In his absolutely definitive book, Explore Phantom Black Dogs, the author and researcher Bob Trubshaw wrote the following: "The folklore of phantom black dogs is known throughout the British Isles. From the Black Shuck of East Anglia to the Mauthe Dhoog of the Isle of Man there are tales of huge spectral hounds 'darker than the night sky’ with eyes ‘glowing red as burning coals.'" While a number of intriguing theories exist to explain the presence and nature of such spectral-like beasts, certainly the most ominous of all is that they represent some form of precursor to – or instigator of - doom, tragedy, and death. One of the most infamous of all black-dog encounters in the British Isles occurred at St. Mary’s Church, Bungay, Suffolk, England, on Sunday, August 4, 1577, when an immense and veritable spectral hound from Hell materialized within the church during a powerful thunderstorm and mercilessly tore into the terrified congregation with its huge fangs and razor-sharp claws. In fact, so powerful was the storm that it reportedly killed two men in the belfry as the church tower received an immense lightning bolt that tore through it and shook the building to its ancient foundations.
According to an old, local verse: "All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew. And, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew." Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the beast bounded out of St. Mary’s and was reported shortly thereafter at Blythburgh Church, about twelve miles away, where it allegedly killed and mauled even more people with its immense and bone-crushing jaws – and where, it is said, the scorch marks of the beast’s claws can still be seen to this day, infamously imprinted upon the ancient door of the church. Even more intriguing is the fact that Bungay’s legend of a satanic black hound parallels that of yet another local legend: that of Black Shuck, a giant, spectral dog that haunts the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Such is the popularity of the Bungay legend, that it has resulted in an image of the beast being incorporated into the town’s coat of arms – and the Black Dogs is the name of Bungay Town Football Club.
The stark, disturbing and memorable image that the infamous devil dog, or the phantom hound, as described above undoubtedly conjures up is that of a definitively sinister beast that stealthily prowls the towns and villages of ancient England by nothing more than silvery moonlight or to the accompanying background of a violent, crashing thunderstorm. It is, however, a little known fact outside of dedicated students of the phenomenon that sightings of such creatures have also taken place in modern times: in both the 20th and 21st centuries, even, as is evidenced by the following reports from my files. Now, however, we have to turn our attentions to the Phantom Black Dogs that were just as terrifying but that were completely flesh-and-blood, rather than paranormal black hounds. That's right: the phenomenon has two sides to it.
Mark North, a noted researcher and author who has dug deep into the legends of Britain’s ghostly black hounds, says: "There are a lot of stories in there about the phantom black dogs. I’ve done a lot of investigations into the stories and myths around black dog tales. If you go back to the older tradition of black dogs, I think a lot of it could have been invented. On the Dorset coast, for example, there was a very big smuggling trade going on centuries ago. I think a lot of the stories of these animals were invented to frighten people and keep them away from the smuggling areas. What was also happening around this time is that Dorset had a lot of connections with Newfoundland and they used to do a lot of trading with the fishermen there. It was around this time that the Newfoundland black dogs were brought over here, to this country. So, you have a new type of dog being brought over here, which was very large and that no-one had ever seen before, and then you have these tales of large black dogs roaming around, and smugglers inventing these black dog tales."
Mark is very keen to stress that while he does accept that some such tales were created by smugglers to keep nosy villagers out of their hair, he also believes there is a real, supernatural aspect to the phantom black dog enigma. I do, too.