British Folklore: Legends of the Black Dog

The British Isles are rich in history and tradition and there are many strange and wonderful legends gathered from folklore whose origins are lost in the mists of time.  From these mists there have emerged many folk tales of spectral animals with strange and terrible powers that are said to haunt the forests, hills and remote byways of this ancient land.  Perhaps one of the most terrifying of these is the legend of the Black Dog.

Black Dog – Author: Liza Phoenix – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Sightings of phantom Black Dogs have been recorded from many parts of Britain for many centuries, with encounters in England seeming to be the most prevalent.  Most of the English counties report incidents and sighting of these mysterious beasts which are known by many names, depending on location. In East Anglia the beast is often known as Black Shuck where it has haunted the countryside even before the arrival of the Vikings.  In Scotland there is the Cu Sith and in Tring, Hertfordshire, the Lean Dog and in other parts of England there is the Church, or Kirk, Grim and many other names.

The Black Dog of Bungay

One of the most frightening incidents ever reported took place in the quiet market town of Bungay, in Suffolk.  On the Sunday morning of the 4th of August, 1577, during the Morning Service at St. Mary’s Church a terrible and violent storm broke out. The sky darkened, thunder crashed and rain fell heavily from the skies.  Lightning flashed wildly as the storm broke upon the church.  Inside the congregation knelt to pray.

Suddenly to the horror of the congregation from out of a flash of lightning there appeared in the church a huge and monstrous Black Dog.  Howling wildly as the lightning flashed and thunder pealed, the beast ran amok attacking the terrified parishioners and causing havoc.

Two people at their prayers were killed and a third man was badly burned from being mauled by the beast, but did survived the ordeal.  There was great damage inflicted upon the church, as the tower was struck by lightning and the clock destroyed, before the Black Dog finally ran wildly from the church to the relief of the petrified congregation.

Around twelve miles away in the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, at a about the same time the Black Dog, or another beast like it, appeared and also attacked the frightened congregation at prayers killing three people.  There are scorched scratch marks on the church door that can still be seen to this day.

Title page of the account of Rev. Abraham Fleming’s account of the appearance of the ghostly black dog “Black Shuck” at the church of Bungay, Suffolk in 1577: “A straunge, and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay: a town of no great distance from the citie of Norwich, namely the fourth of this August, in ye yeere of our Lord 1577.” – Author Abraham Fleming – Public Domain

The Lean Dog of Tring in Hertfordshire

In the Hertfordshire town of Tring a phantom with red, glowing, eyes and known as the Lean Dog is said to haunt the site where a gallows once stood.   In 1751 an old woman was accused of witchcraft by locals and drowned.   A local chimney sweep was accused of taking part in her murder and was hanged from the gallows.  In the 19th century two men who encountered the Lean Dog reported it as being gaunt, haggard and unkempt.

A local schoolmaster who encountered it reported it to being about the size of a Newfoundland dog with a shaggy coat and tail and long ears.  There are also reports that state that with its first appearances it materialize as, or from, a fiery torch.

The Cu Sith

In Scottish and Irish legend the Cu Sìth, which means ‘fairy dog,’ was said to have a dark-green, shaggy coat and to be about the size of a large calf.  Its eyes were large and had a fiery glow and its tail was curled and sometimes braided.

In Celtic tradition phantom dogs are usually black though sometimes they are white but have red ears.  The Irish Cu Sith is describe as being a huge black hound. Green is associated with ‘fairies’ in Celtic lore and it is named the ‘fairy dog’ and seems to be in league with them.

The Cu Sith was feared as a harbinger of death.  In much the same way the Grim Reaper appears at death to lead the soul to the afterlife, so the Cu Sith takes the soul to the underworld.

The hound is said to have hunted silently for its victim but would sometimes rend the air with three blood-curdling yowls that carried for a great distance. When this was heard men would lock up their women to prevent the Cu Sith from stealing them and taking them to the fairy world where they would be made to give up their milk to the children of the fairies.

The Church, or Kirk, Grim

The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to England from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog.  The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’  Both appear in English and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds.  They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.

In many parts of Europe, including Britain, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built.   A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil.  It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it.

