off the coast of Cromer a local child befriended a black dog and went swimming with him in the cold waters of the North Sea. While out over deep water the dog deliberately stopped the child from returning to land, in a clear attempt to drown him. The child is eventually saved by sailors who see what is happening. The dog, of course, is nowhere to be seen.”

Shuck, though, is usually a portent of ill omen , a harbinger of doom. Ivan Bunn,
who is a folklore specialist in East Anglia, and who has collected very many strange incidents over the years, has explained that usually, you would expect to die within a year of seeing Shuck. In southerly parts of Essex, you would expect almost immediate death. Alternatively, Shuck might terrify his victims, but they will continue to live normal lives. In some cases, a close relative of the observer, or a close friend, might die or become ill. If you tell anybody that you have seen Shuck, you will make these dreadful fates even more inevitable.
There are a huge number of sightings, even nowadays, of Black Shuck. Mr Bunn has well in excess of a hundred just for Norfolk and Suffolk and parts of some of the adjoining counties. On one occasion, a lady out walking in the moonlight in a country village thought that she had found her sister’s dog wandering off, and went to take hold of it to return to her house. As she reached down, Black Shuck shrank in size until he was as small as a tiny black kitten. Sixty years later that lady will still not go out on her own at night.

Another person, a man, was followed across the marshes on the North Norfolk coast. All he could hear was the sound of the phantom dog. Within a year, tragically, his son had unexpectedly died. Strangely enough, though, Shuck is not totally a ghost. On occasion he has left pawprints before disappearing into thin air, and in a famous episode in Suffolk, he left scorch marks on the door as he exited a church.

Apparently, the earliest mention of Black Shuck dates from 1450, and the arrest proclamation for the rebel Jack Cade, when he was accused of having “reared up the Devil in the semblance of a black dogge” at Dartford in Kent.

Here is one of two incidents which are particularly well known. There was “an exceeding great and terrible tempest” on August 4th 1577. A contemporary account,  “A Strange and Terrible Wunder” by the Reverend Abraham Fleming says that…

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“There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer…in the parish church…of Bungay, the people thereabouts inhabiting…

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Immediately hereupon, there appeared to the congregation then and there present, in a most horrible likenesse, a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour…This black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse…running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible form and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees…wrung the necks of them both at one instant clean backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died…

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…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 he was presently drawn together and shrunk up, as he were a piece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawn together with a string. The man…. died not, but it is thought he is yet alive…
…The Clerk of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten down, and beside his fall had no further harm…there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church door which are marvellously torn, ye marks as it were of the black dog’s claws or talons. Beside that, all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were broken in pieces…These things are reported to be true…”

One other chronicler claims that this was not Black Shuck’s only appearance that particular day. Allegedly, he visited another part of this tiny Suffolk market town and claimed two further victims.
In Bungay, Shuck is reputed still to meander around the graveyard on dark nights. In addition, there are strange scratches on the door of St.Mary’s Church which were supposedly made by the Hell Hound when he attempted to pursue a victim who had taken refuge in the church. And like so many of the churches involved in the legend of Shuck, St.Mary’s has a square tower.
But back to that same day of August 4th 1577. Both the storm and Shuck fled the ten or so miles to nearby Blythburgh, and Holy Trinity Church …….

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“In like manner, into the parish church of another towne called Blythburgh…the black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse entered, in the same shape and placing himself uppon a main baulke or beam, suddenly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slew two men and a lad, and burned the hand of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom divers were blasted. This mischief thus wrought, he flew with wonderful force to no little feare of the assembly, out of the church in a hideous and hellish likeness.”

A more modern account tells it slightly differently…

“Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder.

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He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple 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.”

These scorch marks are still referred to by the locals as “the devil’s fingerprints”, and the whole event is remembered in the song…

“All down the church
in midst of fire,
the hellish monster flew,
and, passing onward to the choir,
he many people slew”

It must be said though, that the church records at Blythburgh do not necessarily tell the same demonic tale. The episode has certainly been recorded, but as a meteorological one with an extraordinarily violent thunderstorm.  In this story the two people were instantly killed when the bell tower of the church was stuck by the lightning. They had been aloft in the tower ringing the church bells in an effort to dispel the evil spirits which were causing the storm.
One interesting detail in the more dramatic version of the story is how when Shuck has finished racing through the congregation as they kneel in prayer he makes his demonic exit through the north door of the church. The North Door is traditionally the way in which evil forces may enter a church, because the north face of the church is considered to belong to Satan.

