Barghests & other Black Dogs

Driving back from Scunthorpe yesterday, I finally had the chance to stop in Northorpe near Gainsborough and to visit St John the Baptist.  A very pretty church that sits on a slight mound, raised above a bend in the main street through the village. What makes this particular Church special, is that the Churchyard here is reputed to be home to Lincolnshire's only 'Barghest'. And while Lincolnshire has spectral back dogs and you can read about them here, this is the only one specifically named as a Barghest (sometimes Barguest) a mythical monstrous black dog with large teeth and claws from Northern Folklore. While you might meet a spectral Black Dog anywhere, Barguest seem in particular to favour cemeteries.

A contributor writing to Lincolnshire Notes & Queries in 1896 [1], wondered if Northorpes Barghest was a relative of Denmark's 'Kirke-varsel' or Sweden's 'Kirke-grim'. belief popular among folklorists at the time was that it had once been the custom to bury a dog alive under the cornerstone of a church as a foundation sacrifice. This spirit dog would subsequently become the guardian of the Churchyard, warding off the malevolent or those coming to profane the space reserved for burial. Confusingly, in Norfolk, Black Shuck sometimes seems to adopt this role.

A medieval carved head on the North wall of the Church.

To muddy the water further, in another village close by the parish, there once lived on old man who locals suspected of being a wizard. Folklorist Mabel Peacock, talked to residents of Northorpe and surrounding farms collecting their accounts of this man. Mabel later wrote : [2]

" it was affirmed, (this man) was in the habit of turning himself into a dog and biting cattle. I know a man still alive who is quite sure that he has seen the old wizard in a canine form, but never witnessed the transformation." 

But someone else she spoke to had fared better and witnessed the culprit changing shape!

" A neighbour of his is reported to have been more fortunate. He saw, on one occasion, a black dog biting his cattle, and, running to the rescue, beheld it turned into the old wizard. I have heard this story from more than one person to whom he has narrated it. "

The mythological landscape around Gainsborough and Kirton in Lindsey is rich in Black Dog legends, so perhaps it's not unexpected to find two so close together. But whether the Barghest of St John the Baptist ever set eyes on the old Wizard in his canine form, we will never know. While I was visiting I took a moment to drop a Boggartstone off, do let me know if you found him. And if you know of any recent sighting of the this Churchyard Grim, please get in touch.


Sources and further info:

[1] From:  Lincolnshire Notes & Queries, Vol IV Part 29, January 1896, p. 147

You can read this entry on the Internet Archive here:

[2] From:  County Folk-lore Vol V: examples of printed folk-lore concerning Lincolnshire. The Folk-lore Society, 1908, p. 53

You can read this entry on the Internet Archive here:


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