Hound of the Baskervilles – Image Author: w:Sidney Paget – Public Domain Image

The Black Dog of Galley Hill, Luton

In ancient times Galley Hill was home to a hill fort and barrow.  Later in 16th-and 17th century it became a place of execution and a gallows was erected.

Galley Hill is a highly visible landmark where witches and criminals were executed there and their bodies covered in tar to preserve them.  They were then left to hang on the gallows which stood high on the hill as a warning to others before being eventually buried.

It is reported that one night the hill was hit by a ferocious storm.   The gallows were struck by lightning setting it and the ground around it on fire.  In the flames a Black Dog was said to have been seen howling and capering wildly.  People believe that the beast comes for the souls of criminals and witches driving them through the Gates of Hell for Satan.

Benevolent Black Dogs

Sightings and encounters with Black Dogs are still reported though they seem less horrific than those of the past and in some cases even benevolent with the beast acting as a guardian or guide ensuring travellers arrive at their destination safely.  Sometimes they have been reported by drivers who have seen them in their headlights in the road at night only to vanish when the vehicle is about to make contact.  There are also reports from many other parts of the world about similar ghostly encounters which suggest that the Black Dog is not just a British phenomenon.

                                                                                                                    © 24/04/2014 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

 Copyright 24/04/2014 zteve t evans

The Mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit

Photo Author: Rod Bacon

Versions of the Green Children of Woolpit

Woolpit is a village in Suffolk that has a history that goes back 2,000 years or more. It has seen many events in its long history, but perhaps one of the strangest must be the appearance of two mysterious green children.  Their story was recorded by two chroniclers; Ralph of Coggershall and William of Newburgh.  There are also a number of other versions, some set in the neighbouring county of Norfolk, but it is the Suffolk version that is dealt with here.

Harvest Time

The story begins on a clear, bright, day during harvest time when the villagers were out reaping their crops. As they worked they became aware of the sound of someone weeping and crying.  The cries, although sad, were strange and seemed to be in words that they could not understand.

With growing concern that someone might be in trouble the villagers began searching the area.  Following the weeping sounds they found two small children; a young boy and a young girl.  Nearby, was the opening to a wolf-pit which they appeared to have come out of.  They were very frightened and cried bitterly.

Even though the villagers meant them no harm the children were frightened and tried to escape.  Although the villagers were very poor, they were kind and caring people and wanted to help the children.  They caught the children and looked to see how they could assist them. There was no sign of any adults accompanying them so they tried to calm them down and tried to ask them where they were from.

The villagers were astonished to find that although the children were very much the same physically as any other children; they had some very strange differences.  For a start the two children were wearing clothes of a style the villagers had never seen before and they spoke in a language that they could not understand. It was certainly not any form of English that the villagers knew. Stranger still, the villagers saw the children’s skin was a shade of green on all parts of their body.

Sir Richard de Caine Offers Them Food

The children were fearful of the villagers and held on to each other crying bitterly. The villagers felt terribly sorry for the children and refused to let them go, wanting to help them and keep them safe.  They took the children to Sir Richard de Caine, a knight, who they thought might know who they were and how to help them.

The children were still terrified and continued their crying and weeping. Despite being starved with hunger the children would not eat anything Sir Richard and his servants offered them.  No matter how gently Sir Richard coaxed or what his servants put before them they still refused to eat.

Fresh Green Beans

Having offered all the contents of his pantry and the children still refusing to eat Sir Richard had his servants go and look in the garden to see if there was anything there he could tempt them with.  The servants came back with fresh green beans and out of desperation Sir Richard offered them to the children.  On seeing the beans the children immediately showed interest.  Using gestures they indicated they wanted to try them.

However, when Sir Richard offered the bean pods and stalks on a plate to the children they picked up the stalks and opened them expecting to find beans inside.  Finding nothing in the hollow stalks the children were so upset they began crying again. Sir Richard and his servants on seeing this then showed them how to open the pods and get the beans out. On seeing the children cheered up and heartily began eating the beans straight from the pod.  For many months after the children would only eat green beans and nothing else.

The Green Children stay with Sir Richard

Sir Richard allowed the children to stay in his household as they had no where else to go.  Sadly, the boy, who was often low of spirit and of a despondent manner fell sick and passed away within a short while.  His sister, however, grew strong and full of vitality and began to eat other types of food other than green beans.  As she grew stronger and older her skin slowly lost its green tinge.

