Puppy dog tales
PUBLISHED: 11:02 29 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:02 29 December 2015
Lindsay Want's monthly indulgence in tucked away stuff that's simply oh-so-Suffolk
Have you ever seen that ferocious black dog rampaging round and round in circles on Bungay’s Buttermarket? At least these days it’s safely out of harm’s way and only chasing its tail around the points of the compass as a weathervane.
Back in 1577 amidst a terrifying storm, a strange and terrible wonder of a black dog reportedly tore through the assembled congregation of adjacent St Marys, raging its wrath as it went and killing two unfortunates in the belfry. Apparently not content with these devilish deeds, the beast then bounded straight on down to Holy Trinity Blythburgh, where it put another couple of parishioners to death and left huge scratch marks across the door with its burning claws – a sight which can still be seen today.
Both the storm and havoc of that fateful day brought Blythburgh’s steeple crashing down through the roof, leaving parishioners in need of their umbrellas at church services for another 400 years until it was fixed. Dark days indeed.
Whether the damage was down to a cavorting canine or storming force of nature, Bungay has been licking its wounds and recording sightings of a demon dog ever since. Could it have been Black Shuck, that folklore favourite whose origins have been lost in East Anglia’s mists of time? Did it provide the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles? Macabre reality or mere myth, this portent of a pooch is probably the most talked about canine in East Anglia – a real pity when Suffolk has so many other much-loved four-legged f(r)iends to choose from.
Sheer puppy love
Take Dracula for example. He’s buried at Thornham Walks near Eye – a beloved black Alsatian laid to rest alongside Zulu, Fox and Sailor, Punch and two Judys. There’s a place of honour too for Helmingham Hall’s historic hounds just beyond the peonies and beautiful herbaceous borders.
Stories from around Stanton tell how a miller couldn’t bear to parted from his deceased dog, Rosie. He had her stuffed, but somehow later on she went walkies and nobody knows of her whereabouts. Suffolk’s best-loved seadog-of-sorts, dear old Snooks, who sits along the front at Aldeburgh, did a similar disappearing act in 2003. Eight years later, after locals had clubbed together to put a Snooks II sculpture back on the pedestal, the elusive hound popped up at an antiques fair in Lincoln and finally headed home.
Some Suffolk dogs will always remain loyally by their master’s side, or rather at their feet. Witness the 14th century Bacon family memorial in the little church at Erwarton, to the stone monuments to medieval merchants in mighty St Mary’s Bury St Edmunds, or the unusually intact wooden tomb figures in Holy Trinity Boxted.
At Erwarton, Joan de Heveningham has dinky doggies tickling her tootsies. They’re wearing dog collars of course – well, they are in church – whereas the sharp-featured, stoney greyhound leaning its muzzle on noble toes in Bury, looks almost like he’s dressed for dinner.
But the prize for the most picture-perfect pooch though has to go to Tiffany, the brown and white spaniel belonging to Breckland sporting gent Llewellyn Sidney Davies. She’s immortalised in his 1950s Arts and Crafts-style memorial window in St Ethelbert’s Herringswell, a bright and colourful picture, telling the tale of St Hubert, where trusty Tiffany sits by his boots amidst beautiful spring flowers.
Paws for thought
In medieval times in Great Barton, so the story goes, a shepherd’s dog was far too precious a friend to be left out in the cold. Both shepherd and dog were welcome to shelter and overnight in the church porch, and special pews with carved dog bench-ends were placed at the back of the nave, so man and beast could attend services together. But could they be barking up the wrong tree? Many Suffolk church pews from Woolpit to Dennington and Wilby boast carved canines. Head to Stonham Aspal and the restored Jacobean pews have a posse of pooches.
What a howler
But there’s another important hound in Stonham Aspal’s collection – East Anglia’s other legendary wild dog, the wolf that found St Edmund’s head. Thanks to its strange snout, it looks more like a wild boar to a modern eye. The same wolf featured in medieval wallpaintings at Thornham Parva’s tiny thatched church seems to resemble either a deer or racehorse with a toothy grin. Alas, medieval artists only had hearsay or reluctant memories to call upon, unlike the digital imagery at Ben Loughrill’s fingertips when he carved the howling wolf sculpture with his chainsaw in 2013. Look out for that tribute to a lost king on Bury’s Southgate Roundabout.
By the railings of St Peter’s in the centre of Sudbury is a stone drinking trough immortalised by Dodie Smith in her children’s classic The 101 Dalmatians. These days, the original fountain gifted by Alice Mary Brown is filled with flowers, but in the story it’s where proud parents Pongo and Missis stopped around midnight, en route to Hell Hall to save their pups from the vile intentions of Cruella de Vil.
In Haverhill a tiered marble fountain provided water for horses, dogs and people, whereas in Bury St Edmunds, Eastgate Street’s drinking trough was designed for refreshing horses, dogs and cows. The Ouida Memorial drinking fountain in Out Westgate remembers the dog-loving, bury-born authoress of the historical romance, A Dog of Flanders.