I’ve been excited by a recent announcement of a plan for mapping the Grim: the Black Dogs of the British Isles. Called by a variety of names: Black Shuck, the Barghest, Trash, or Padfoot—the names shift with the location, reflecting the creature’s Trickster-like ability to assume first one animal form, then another. Let us see what shape was haunting a lane near New Milford in Pembrokeshire in the years 1890-92.
Why is it that the idea of a ghostly animal is so particularly unpleasant? The question is not easy to answer, but I fancy most people would rather face any apparition in human form than a spirit animal. Many places in Wales were said to be haunted by such creatures, and endless are the tales concerning adventures with them. Sometimes they were “hell-hounds” strayed from the pack of Gwyn ap Nudd, Lord of the Under-world, that came sniffing and crouching round the dwellings of those about to die. Occasionally they were visible as slinking, cruel-looking black dogs, but ordinary people (without second sight) could only hear their melancholy howling. Sometimes it was thought that the souls of wicked men assumed the form of dogs after death, doomed to haunt certain places such as cross-roads, lonely moors, or dark lanes for ever. In this idea we find a trace of the ancient Celtic belief in the transmigration of souls. But most terrifying of all were apparitions that did not exactly resemble any earthly animal, but rather seemed compounded of two or three different ones. Of this last type I have several stories in my collection of such matters, but will confess to having hitherto considered them with some amount of scepticism–or at all events held them “not proven.” However, since reading the curious and interesting incidents that follow, one realizes once more how many things happen inexplicable by everyday philosophy, and how enormously greater is the submerged bulk of the iceberg of Life, than the pinnacle which shows above the sea of consciousness and is by most of us mistaken for the whole mass. This record of experiences has been sent me by Mr. W. Phillips, a well-known resident of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, who vouches for its absolute truth. It is best repeated in his own words, and is headed “An Account of uncanny appearances seen on the Road between Haverfordwest and Pembroke Ferry in the years 1890-92.”˗M. L. LEWES.
Some years ago a family of the name of Pavin-Phillips, who were cousins of mine, lived at Little Milford in the parish of Pembrokeshire, and I frequently walked down there to visit them on Sundays or on Thursday half-holiday. Sometimes I would stay the night, but usually returned the same evening.
Little Milford is about three miles from Haverfordwest and the usual route to take is along the main road from Haverfordwest to Pembroke Ferry as far as Freystrop, where you turn off on a parish road leading to the church and, ultimately, to the village of Hook.
About half a mile from Merlin’s Bridge, a village just outside of Haverfordwest, there is an old-fashioned residence called Woodbyne, with a square, walled garden running parallel with the road and, at the end, on the town side, there is a considerable strip of roadside waste. From this strip, at right angles to the road and running along one side of the wall, there is a disused lane, quite overgrown and, at the time I am writing of, there was a piece of timber across the entrance instead of a gate.
On Sunday, October 19, 1890, I had been to Little Milford and was passing this spot on my way home about 10.20 at night. It was a calm, moonlight night and cloudy, but it was possible to see some distance distinctly. Suddenly I became aware of a strange-looking animal moving along the road close to me; it looked like a cat at first glance, but it was much too large for that, and its head was more like a fox’s. It appeared to be of a light brown colour with white hindquarters. It moved fast and seemed to glide rather than gallop, but did not make the slightest noise; this was what struck me at the time as being strange, as I could see it distinctly for some seconds. It also seemed unusual for a shy animal like a cat or fox to come close to a man at all.
I passed and repassed the spot many times after that without noticing anything unusual until one night, the date of which I have no note, I was again returning from Little Milford alone, between 10 and 11 o’clock on a cloudy moonlight night, and had reached Woodbyne. On the roadside nearly opposite the old lane, there was a pile of broken stones for repairing the road, and I saw what appeared to be a very large dog standing with his forefeet upon the stones, his hind feet being on the grass. He looked almost as large as a St. Bernard, was quite black, and had an odd-looking, bushy tail curled on his back. I passed quite near to him and then saw to my astonishment that it was not a dog, nor indeed was it like any animal I had ever seen or heard of, for its head and forequarters were like a goat or calf and it had short horns, but its hindquarters were more like a dog’s than anything else; there was nothing unusual about the eyes that I noticed, but it had a big, massive head. The creature stood there like a statue and, after going on a few paces, I turned round to take another look at this strange beast. But by this time, it had moved to the entrance of the lane and was in the act of leaping over the timber, and although such a large animal falling into a lane overgrown with dry brambles must have made a considerable crash, I heard no sound at all; it passed like a shadow and did not again appear during the remainder of my walk.
