As part of research project, funded by the Society for Psychical Research, I travelled down to Devon in the mid-1990s to consult a unique archive containing information on apparitions of Black Dogs. The archive material was collected by the late folklorist, Theo Brown, who spent much of her life working on this topic area (Brown, 1958, 1978). When she died in 1993, her collection of materials was donated to the University of Exeter Library. During my visit, I spent the night at The Old Black Dog Guest House” in Uplyme on the Devon-Dorset border. The guest house is so-called because of reports of Black Dog encounters in the surrounding area, particularly in the narrow lane, now called Haye Lane but formerly known as Dog Lane (Brown, 1982), that runs behind it.
A view of the guest house and the entrance to Haye Lane behind it.
Looking up Haye Lane towards the back of the guest house
The legend of the Black Dog of Uplyme, first seen in a local cottage,
was first published in 1866 and was summarised by Theo Brown (1982, p.
119) as follows:
A farmer lived in the cottage, but every night a large black dog used to seat himself in the opposite chimney corner. Gradually the farmer grew accustomed to seeing it around, despite the jeers of his friends who wanted him to chase it away. ‘Why should I?’ he used to reply. ‘He costs me nothing – he eats nothing, he drinks nothing, he interferes with no one. He is the quietest and and frugalest creature in the house.’
I did investigate Haye (Dog) lane at night but did not encounter anything
unusual on this occasion, although I can confirm that it is very dark in
places, very quiet and feels quite isolated and rather spooky. The lane
is narrow, pretty deserted and mostly only single-track in width. At the
top end it is enclosed on both sides by a high wall and a hedge; the main
part of the guest house and its car park is above you. Further down, the
lane is quite windy and enclosed by hedgerows and trees, although there
are some houses.
In his, ‘The Book of Days’ (1879, Vol. 2, p. 434), Chambers
reported that, in 1856, a woman described her encounter with a black dog
‘As I was returning to Lyme,’ said she, ‘one night with my husband down Dog Lane, as we reached about the middle of it, I saw an animal about the size of a dog meeting us. “What’s that?” I said to my husband. “What?” said he, “I see nothing.” I was so frightened I could say no more then, for the animal was within two or three yards of us, and had become as large as a young calf, but had the appearance of a black shaggy dog with fiery eyes, just like the description I had heard of the “black dog.” He passed close by me, and made the air cold dank as he passed along. Though I was afraid to speak, I could not help turning round to look after him, and I saw him growing bigger and bigger as he went along, till he was as high as the trees by the roadside, and then seeming to swell into a large cloud, he vanished in the air. As soon as I could speak, I asked my husband to look at his watch, and it was then five minutes past twelve. My husband said he saw nothing but a vapour or cloud coming up from the sea.
Whilst looking through the Theo Brown archive, I discovered a report
of a visit, and reported encounters, that Theo herself had made to the
same location in 1960, when it was an inn:
I visited the Inn on Tuesday, 17th May, 1960, and talked to Miss [X], the inn-keeper’s daughter. She told me the dog had been seen the previous autumn or late summer (1959) when there was a considerable coming and going of bed-and-breakfast holiday folk in transit. Sometime at the height of the season, in August or September, three people booked in one evening, a man and wife and son of about ten years old. After supper they all went for a stroll in the dimpsey [sic], down Haye Lane.
It is a shame that no records were kept of this encounter at the time.