All down the Church in midst of fire
The hellish monster flew;
And passing onwards to the Quire
He many people slew
The Black Dog of Bungay made his famous appearance on Sunday the 4th August 1577, the details of which were recounted in the pamphlet 'A Straunge and Terrible Wunder', written by one Abraham Fleming and "Imprinted in London by Frauncis Godly dwelling at the West End of Paules". In this brief work Fleming described how, during a terrible storm, a "dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour" made an appearance at the parish church of St Mary's at Bungay in Suffolk.
According to Fleming, "This black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all), runing all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a momet where they kneeled, they stragely dyed." Fleming further recounted how this "same black dog ... passing by an other man of the congregation ... gave him such a gripe on the back, that therwith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up, 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." Fortunately this particular individual "dyed not, but as it is thought yet alive".
As it turned out this black dog made another appearance that very same day at the Holy Trinity Church some thirteen miles away at Blythburgh. There the "like thing entered, in the same shape and similitude, where placing himself uppon a maine balke or beam, ... sodainly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slewe two men and a lad, and burned the head of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom diverse were blasted." All of which Fleming saw as a "woderful example of God's wrath, no doubt to terrifie us".
As it was Abraham Fleming wasn't the only one to write of the devastation visited upon this corner of Suffolk in 1577. The chronicler Raphael Holinshed also recorded how "a strange and terrible tempeste of lightening and thunder" had "strake through the wall" of the church at Bungay "betweene the houres of nine and ten of the clocke in the forenoone", and that "one man moure than fortie yeares and boie of fifteene yeares old", were consequently "found starke dead". However whilst Holinshed also wrote of how a bolt of lightning had struck the parish church of Blythburgh and "slue two men which sat in the belfrie" and "scorched another", there was no mention of any black dog putting in an appearance at either location. Sadly Holinshed appeared to be of the opinion that both events were simply the result of the havoc wrecked by a severe thunderstorm on two inadequately maintained village churches.
Of course the truth should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story and the Black Dog of Bungay duly became part of the local folklore; the official Bungay coat of arms features the famous Black Dog and the local Bungay Town Football Club goes by the popular name of the Black Dogs. However although the local St Mary's Church does possess a wooden carving that depicts the legendary Black Dog, there are otherwise no remaining signs of the beast's visit. On the other hand, if you travel down the A144 and then nip across the B1123 to Blythburgh, and visit the Holy Trinity Church whose north door still bears the marks of the Black Dog to this day. Although there are those who say that these are simply the scorch marks made by the lightning back on that fateful day in 1577.
Many believe that the Black Dog of Bungay was simply yet another manifestation of Black Shuck, the infamous ghostly black dog which is said to haunt the coastal districts of Norfolk and Suffolk with occasional forays into Cambridgeshire and Essex. However shuck is supposed to be a portent of impending doom to those who witness his appearances, whilst the Black Dog of Bungay allegedly wrought his own doom upon the unfortunate parishioners of Bungay and Blythburgh.
- William Hone, George Cruikshank, Samuel Williams, Charles Lamb, The Every-day Book, Or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, Sports (Hunt and Clarke, Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden, 1826)
- Christopher Reeve, The Black Dog of Bungay - A brief history
- Blythburgh, Suffolk
- Mike Burgess, Shuckland, January 2005.
- Black Shuck
- Phantom Black Dogs