Exploring new interpretations
of past and place in
archaeology, folklore and mythology
Black dogs in folklore
For he was
speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran,
Who spoke the spectre hound in man.
Sir Walter Scott,
The lay of the last minstrel, Canto VI, v.26.
Why is the
death-hound of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the
Baskervilles such a vigorous archetypal beast? Conan
Doyle's inspiration was the folk tale of a phantom black dog
on Dartmoor. Such beasts recur throughout Britain, with
almost every county having at least one example. A typical
reference appears in the Rev Worthington-Smith's book on the
folklore of Dunstable, published in 1910:
«Another belief is that there are
ghostly black dogs, the size of large retrievers, about the
fields at night, that these dogs are generally near gates
and stiles, and are of such a forbidding aspect that no one
dare venture to pass them, and that it means death to shout
at them. In some places the spectral dog is named "Shuck"
and is said to be headless.» 
It is interesting that
Worthington-Smith refers to the name 'Shuck'. I doubt that
this is a name normally used in Dunstable, as this is
normally associated with Norfolk, where the reference is
more typically to 'Old Shuck'. In Suffolk the black dog
becomes 'Old Shock' (both these probably derive from the Old
English scucca, meaning 'demon').
In the Quantock Hills of Somerset
the black dog was frequently seen and called the 'Gurt Dog'.
Cornwall has various tales of the 'Devil's Dandy (or Dando)
Dogs', Devon has the 'Yeth (Heath) or Wisht Hounds. Other
local names include Barguest, Black Shag, Padfoot or Hooter.
Just to be different, in West Yorkshire the common name is 'Guytrash';
in Lancashire this is reduced to 'Trash' or changed to 'Skriker'.
Further afield, a particularly unpleasant phantom pooch
frequented Peel Castle on the Isle of Man in the seventeenth
century and was known as the Moddey Dhoo, or Mauthe Doog. In
Ireland we hear of the Pooka.
Although Theo Brown produced a
detailed and useful survey of black dog lore in a Folklore article of 1958  she went on to collect considerably
more material, although was unable to collate it into
publishable form by the time of her death last year .
In the Mercian area there are at
least seven examples for Warwickshire alone:
At Alveston, Charles Walton, a
ploughboy, met a phantom black dog on his way home on nine
successive evenings. On the final occasion a headless lady
in a silk gown rushed past him, and the following day he
heard of his sister's death. 
The apparition of a tall lady with
a large black dog at her side has been seen Pickerings Barn
in Brailes. 
During the Second World War at
Brook House, Snitterfield (which used to be the Bell Brook
Inn) a big black dog was seen. It ran over the tilled earth
of the garden without leaving footprints.  Very old
people of Warwick used to say that the castle was haunted by
a black dog. The tale has the hallmarks of a time-encrusted
tall story. The local version claims it all started when an
old retainer there, a woman called Moll Bloxham, sold milk
and butter from the castle stores for her personal gain. One
Christmas she overdid this, and the then Earl of Warwick,
getting wind of it, stopped her source of supply. Furiously
angry, she vowed she would 'get them haunted'. She
apparently succeeded and returned in the form of a big black
dog. In due course the clergy were called in to exorcise the
ghost with bell, book and candle, but for a time they were
entirely unsuccessful. Then one day, so it was said, a huge
black dog sprang from Caesar's Tower into the river below,
and so ended the ghost story. 
A black dog with a matted, shaggy
coat and green eyes roams in Whitmore Park at night. Local
people avoided the area, since to see the dog means a death
in the family .
Meon Hill has both a phantom black
dog and a ghostly pack of white hounds. The death of George
Walton in very curious circumstances on 14th February 1945
was accompanied by a black dog being hung in a nearby tree.
Walton had seen a black dog on nine occasions - the last
time it changed into a headless black woman. His sister died
shortly after. Although strongly contested, Walton's death
has many overtones of the ritual sacrifice of a 'cunning
In Nottinghamshire only one black
dog story is known. A manuscript dating to 1952 in
Nottingham County Library records the words of Mrs Smalley
who was then about 75 years old. 'Her grandfather, who was
born in 1804 and died in 1888, used to have occasion to
drive from Southwell to Bathley [near South Muskham] in a
pony and trap. This involved going along Crow Lane, which
leaves South Muskham opposite the school and goes to Bathley.
Frequently, along that lane he saw a black dog trotting
alongside his trap. Round about 1915 his great-grandson, 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.' 
Moving across to Lincolnshire there
are a number of examples. The two best known appear in Ethel
Rudkin's book . 'The road up to Moortown House was
haunted by a big black dog that always disappeared into the
hedge at the same place.' And at Blyborough 'The Black Dog
has been seen near the Fish Pond and near the "Old
Yard"'. However Rudkin's 1938 article in Folklore
 lists a much greater number - by 1958 there were 47
separate black dog localities in Lincolnshire .
