Modern day celebrations of Halloween generally involve groups of children dressed in scary costumes roaming from house to house, demanding a “trick-or-treat”. However, traditionally, Halloween is also a time for telling ghost stories. Therefore, with a mind to keep things local (to me) I thought we’d take a look at “Black Shuck”, the name given to a ghostly black dog – supposedly the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles novel – said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.
Research suggests the name Shuck may come from the old Anglo-Saxon word “scaucca” or “scucca” which means a “demon”, or it may be based on the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”. A creature of legend, alleged sightings of Black Shuck vary in both shape and size but usually include a large dog with large red or yellow eyes, or sometimes one huge eye in the middle of the ghostly black dog’s forehead. All sightings describe thick, shaggy black fur, a snarling mouth, and, most importantly, Shuck is supposedly the harbinger of death, an omen of doom, and to see him is to befall a terrible fate before the week is out.
In his “Highways & Byways in East Anglia”, published in 1901, W. A. Dutt says…
“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.”
An article posted in the Peterborough Advertiser in 1936 states that local people used to shun the A605 road between Whittlesey and Coates during the hours of darkness because of the ‘Shuck Dog’ said to haunt the highway at night. The creature is large, black, has “great yellow eyes”, and “brings sure death to anyone he meets.” However, other stories describe the Shuck as assisting lone women, wandering or lost in the night, to safety.
Perhaps, late at night, if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear Black Shuck howling …?