In general, churches were usually built to the north of any roads or paths, because the main entrance had to be on the south side. Since it was common for churches to be built on pagan sacred sites, non-Christian worshippers might still want to come and visit them, and they could then enter the church through the so-called “Devil’s door” in the “heathen” north side of the church. In my humble opinion there is probably some additional connection with the direction from which the Vikings came in the era when they ransacked so many English churches and monasteries.

Once again, a church involved in the legend of this sinister black dog has a square tower. Whatever the real truth, though, Shuck has become an integral part of the everyday life of the little town of Bungay.

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He appears on the town’s coat of arms. His name has been used in various local business enterprises including a restaurant, and the annual “Black Dog Marathon” begins in the town. The nickname of the town’s football club is the “Black Dogs”.

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And the Lowestoft band, the Darkness, have recorded a song about East Anglia’s most famous cryptic canid…


And what about Black Dogs in Nottinghamshire?  That is for another blogpost. In the meantime, content yourself with Mike W.Burgess’ amazingly detailed website.

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Filed under Cryptozoology, History

The Diary of S.A. Casswell, 16¾

Four or five years ago, I had a phase when I bid for a few diaries on eBay. One particular diary that I bought was the “Charles Letts Schoolboy’s Diary for 1935”. The inscription on the inside front cover reads “With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and the New Year from Johnie” (sic)

Typical of a boy perhaps, the diary is barely filled in at all, and where it is, it is helpfully done in his own personal code. Whatever happened on June 11, it was 7  I  T and so was the previous Tuesday, June 4th.  June 3rd, however, was 8 Sw I T. January 1st was  “9 Sp I Party” and January 2nd was “Rec. Card (New Year). February 20th was “Sp.I. Party  T.Lodge”. It may be that the owner was using his old 1935 schoolboy diary to record events when he was in the R.A.F. (see below). This would be because it was not allowed to keep a diary in the British Armed Forces, in case you were captured, and your scribblings were of use to the Nazis. This cunning plan is certainly implied by his entry for January 16th which reads “Night Raid on Berlin 1943 spoke to one pilot”.

I  know only the young man’s surname and initials. He was called S.A.Casswell and he lived at a house called “Tudor Lodge”.

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This pleasant house was in the rural village of Sutterton, which is near Boston in Lincolnshire.

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S.A.Casswell  weighed nine stone seven pounds and was five feet seven inches tall. He took a size eight in gloves, a size seven in boots, a size one in collars and his hat was a six and seven eighths. His birthday was on August 25th 1919, so he was fifteen when he received the diary as a Christmas present. He seems to have liked it so much, that he didn’t start entering anything into it until possibly early 1937, when he would have been sixteen years old. Sadly, the very fact that I now possess his diary must surely mean that S.A.Casswell is no more. On the other hand, a quick search of the Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission website reveals that at least he did not die before his time in battle.

His bicycle frame number was Y27697 and his Unemployment Book serial number was 3243. He went to school on the 7.50 a.m. train, and possibly came back home on the 5.24 p.m. He only lists two trains which will take him to school but he lists a total of six trains which will bring him back home. They are the 11.30 a.m., the 2.46 p.m., the 4.10 p.m. (on Saturdays only), the 5.19 p.m. and originally the 7.50 p.m. although this was replaced by the 8.40 p.m. in later years. At school he did not study Scripture but he did study Arithmetic and Algebra and Geometry and Trigonometry and Mechanics. He studied Physics and Chemistry and Botany with English Composition and English Literature, along with History and Geography and Latin and Art. He has not recorded any of his marks in tests and exams, so he was either not particularly outstanding, or perhaps, extremely modest. For some peculiar reason, he has pasted a receipt inside the front cover of the diary. It is for the three pence  to join the Literary and Debating Society at school on October 5th 1937 when he not only paid out the money to join, but signed the receipt for it as well. Perhaps he was later to go into banking, or maybe even politics.

