In 2011, along with many amazing artists, illustrators and makers I exhibited and sold artwork in support of the British Folklore Museum. Simon Costin, director of the museum, is well on the way to funding a permanent home for the collection, a place that will celebrate our continuing living folk culture.
I’ve been inspired by the British Folklore Museum and a memory from my childhood.
Whilst at school I didn’t learn much in my Geography lessons. Our teacher would have been more at home in a 19th century boarding school than a 1980’s comprehensive. We were the bottom stream, unruly and uninterested. Unable to control the class he had long ago given up trying to teach us anything. The only time the class fell silent was if he decided to tell us a ghost story.
That was when I first heard of the demon dog. He has many incarnations across the British Isle but East Anglia has a very prevalent and persistent variety, Black Shuck. His origins are probably Viking but the name derives from the Anglo Saxon for Devil. Inseparably linked with the landscape, the large black phantom dog haunts coast, creek, mud flat and isolated road. Appearing to some with eyes fiercely glowing, an omen of death and bad fortune. To others the sound of padding paws and panting breath, a sinister but harmless presence following the weary traveller. Stories of Shuck go back for thousands of years with sightings still being recorded today. He has managed to find his way into popular culture too. Whilst staying in Norfolk Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was told the legend of Black Shuck and the following year he published the ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
‘A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame.’