The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus covers the period 655 to 1117 and tells us of the arrival in 1128 of Henry of Angely, he having been appointed Abbot of the Abbey then known as Burch by King Henry I. This had not been a very popular appointment as far as the monks were concerned and Hugh records a great many of their complaints, and Abbot Henry’s actions. One such record tells us that:
‘In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of Lent, throughout the woodlands and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and their hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. And this is no false tale, for many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns.’
Dr Simon Sherwood in ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ [University of Northampton Psychology Department, 2008] suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is the account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:
‘Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.’
Is the story true – or just made up to scare people? I don’t know. It is said to be the basis of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story and I do know that it makes one heck of a spooky story when told late in the evening, in the dark, under trees with the shelter of a beautiful, towering Cathedral close by!