A Far, Far Country

The girl thrived and gradually learnt how to speak English.  Sir Richard was still curious as to where she and her brother had come from and asked her about her past.  She told him she and her brother had come from another country far, far away and that everyone who lived there had green skin.  The girl said that in that country there was no sun.  She told him that the light there was similar to twilight in England just after sunset but the light was green and so was everything else.

How the Green Children Came to England

Sir Richard asked how she and her brother had got to England. She told him that she and her brother had been tending their family’s flock of sheep which had strayed into a large cavern.  As they were tasked to guard the sheep they had followed them into the cave with the intention of driving them back out.

When they entered the cavern they heard the sound of bells ringing. They both thought this was the most wonderful and delight sound they had ever heard and they were enchanted by their ringing.

As if in a spell, the two children forgot all about their sheep and followed the sound of the bells down along a passage until at last they stumbled out of the cave into the bright sunlight.  The children’s eyes were not accustomed to such light. Temporarily blinded and disorientated they began crying.  That is when the villagers first heard them by the wolf-pit.  They had tried to find the cave entrance hoping to escape the villagers and return home.  However, in the bright light they became lost and could not find their way back.

Even though Sir Richard may have found her tale strange and far fetched he let her stay in his household for many years and had her baptized into the Christian church.  There were times he noted her behaviour to be immoderate and free now and then, but he was a kindly and tolerant man and let it be.

The Account of Sir William of Newbridge

In the account of Sir William of Newbridge this all happened during the reign of King Stephen between the years 1135-54 He claimed the children had been discovered during harvest time.  They had been found near the entrance to the Wolf-pits around 5 miles from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. He said that they had both eventually lost the green tinge to their skin, been baptized and named Agnes and learned how to speak English.  Sadly, the boy had always been weak and sickly and had died.

St. Martin’s Land

According to Sir William the girl had flourished and eventually she married and had children.  She always claimed she came from a country called St Martin’s Land where everyone revered St Martin and everyone was a Christian and there were many churches.  The girl insisted that in that country there was no sun and everything was lit by a green light. There was a very wide river and on the opposite bank they could see a very bright country.

Fairies and Fullers

To some people the legend is the meeting of the fairy world with the human world. They argue that green is the traditional colour associated with fairies and the often immoderate and free behaviour of the girl were typical traits of the fairies.

Other people take the view that there may be parts of the legend that were based on fact but became exaggerated or distorted over time.  For example, it is known that about the time when it is thought to have happened there were immigrants from Belgium living and working in the area.  These were Flemish fullers and merchants.  The fullers made their living by processing and possibly dying wool different colours.  They also spoke their own language of Flemish.

Tensions arose between the Flemish and local people and the Flemish were massacred.  Some people think it possible the children escaped into the forest. Their green skin may have been dyed deliberately by their parents or themselves as camouflage.  Being of Flemish origin would also explain their language and their different clothes.

Although this is plausible it does not take into account what the girl is alleged to have told Sir Richard.  Another problem with this idea is that Sir Richard was almost certainly one of the most eminent people in the area.  As such he would probably have had some knowledge or direct involvement in such an attack.  It is also quite possible he may have had business dealings with the Flemish and would probably have realised that the language the children were speaking was Flemish.  Some accounts also say that it was not the Flemish fullers, but Flemish merchants who were massacred.

Chlorosis – The Green Sickness

Another theory is that the children were suffering from a type of anaemia known as chlorosis, sometimes called “green sickness”.  They may have acquired this through wandering starving and undernourished through the woods.  However, even though there are many accounts of girls, especially around the age of puberty being afflicted with green sickness, it is very much rarer in boys.

Continuing Intrigue

It is an interesting story and one that arouses the curiosity in people for many centuries. We will probably never know the truth now but no doubt it will continue to intrigue future generations just as much as today.

References and Attributions
Image - File:WoolpitSign.jpg From Wikipedia -   Author: Rod Bacon - 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
History mysteries: The Green children of Woolpit 
Green children of Woolpit - From Wikipedia 
BBC Radio 4 The Green Children of Woolpit
chlorosis, 
Mysterious Britain & Ireland 
Mysterious People