In 1127 a rapacious Abbot called
Henry of Poitou was appointed to Peterborough Abbey. The
chronicler of the day records 'tat as soon as he came there
. . . the soon afterwards many people saw and heard many
hunters hunting. The hunters were black and big and
loathsome, and their hounds all black and wide-eyed and
loathsome, and they rode on black horses and black goats.'
Such a wild hunt was reported at a similar time in the Welsh
Marches by Walter Map, writing about 1190. Walter map also
gave us the legend of Wild Edric in the Clun area of the
Marches. As late as last century Edric was said to haunt the
hills around Church Stretton - in the form of a huge black
Such packs of spectral hounds -
with or without hunters - have been seen all over Europe,
and are generally known as the Gabriel Hounds or Gabble
Retchets in Britain, and as the Wild Hunt in Germany and
Woden's Hunt in Scandinavia. They are similar to the Seven
Whistlers in that they were a portent of death or disaster.
Perhaps the association with Gabriel and an old word for 'corpse'.
Clearly, these wild hunts also like with the Welsh tales of
Cwm Annwn, the spectral hunt, and even with the Wandering
Jew folklore which is known throughout Europe. To what
extent all these sky-traversing hounds are the last vestiges
of a complex and ancient cosmological mythology is a matter
for academic debate. I will just observe here that as far
away as the New World the Cherokee Indians refer to the
Milky Way as 'Where the dog ran'. A dog which ran from a
corn mill in the south towards the north, dropping meal as
he ran, is given as the origin of the Milky Way in
Scandinavian legends too 
I know of no examples of phantom
black dogs in Leicestershire and Rutland and only
circumstantial accounts of one at Retford, Nottinghamshire.
Although a country-wide survey
would extend well beyond the confines of this article -
indeed beyond the whole issue of Mercian Mysteries -
I will venture to mention two examples from West Yorkshire
which might not be more widely known.
Thornton, near Bradford, Jim
Craven Well (104:SE1033) was the haunt of the ghost of
'Peggy wi't Lantern' and 'Bloody Tongue', a great dog with
red eyes and a huge tail. The well is now lost .
A spectral hound with large glowing
red eyes traditionally haunts Helliwell Banks Well, Baildon
(104:16103962; now capped over) and the nearby Slaughter
Lane. Several other wells in West Yorkshire are associated
with the 'Guytrash' which takes the form of a large shaggy
dog with broad webbed feet. It has drooping 'saucer' eyes
and walks with a splashing sound (the 'trash' sound of
old-fashioned boots) 
Folklore also tells us of some
dramatic consequences resulting from the sighting of black
Somerset has a black dog which
appeared in 1960 to two people - who both died soon after.
East Anglia, Essex and Buckinghamshire all have examples of
phantom dogs which disappeared in dramatic flashes, in one
case burning to death a farmer, his horse and wagon.
On Sunday 4th August 1577 an
extremely violent thunderstorm shook the church of Bungay,
Suffolk. A fearful-looking black dog appeared inside the
church, in front of the parishioners. Two who were touched
by the animal were instantly killed and a third shrivelled
up like a drawn purse. On the same day a similar hound
appeared in the church at Blythburgh, seven miles away, also
killing three people and 'blasting' others. The market's
weathervane depicts the fiendish hound. Other such
devastating apparitions had been recorded, for sometime
before 1613 a bull-like creature manifested inside the
church at Great Chart in Kent, leaving a trail of dead and
seriously injured, before demolishing part of a wall and
disappearing. [17; 18]
As a link in to my article
in this issue on the mythology of dogs <bdogs.htm>, I will
draw upon just a few examples most relevant to Earth
mysteries. In Wiltshire, Bishops Canning, has a black dog
legend associated with a stile into the churchyard and a
possible ley - and 40 or so other black dogs are also
recorded for that county alone .
Theo Brown states bluntly: 'Roads.
These seem to be the natural home of Black Dogs. I have at
least 55 examples of these . . . In addition to the above,
there are nine haunting bridges. Numerically it looks as
though the emphasis is on the man-made road being guarded,
rather than the natural stream.' 
Other writers have speculated on
the links between these phantom black dogs and leys. Janet
and Colin Bord, in a chapter of Alien animals giving
a comprehensive account of phantom dogs, show that a number
of such sightings occur in places - such as churchyards and
barrows - which are Watkins-style 'ley markers' and have a
list of four tentative alignments in Lincolnshire which are
associated with black dog sightings (Algakirk; Northorpe;
North Kelsey; Blyborough) .
I am indebted to a number of
friends for responding to my request for information on
phantom black dog legends; in particular Jeremy Harte and
also Pat Bradford, Janet Bord, Bob Dickinson, Frank Earp and
and its surrounds, 1910.
2: Theo Brown, 'The black dog', Folklore, Sept 1958
3: Her notes are now deposited with University of Exeter
library. I can only hope that sooner rather than later a
post-graduate student obtains funding to compile these into
a publishable book.
