WEIRD SUFFOLK: The shapeshifting headless hound of Barnby
- Credit: Archant
The headless hound of Barnby that could shrink and disappear at will: was the phantom dog a relative of the infamous Black Shuck?
This is Shuck country, on the edge of the Broads and surrounded by marshland, an area rich in legend and folklore. Close by, The Hateful Thing at Geldeston prowls, a huge black dog who brings death to all that meet him and at nearby Bungay, Shuck famously appeared during a terrific thunderstorm at the Priory of St Mary in 1577. While Barnby may not boast a devil dog that trails devastation in its wake, many villagers believe that it has a large, black dog which haunts the Beccles to Lowestoft road and terrorises travellers. Close to Water Bars, a bend which takes its name from the time when water frequently drained off the fields and flooded this stretch of road between the Parish Church and Blind Man’s Gate, a headless hound was spotted numerous times in the 1930s.
In the Eastern Daily Press of January 17 1968, Albert Sharman told his story. Albert lived in a cottage which had also been the home of George Beamish, who had died a year previously in 1967. “George was walking home one night and coming up to the Water Bars when he noticed a dog alongside him,” Mr Sharman said.
“He did not pay any special regard to the animal, then turned to speak to it. He looked and he saw it was no ordinary dog. It was big and black, but it had no head. He put his hand down to coach the animal, but it went clean through the dog...there was nothing there.
“He got the wind up and ran home to his family. He told them ‘I saw a dog on the road. I went to touch it, but it wasn’t there. There was no bloody head on it!”
The story, said Mr Sharman, had been corroborated by the postmistress at North Cove, Brenda Bartrtam, Mr Beamish’s niece, who said that she had seen the creature twice, including on one occasion with her sister, Dora Horan.
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“The post office was then down the street,” said Mrs Bartram, “we went round the corner and suddenly saw a big black dog like a Labrador. I said to my sister ‘It’s Boy Partridge. Let’s take him home, he shouldn’t be out on the road.’
“I went to get hold of him and he shrivelled up to the size of a cat. I have never been so frightened in my life, I was absolutely petrified. I just fell down in the road and screamed. My sister ran up the church steps.” Mrs Horan – a newsagent for many years – also said the dog “shrunk to the size of a cat and vanished” when they went to touch it. She was terrified and ran up the steps and home.
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Violet Shulver, of Hillside, Mill Lane, told how her Uncle Tom saw the hound when returning one night from the Blind Man’s Gate public-house, which was demolished in the 1950s. And Michael Wigg, an engineer, said he’d been walking home with his bicycle after getting a puncture when at Waters Bar, he saw something strange.
“It was by the gamekeeper’s cottage and half-light when I glanced to one side and saw what seemed to be this big Labrador,” he said.
“I did not hear anything, not a movement. It was very eerie. I turned round and the animal had gone. It was definitely a big, black dog, but it made no noise. I felt a cold shudder come over me at the time, and I hurried to reach home.”
Perhaps the strangest story was that of a Mutford farm worker, Denny Colier, who was walking home from Lowestoft to Barnby when he saw a black dog with a chain around its neck. His story was told by villager Dorothy Delf: “The dog brushed along his legs. He bent down and heard the chain rattling as it was dragged along the road,” she said. “He went to touch it and it was gone. Denny is convinced he saw the dog. He says there is a legend that a dog was killed on the railway line. Its head was crushed by a train, and its became embedded in its neck.”
Former skipper Charlie Bailey also saw Barnby’s headless hound – twice. Once as he came home from Lowestoft on the A146 and a second time a few nights later at precisely the same spot. As he passed the area, his oil lamp blew out: he relit it, but it blew out again. “He dared not wait any longer to try a second time!’” laughed his friend, John Alexander.
The Water Bars were a small section of the A146 where water used to drain away from the fields and occasionally flood the road before pipes were laid to divert it. Perhaps Barnby’s black dog was there to warn those who travelled of the potential danger of the road they were taking?