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Weird Norfolk: The spectral black dog of Ditchingham

PUBLISHED: 13:28 17 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:28 17 November 2017

Tthe Bungay Black Dog weather vane in Market Square .  Picture: Adam Scorey

Tthe Bungay Black Dog weather vane in Market Square . Picture: Adam Scorey

Archant

It had been an unremarkable if pleasant evening spent with friends at a reading room in Bungay but it would end with something quite remarkable.

Weird Norfolk feature. Ditchingham Blck Shuck sighting. Pirnhow street.
Picture: Nick ButcherWeird Norfolk feature. Ditchingham Blck Shuck sighting. Pirnhow street. Picture: Nick Butcher

Reading rooms were established in the middle of the 19th century to provide enlightenment for those unable to afford newspapers, periodicals or newspapers and to provide a shared space where ‘the working man’ could find a more worthy gathering place than the local watering hole.

On an early autumnal night in 1938, Ernest Whiteland left his companions and set off on the half-hour walk back to his home in Ditchingham, close to the village’s station.

As he crossed Bungay’s market place, the clock at St Mary’s Church struck 10pm. With the witching hour two hours away and the walk stretching out for a mile-and-a-half, Mr Whiteland was in no hurry to rush home – it was a clear, still night and the walk was no chore.

Norfolk Fair, the county magazine, of June 1980, records what happened next.

Weird Norfolk feature. Ditchingham Blck Shuck sighting. Pirnhow Street.
Picture: Nick ButcherWeird Norfolk feature. Ditchingham Blck Shuck sighting. Pirnhow Street. Picture: Nick Butcher

“I went down Bridge Street and across Ditchingham Dam, turned to the right past the Maltings, which used to be a silk factory, and was about halfway between the foreman’s house at the Maltings and Ditchingham Station when I saw a black object roughly 75 yards away, coming towards me,” Mr Whiteland said.

“I was on the left hand sixe of the road, close to the hedge. As it came close, I could see it was a large black dog, trotting along the same side of the road as I was on. It was a lovely evening – no wind, and everything was quiet and still. As it came to about nine or ten yards away, I could see that it had a long, black shaggy coat and was about 28 or 30 inches tall.

“I moved into the middle of the road to let it pass. When it got level with me, it vanished. I looked round to see if I had made a mistake, to see if it was still running along, but could not see it. I then went and looked over the hedge, expecting to see it on the meadow, or her it, but could do neither.

“I stopped, it seemed to me, for some minutes. Then a sudden fear came over me and it did not take me long to cover the distance to my home.”

Shaken, Mr Whiteland wasted no time in telling his friends what he had seen on Pirnhow Street – now the home of the Bungay Black Dog Running Club – the night before. They told him they were sure that he had seen Black Shuck, the famous devil dog which first visited Bungay in 1577 during a terrifying thunderstorm.

Then, as the people prayed for salvation from the storm at St Mary’s church in the town, as the thunder roared outside, a huge black dog appeared, tearing round the church and – in the words of an old rhyme – “all down the church in the midst of fire the hellish monster flew and, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew”

Many people believe that the black dog of Bungay and Black Shuck are related only by virtue of the fact that both appear to be gigantic canines but that they are two separate beasts, albeit both other-worldly. While one is felt to be a harbinger of doom, the other seems to be a gentler presence, remarkable mainly due to its size and ability to disappear into thin air.

Mr Whiteland certainly never forgot what he’d seen accompanying him on his walk back to Ditchingham. Years later in 1953, when living in Aldeburgh, he admitted: “I have been past the place lots of times since, and at all hours. But have never seen nor heard anything more...”

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