I continued my visits to Little Milford, sometimes with company but often alone and saw no more of this strange creature until the night of November 10, 1892. It was a dark, stormy night, and I left Little Milford some time after 10 p.m. alone.
Soon after leaving the house I heard a most peculiar noise, like the creaking of a spindle that wanted oil, or the noise caused by the wings of a large bird when it happened to pass near you, but on such a rough night it seemed very unlikely that any birds would be about. It was impossible to tell where the sound was coming from; sometimes it seemed to be overhead, at others inside the fence on the right, then on the left; now in front, then behind, and so it kept on almost incessantly, except when it was drowned by the noise of the wind, until I reached a deep hollow called Culvert Bridge. Here I met two men who appeared to be walking along in silence; they did not speak as I passed, nor could I hear them talking to one another. The noise at once ceased as I met them and I did not hear it again until I reached Woodbyne, when it suddenly started again and continued until I had almost reached the G.W. Railway bridge, which crosses the road just outside the village of Merlin’s Bridge. Here the noise suddenly became louder on my left, causing me involuntarily to turn my head in that direction; at the same moment from the opposite side of the road came a panting noise, followed by a deep roar. I stood on the defensive with my stick expecting an attack from some animal; next there was a crash in the bushes on the top of the fence, which is high with thick growth on it, and a huge black dog, which I could just make out in the darkness, jumped into the road and galloped up the hill towards Woodbyne. I did not hear the creaking noise again, nor have I ever heard it before or since.
After this I made some inquiries and found that the country people do not care to pass that part of the road at night and say, “There is fear there,” a local expression signifying that something supernatural has been seen there; but no one knows of any tradition connected with it.
Somewhere about the year 1880, a Miss Tasker was one evening walking along this road with her sweetheart, and when near Woodbyne they met a huge, black animal which they described as something between a dog and a calf; the lady was terrified and suffered for some time after from the shock.
A farmer, whom I knew well, W__ B__ of a farm near Freystrop, told me that about the end of January, 1887, he was going into Haverfordwest about 2 o’clock to fetch a doctor. He was quite alone, and when coming up Culvert Hill he met what he thought at first was a huge black dog. He was carrying a sword-stick, and drawing the weapon to defend himself, the creature–which looked fierce with glaring eyes–suddenly jumped from one side of the road to the other, and at the same moment there was a noise as if a cartload of pebbles had suddenly been tipped up. B__, who is a fine, powerfully-built man, told me he was much frightened, but had never seen the creature again.
I did not mention the matter to anyone until the second occasion when this strange creature showed itself, and up to that time had never heard that anything unusual was to be seen on this road. In the year 1893 my cousins left the county and my walks to Little Milford came to an end. Since that time I have not often been along the Pembroke Ferry road at night.
So conclude Mr. Phillips’ personal experiences; but in the letter accompanying his MS. he says—”A woman told me a few days ago, that she and another young woman saw the same creature one moonlight night some years ago. It came along behind them and passed quite close and looked like a very large dog, but also resembled a calf. They experienced a strange feeling of dread, and the girl clutched the woman so hard that ‘she pulled all the gathers out of her dress.’ A brother of this woman also saw it on another occasion, and says it looked like a calf and made a strange panting noise.”
In considering Mr. Phillips’ narrative it is important to note that he had never heard of any apparition being seen on that particular road, and that therefore his mind was in nowise prepared to discover anything uncanny about the first animal he saw. It is also curious that the creatures he encountered on the second and third occasions seem to have been of quite a different type to the first he saw; nor do the people whose experiences he quotes seem to have seen anything but the large black animal of terrifying aspect. —M.L.L.
The Occult Review, April 1920
Cats, calves, and canines seem to be the standard manifestations of whatever is toying with us. All that is missing from these accounts are the glowing, saucer-like eyes and I’m not sure if the “glaring” eyes seen by the farmer with the sword-stick qualify.
We have met Mr. Phillips before, in a story of a phantom tombstone. He seems to have been an Experiencer with a deep interest in local lore and a ready pen for writing of his encounters to various periodicals. I’m particularly intrigued by the unusual sounds that accompanied this set of Black Dog manifestations: the peculiar creaking noise, the sound of a load of pebbles being dumped, the lack of sound when the Black Dog jumped into the dry brambles, the panting and the roar. Are there other interesting aural components to other classic Black Dog sightings? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.