4: Roy Palmer, The folklore of Warwickshire, Batsford,
5: Alfred Woodward, Memories of Brailes, Peter
6: Palmer, op. cit.
7: David Green, A Warwickshire Christmas, Alan Sutton,
8: Palmer, op. cit.
9: Nottingham County Library MS; information kindly supplied
by Frank Earp.
10: Ethel H. Rudkin, Lincolnshire folklore, Beltons,
11: Ethel H. Rudkin, 'The black dog', Folklore, June
12: Brown, op. cit.
13: Jennifer Westwood, Albion - a guide to legendary
Britain, Granada, 1985
14: G. de Santillana and H. von Dechend, Hamlet's mill
15: Val Shepherd, Historic wells in and around Bradford, Heart
of Albion Press, 1994; citing T. Mackenzie, Bronte moors
and villages, 1923.
16: Shepherd, op. cit.
17: John Michell and Bob Rickard, Phenomena: a book of
wonders, Thames and Hudson 1977.
18: Westwood, op. cit.
19: John Michell, Earthspirit, Thames and Hudson,
1975; citing Kathleen Wiltshire, Ghosts and legends of
the Wiltshire countryside, Salisbury, 1973.
20: Brown, op. cit.
21: Janet and Colin Bord, Alien animals, Panther, 2nd
Black dogs - stop press latest
Just when I thought I'd got to
grips with just about everything worthwhile on the subject,
up barks Peter Jenning's article on Black Shuck legends in
the latest Gippeswic .
In addition to some more examples
of black dog apparitions in East Anglia, two very
interesting ideas emerge from this survey. Jennings notes
that black dog sightings seem to be especially prevalent in
East Anglia and the Yorkshire east coast - areas which were
heavily settled by Scandiavians from the seventh century. A
link with Norse traditions does, of course, fit in well with
the mythology discussed by Alby Stone and myself in our
articles. Personally, I would want to make a more accurate
assessment of the distribution before making such an
assertion - there are, after all, many examples too from
other regions and countie with plenty of recorded examples
of black dogs are usually simply those where a folklorist
has been particularly active.
One other snippet of speculation
more strongly suggests Scandiavian associations. As I have
noted, black dogs appear under a variety of regional names.
One such is 'barguest', prevalent in parts of Yorkshire.
Peter Jennings reports that Sir Walter Scott suggested that
this appelation came from the German bargeist, 'spirit
of the (funeral) bier'. Now that really does fit in
exceptionally well with the 'guardian of the corpse ways'
concept. Many thanks Peter for drawing attention to this -
even if you would prefer to see the origin as impling some
sort of guardian spirit who 'bars' unwanted 'guests' (though,
that too, has strongly liminal associations).
On a lighter note, Jennings informs
us that in Suffolk there is a Black Shuck Borderline Morris
team. Is the 'borderline' aspect merely an unconsciously
affirmation of the liminal role of the Shuck mythos?
1: Gippeswic No.9, June
1994, GBP1.75 from 42 Cemetery Road, Ipswich, IP4 2JA
Originally published in
Mysteries No.20 August 1994.
Of all the articles uploaded to the
At the Edge Web site, it has been this overview of
black dogs that has generated the most emails.
Summary of emails received
about black dogs. <bdemails.htm>
Black dogs section of
Jeremy Harte's bibliography Alternative Approaches to
bibliography of black dogs in folklore and mythology <bdbiblio.htm>
guardians of the corpseways <bdogs.htm>
A wide-ranging study by Bob Trubshaw of black dogs as
At the Edge home page <index.htm>
Index of articles uploaded
Copyright 1994, 1996, 2001. No
unauthorised copying or reproduction except if all following
a: Copy is complete (including this copyright statement).
b: No changes are made.
c: No charge is made.
At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /
Created April 1996; updated October 2001
Sorry for the delay.
Thanks too for the info about the
NDE and the images. Not too many people have tried to depict
'phantom' black dogs so I'm intrigued by your pics.
Which Web pages? Are they all
written by me? If not I will need to contact the author for
formal permission. Please email the URLs (Web site adresses)
of the relevant page(s) and I then confirm. Shouldn't be any
problem but I need to know exactly what you are interested
Thanks to Bob Trubshaw to have let
me publish this text "Black Dogs in folklore"
No changes have been made , the copy is complete. You
can check out the website
and the relevant page(s) with illustrations
Other links to "black dog"
Apparitions Of Black Dogs-Dr
Black Dog - Canine Apparitions
Revisited and Beyond
Folklore and Mythology
The Folklore of the British isles
(The Boston Bull)
from The Mythology of Dogs
by Gerald and Loretta Hausman
DOGS IN FOLKLORE AND RELIGION
Bestiary:A guide to Greek monsters
Peel Castle - The Moddey