Casswell didn’t use his piece of “Forbes Blotting” which is still inside the diary as a free gift, but he has given us one or two really interesting insights into the life of a schoolboy. He certainly had some kind of interest in sport. He has recorded the fact that in 1934 and 1935 Cambridge won the Boat Race by adding it in pencil at the end of the printed list. On the page which records the athletic records for universities and schools, he has written what are now incomprehensible figures underneath the one mile, long jump and high jump. He has also inserted performance figures for Spalding Grammar School which may or may not have been achieved by him. For the hundred yards, for example, the school record was 10.6 seconds. For 220 yards the record was 24 seconds, for 440 yards the record was 55.6 seconds by P. Nicholson in 1933, for half a mile it was 2 minutes 14 seconds, and for a mile it was 4 minutes 57 seconds. For the long jump, J.B. Britain achieved 19 feet 8¾ inches in 1937 and H.G. Harrison or perhaps Hugh Harrison threw the cricket ball the magnificent distance of  96 yards 1 foot 2 inches in 1937. The high jump record for the school was 5 feet 1½ inches. This was achieved in 1938 and equalled in 1939.

He has recorded the books which he has read, although strangely they are both dated “1937” in this “1935” diary. Typically for a boy perhaps, he has read only two books. They are both by H.G.Wells and they are called “The Camford Visitation” and “Star Begotten”. Both of these were written in 1937, so they were pretty well hot off the presses.  The former work cost him the princely sum of two shillings. The latter book was one of the first, if not the first, to postulate the idea that aliens are visiting the earth to modify Mankind genetically, a scenario familiar to anybody who has dared to look into the vast internet swamp of claims regarding alien abduction.

It is only when S.A.Casswell lists the films that he went to see at the cinema, presumably in Boston, that we realise what a fascinating and attractive world the silver screen must have been for a boy, or a young man perhaps, of 16 or 17 years of age. I will just list the films that he saw, and their connection to the Internet.

There is a vast variety of films that he watched and they do not include those whose titles I have quite simply been unable to decipher. Presumably, in the absence of television during the 1930s, a weekly visit to the cinema must have been the norm for almost every family that could afford it. It is equally striking that even with the other six evenings of the week left largely vacant, this young man seems not to have been over tempted by the opportunity to read books…

Jericho,   Wee Willie Winkie,  Victoria the Great  , The Littlest Rebel, Green LightFive over England Three Smart Girls,  Take my Tip   ,Storm in a Teacup  The Prisoner of Zenda Souls at Sea   Oh, Mr. Porter!   The Squeaker  A Star is Born Dr Syn   Marie Walewska   Hells Angels    A Yank at Oxford   The Count of Monte Cristo    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Pygmalion    Blockade   Black Limelight   The Adventures of Robin Hood Kidnapped   Sixty Glorious Years   Alexander’s Ragtime Band Crime School If I were King   

“Crest of the Wave” and “Lot’s Wife” were both theatrical plays rather than films. He saw “The Prisoner of Zenda” while away at Oxford.

Man with Wings The Dawn Patrol  The Citadel  Angels with Dirty Faces That Certain Age  with Deanna Durbin, Old Bones of the River   with Will Hay You Can’t Take It with You It’s in the Air  and finally, Everything Happens to Me with Max Miller.

S.A.Casswell has recorded only one address in the relevant section. It is Roy Daughton who lived originally at 385, Kings Road Chelsea S.W. 10. Roy moved subsequently to 5, Gerald Road S.W.1 on an unknown date.

And that is probably all I will ever know for definite about S.A.Casswell. I did though make a more determined effort with his private code and came to what I thought was a reasonable explanation of events. As I said earlier, the major problem with the diary is that so many entries are in code, and they appear to be spread over several years. Nowadays, it is going to be extremely difficult to be absolutely certain about this code, given that the entries may refer to completely different circumstances. However, if we accept that S.A.Casswell, at the shy and tender age of 16¾ was sweet on a girl whose name began with a letter I then there is some kind of sense to it all. “Sp.I Party” therefore means that he spoke to Irene or Iris or even Ianthe at a party. “Rec. Card” means that he received a card from her for the New Year. “Ph to I” may well mean “Phone Irene”, and he may have done this after the “Panto” on January 16. On this date, there is another entry, an RAF one, which says “Night Raid on Berlin 1943 spoke to one pilot”. Towards the end of January he starts mentioning “Sp.I Cd  Pty  Ddke” and this is clearly something to do with the girl. On January 25, 1938 the Aurora Borealis was visible mainly from 6.30 p.m. until nine o’clock, but it then persisted to a lesser extent until at least midnight. On January 29th he has written “Three leave began” (an RAF reference?) and “Ph to I re tomorrow”. The next day, it is “Avec I 4 party at Peterboro”, presumably the day he invented texting.
In February, there is more French, with “Avec I 9 pty to Dnce Gldrdrm.” Presumably he is just missing out the vowels in this last entry. From then on S.A.Casswell’s diary is a mixture of, we presume, speaking to Irene at various venues, including the Post Office, and going to parties. There was an election on April 5th when he spoke to Irene, perhaps, at Tudor Lodge.

