By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way rambles.
In deepest darkest Suffolk a cold wind blows and black dogs are on the prowl. It’s always faintly amusing when one’s home makes the headlines, but this week mine has done so for some faintly malevolent reasons.
The sleepy (hollow) town of Bungay has been revealed as the site of Britain’s largest concentration – or congregation – of Satanists, according to the latest census. Apparently 70 people here, out of 8,500, live to spread the glory of Lucifer – roughly a hundred times the national average.
On first inspection, this might surprise outsiders, given the imposing towers and facades of the four churches in the centre of the town. But perhaps there’s a reason the forces of the Almighty feel the need for that level of overkill. Dig a little deeper, and hints of the occult are everywhere.
Bungay is famous for the legend of Black Shuck, a monstrous canine said to be the Devil himself, who attacked the congregation of St Mary’s Church one evening during a thunderstorm in 1577, killing a number and leaving scorched claw marks on the church door. It is said Black Shuck appeared the same night at Holy Trinity Church in nearby Blythburgh, causing a similar degree of mischief.
The tale is the source of Bungay’s emblem, a black dog riding a lightning bolt, which is very metal. It can be spotted across the town. Blythburgh’s own encounter with the beast is the subject of a song by the quadruple platinum, multi-Brit Award-winning rock band the Darkness, which is also very metal, and was quite a big deal round here at the time.
A visit from the Devil himself might explain why Bungay attracts folk with a penchant for pentagrams. They say that at the full moon, claw marks are illuminated on the church door and howls can be heard around the town. In the churchyard there is a rock called the Druid’s Stone that, when danced around twelve times, can summon the Devil. Others say that all it does is attract a gang of well-known local teenagers who harass passers-by. Others believe these to be the same thing.
Bungay certainly has other credentials. Not many towns like it have vast, ruined castles, with reputedly the stoutest walls in Europe. But if the presence of a low-budget Hogwarts wasn’t enough to entice would-be witches and wizards, the town’s largest employer, the Clays print works, is where every copy of Harry Potter in this country was bound.
The magic doesn’t end there. Clearly there’s something in the water, given the town has, just beyond its boundaries, an award-winning vineyard and a cheesemaker whose products can be found at nearly every high-end London restaurant (and who I won’t name until they magic up some freebies). The river Waveney at Outney Common, upon which the town is perched, has been listed by both the Guardian and the Times as among the top ten places to try “wild swimming” in the UK. Given the propensity of witches to float, perhaps try not to be seen doing it by the local inquisition.
Truth be told, it has always been a quirky place, this Suffolk town with Norfolk postcodes. It has a history of large fires engulfing notable buildings and, in 1688, half the town. And there have been a spate of odd goings on. There’s the mysterious group of people who started appearing every Thursday evening running through the labyrinthine streets. Could this be the local coven? Is the “Black Dog Running Club” just a front for something darker? The proprietors of the greengrocers, meanwhile, messers Giddens and Thompson, mysteriously vanished a few months ago without trace. Some say they made a deal with the Devil some years back, and that this explains why their veg was so luscious, but meant a debt needed to be paid. Others say they moved to Norwich, but no one knows for sure.
But, with Christianity on the wane, and life getting tougher in the UK, perhaps for once Bungay is at the forefront of a trend. People need causes to rally behind, and Satan is nothing if not aspirational. How else is one meant to get on the housing ladder without striking some Faustian bargain, or pay your heating bills without sacrificing a goat? Sure, there’ll be Hell to pay down the line, but it can’t be any worse than the high tax and debt burden our current dark overlords have saddled us with.
[See also: No, LSE hasn’t “erased” Lent]