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The Black Dogs of Death

The Black Dog is a terrifying apparition which has been sighted repeatedly, and often with dire consequences, throughout the British Isles over the last millennium. Unlike many legends, there are still many accounts of Black Dog sightings even today.

What Are The Black Dogs?

Black Dogs are spirits which have been recorded in thousands of anecdotes, over the last 800 years, from nearly every area of Britain and Ireland. The physical appearance of the dogs can differ greatly, and they also have different names according to various local legends – for example, the Padfoot in North England has feet that turn backward, the Black Shuck in East Anglia has one eye, which is a wicked, flaming red, the Mauthe Doog, from the Isle of Man, is said to have extraordinarily large eyes, and the Lamper, in Scotland, is white and has no tail.

Contrary to popular belief, the appearance of a Black Dog is not always a portent of doom. There are accounts of Black Dogs helping farmers herd animals, and other tales of Somerset’s Gurt Dog, which would protect children and lone travelers. However, many Black Dog encounters are incredibly horrifying experiences and/or  harbingers of tragedy – an omen of either the death of the witness themselves, the death of a loved one, or a great personal loss.

Black Dogs are nocturnal and have nearly always been encountered in remote and desolate places, on ancient roads, or around areas associated with death. Crossroads, old paths, graveyards and execution sites are all prime locations for sightings. However, sightings are not completely limited to any one type of place and individual anecdotes can be read which cover nearly any environment.

Perhaps the most famous and well documented sighting of this phenomenon occurred in the town of Bungay during a thunderstorm in 1577. On that night, a Black Dog (or the devil in disguise as it was assumed) tore through the church and wrought complete havoc upon the place, causing 2 parishioners to drop dead as it ran between them, then touching another man who shrivelled up, according to Abraham Fleming’s 1577 pamphlet, ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder: Wrought Very Late in the Parish Church of Bongay’, ”as it were a peece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with a string”.

This same dog, on the same night, then made an appearance at another church in the neighboring town of Blythburgh where it killed 2 other people. Over 400 years later, a scorch mark from that ill-fated night is still visible on the door of the Blythburgh church, and the weather vane on the Bungay church features a black dog riding a lightning bolt instead of the customary rooster.

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  1. lillyrose

    On October 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm


    WOW… I am scared! I had heard of the black dog before and I reckon there was a sighting a few years back in Cornwall think but I never knew it was in as many places as that. I don’t think its a wolf, we don’t have them down here do we?

  2. WriteEditSeek

    On October 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm


    Cool topic. I have never heard of the black dog legends. I enjoyed how you interwove the anecdotes into your piece. The information was also balanced and informative. Nice work.

  3. Frances Lawrence

    On October 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm


    That was a very interesting article. I did not know anything about black dogs before this.

  4. Paul Griffiths

    On October 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm


    @LillyRose – There aren’t wolves anymore in Britain but they did have them until the 1700’s or so, which might account for some of the old stories. But yes, given that, the modern accounts are much harder to explain away if they aren’t hoaxes :-/

  5. Dr David Waldron

    On March 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm


    I will do the shameless book plug here to get the word out but the curator of the Bungay Museum and myself have just released a new book on the story of the Black Dog of Bungay. “Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Local Folklore” which is based in archives and interviews to trace the story from the 1577 event to the present.
    You can read more about it here,

    http://hiddenpublishing.com/about/shock-the-black-dog-of-bungay/

    We are having a book launch in St Mary’s on the 27th of March 2010 at noon and well the more the merrier for people interested in the fascinating part of English history and folklore.
    best
    David

    P.S sorry to use your thread to let promote the book i am just trying to get the word spread as far and wide for people interested in Black Dog legends in Britain. So please feel free not to post if you feel its inappropriate for your blog.

  6. Paul Griffiths

    On March 23, 2010 at 11:56 pm


    HI David,

    Ordinarily I can’t stand people posting plugs or links on my articles, but I don’t mind this one at all. It’s very appropriate and I’ll check it out. Best of luck… I hope your book does well.

    ~ Paul

  7. adam fitch

    On April 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm


    well my fact on this is i am back in the woods alot in alabama and i have seen it but i have looked it up and so far as i know u can only see it one time a day if you see it two times u will die of a unusual death but if u see it once you will have good luck i have actually seen it with my own eyes not saying what i saw was THE BLACK DOG OF DEATH but i am a little on edge about it but i would like to know more about this animal/dog but i have seen it before but it did not resemble a normal dog it was straight black and not a bit of any other color i am not scared i find this dog interesting i have tried to see it 2 times but never have. Evin if i saw it once i tried to follow it and see it 2 times but it would dissappear. I really would like to know more.

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