On April 8th we have “Sp I (drawing of a bell) W.D. avec C.C.”. On May 3rd we have perhaps “I and L ( with a square drawn around it) and “first-time” also in brackets. He saw I again on May 10th and two days later, he spoke to her again on the day of the Coronation. On May 31st he spoke to her at the tennis courts, and on June 2nd he heard, perhaps optimistically,  of the “break with Nigel”. On June 5 he played tennis with her. On June 13th he spoke to her but also wrote the enigmatic “gulls etc” alongside this entry. On July 4th he wrote “ I at Hendon phone”. On July 30th he played tennis with her again ( Plyd T. avec I.). On August 4th he went on holiday to Cornwall and Devon, visiting Cheddar, Penzance, Looe, Torquay, (when he got the Inter Science result) then Minehead and Burford before coming back on August 7th. On August 13th he went with “ I & six to Butlins & on the thriller”, presumably a fairground ride of some type but he also received his Higher result . On Saturday, August 31st, S.A.Casswell went on holiday again at exactly 10.30.a.m. visiting Oxford, Trinity and Stonehenge of which he has drawn a lovely little pencil sketch.

Stonehenxxxxxxxx

He finally arrived at Bournemouth at 9.00.p.m.On September 2nd, he went to Poole Potteries where he sketched some of the pots.  The next day, he sailed around the Isle of Wight in the “Emperor of India”. He saw the Needles, Southampton Water, the Spithead forts, a submarine and an aircraft carrier. In the evening, he saw a variety show at the Pavillion (sic) in Bournemouth. On September 4th, he crossed Poole Harbour by ferry and visited “The Great Globe” and then the Tilly Whim Caves near Swanage. In the evening, he visited the illuminated gardens and fountain at Bournemouth. On the 5th, it was tennis at Meyrick Park followed by Lulworth Cove and the Cordite Works until continuous rain from 6.00p.m. brought the day to a close. Next day, there was a Buckhound meet at Barley, he bathed, he visited the library and museum, and then walked through the town and gardens. On Saturday he “went on (not in) the Boating Lake at Parkestone” before watching “Fanfare” at the Palace Court. He returned from his holiday on September 8th.

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“Sp I” continues fitfully through September and October but there are few entries in either November or December, so it looks as if the romance may have petered out. He seems to have spoken to her on occasion over the Christmas period, including Christmas Day itself, “9 Rec Card. Sp I  Pty Ddk”. On December 30th he seems to have “See I Bycl St Rd” where “St” must surely mean “Station”. He spent his last day as he had most of the year “Sp I Party Tud Lod”.

I did make valiant efforts to trace his rather distinctive name on the Internet, and this was not a total failure. During the Second World War, I found an S.A.Casswell who was in the R.A.F. Perhaps because he had studied Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Mechanics, Physics and Chemistry,  this  S.A.Casswell was a Meteorological Officer. He worked on the staff of the Meteorological  Office itself, rather than being attached to an individual squadron and lecturing aircrew about likely weather conditions before they flew off into combat. In 1998, what must surely be the same man, still living in Boston, Lincolnshire, appears as the author of an abstract entitled “A wind-direction display system”.  His subsequent death at home in Milnthorpe around November 29th 2007 was then announced on the Society News page of the magazine “Weather”. Unfortunately, there are two Milnthorpes, one near Wakefield in Yorkshire, the other a much likelier place to retire to, perhaps, on the coast of Cumbria, near Kendal and the Lake District. The paper “A wind-direction display system” was then posted posthumously on the Internet on April 30th 2012.

I was unable to discover if this particular S.A.Casswell  was married, and if so, what was his wife’s first name. Hopefully, it was Irene or Iris or even Ianthe.

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