WEIRD NORFOLK: Black Shuck appeared to a woman in Buxton at the precise moment her brother dropped dead

The phantom black dog of Buxton that foretold the death of a loved one. Picture: EDP Library/Sam Rob

The phantom black dog of Buxton that foretold the death of a loved one. Picture: EDP Library/Sam Robbins - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

The phantom black dog of Buxton that foretold the death of a loved one and why it's best to be cautious when visiting rural churchyards in Norfolk at twilight...

Scholars of the Weird in Norfolk know that big black dogs spotted wandering close to churchyards at night are rarely good news. Black Shuck is the ghostly black dog said to roam in East Anglia inland and at the coast, often believed to be an omen of death, his name from the Old English word "scucca", meaning devil or fiend.

Reverend ES Taylor wrote about Black Shuck in 1850: "This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight. And of course, across the border in Bungay, Abraham Fleming's famous account of "a strange and terrible wunder" in 1577 recounted the terrible tale of a beast that killed people at worship, leaving tragedy in its wake.

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But in Buxton, it seems, Black Shuck has branched out into a whole new career as a messenger bearing bad tidings: while the woman who spotted the devil dog in a Buxton churchyard did not die herself, the dog's visit coincided exactly with the death of her brother. In the Borderline Science Investigation Group's quarterly journal the Lantern of 1977, Ivan Bunn offered more details about the incident which happened in 1930 thanks to a letter from Helen Reynolds. "The incident took place late on afternoon on the road near Buxton Lamas church, Norfolk, in 1930," he wrote. "The witness wrote '…I had not gone many steps when suddenly from nowhere a large, black shaggy dog appeared at my side. I put my hand down to pat him, saying 'hello old fellow, where are you going?' but before I could actually say 'going' the dog disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared 'On the following Tuesday morning…I had a letter to tell me my brother had died at Liverpool Hospital the previous Friday…at the exact time I encountered the dog…'"The woman, had been walking with a friend and had parted company close to Buxton Church and she had set out towards Lamas, but as the clock struck 4pm, the dog appeared. The letter informing her of her brother's death, written by her sister, arrived four days later. In the 1920s, the witness had been told as a child by their schoolmaster in Buxton about the legend of Black Shuck and been warned that he roamed the area.

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Ivan also recalled a similar story at Winfarthing in Norfolk when a local woman sawa a huge black dog approaching her cottage one evening which then disappeared into thin air: her grandfather died shortly afterwards, attributed to Shuck's visit.

Many cultures link large black dogs - particularly those that roam at night and do not appear to have either a master or mistress - with bad omens. In Ireland, it is believed that if a black dog visits the grave of a priest it means he had been untrue to his vows during his lifetime and if a black dog visited the grave of a woman it meant she had committed adultery. In English folklore, phantom black dogs have been reported in Devon, Cornwall, Lancashire, Leeds and even at Newgate Prison, where a black dog was said to appear before executions for more than 400 years.

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