Incorporating Fascinating Legends into Classic Story Lines

Incorporating Fascinating Legends in Classic Story Lines

I have been writing Jane Austen-inspired novels since late 2007. One of the issues of reinventing Austen’s story lines to incorporate new materials or events that would prove true for the time period. As I am preparing to write my fourth Austen novel with a “mysterious” slant, I have become quite proficient in finding unusual legends that add a bit of suspense to the plot/conflict. Some of my favorite twists and turns include Bungay and Blythburgh’s Black Shunk, The Hat Man, Landisfarne Island and St. Cuthbert, the baker of Depedale, as well as the Merrick Moor’s Murder Hole.

The legend of the Black Shunk comes to us from the late 16th Century in the small towns of Bungay and Blythburgh and serves as part of my first mystery, “The Phantom of Pemberley.” According to church records, on August 4, 1577, during a violent thunderstorm, an apparition of a black dog entered unseen by the assembled parishioners the nave of the church of St. Mary’s in Bungay. The apparition touched two of the congregation and immediately fell dead. As Abraham Fleming stated in his 1577 pamphlet, “A Straunge and Terrible Wunder,” a third parishioner was “drawn together and shrunk up as like a piece of leather.” Thirteen miles away, at the Holy Trinity Church of Blythburgh, three parishioners were killed and others “blasted” by the demonic creature.

All down the Church in midst of fire,

The hellish monster flew;

And passing onwards to the Quire,

He many people slew

In Fleming’s own words, he described the apparition as, “This black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all), running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a momet where they kneeled, they stragely dyed.” Fleming also said of the dog, “[s]ame black dog…passing by an other man of the congregation…gave him such a gripe on the back, that therwith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up, as it were a peece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with a string.” This victim “dyed not, but as it is thought yet alive.”

Those in Blythburgh described the event as, “[l]ike thing entered, in the same shape and similitude, where placing himself uppon a maine balke or beam…sodainly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slewe two men and a lad, and burned the head of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom diverse were blasted.” Fleming thought these events as a “woderful example of God’s wrath, no doubt to terrifie us.”

The Black Dog of Bungay became part of the local folklore; the official Bungay coat of arms features the famous Black Dog and the local Bungay Town Football Club goes by the popular name of the Black Dogs. However, although the local St Mary’s Church does possess a wooden carving that depicts the legendary Black Dog, there are otherwise no remaining signs of the beast’s visit. On the other hand, if you travel down the A144 and then nip across the B1123 to Blythburgh, and visit the Holy Trinity Church the north door still bears the marks of the Black Dog to this day (or perhaps these are the remnants of a lightning strike during the storm).

The legend of the Hat Man served as the “Phantom” in “The Phantom of Pemberley.” Shadow People are supernatural shadow-like humanoid figures that, according to believers, are seen flickering on walls and ceilings in the viewer’s peripheral vision. They are often reported moving with quick, jerky movements, and quickly disintegrate into walls or mirrors. They are believed to be evil and aggressive in nature, although a few people consider them to be a form of guardian angel.

Reportedly, Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger on an experience that he had as a young boy. Craven once saw a scary looking man wearing a bowler hat. The man had scars all covering his face.  People who reportedly come across a hat man usually claim to feel a frightening feeling, as if they are being threatened. While some ghosts do not seem aware of the presence of the living, it appears that shadow people do. Witnesses claim that, despite not seeing his face, they have a sense that the hat man is staring right at them.

Furthermore, it would seem that this entity’s sole purpose in visiting people is to make them as uncomfortable and frightened as possible. They normally don’t try to communicate, except for the fact they are emitting bad vibes. Their mere presence alone is enough to make someone feel extremely uncomfortable and even threatened.

Dale Abbey Archway

I used the tale of the baker of Depedale in my latest novel, “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy.” Dale Abbey is in Derbyshire, the shire in which Jane Austen placed Fitzwilliam Darcy’s magnificent estate of Pemberley. Once known as Dependale, Dale Abbey is three miles SW of Ikleston and six miles NE of Derby. Augustinian monks founded the abbey in the 13th Century.

Behind All Saints’ Church, one can find an ancient woodland area with beech, ash, oak and lime trees. Within these woods is the Hermit Cave, which was hewn out of the sandstone cliff by a 12thCentury Derby baker. It is said an angel had visited the baker and had told him to find his way to this place and to live as a recluse. The cave is six yards by three with a doorway, two windows, a peephole, and a niche that let in more light. Part of the legend includes how the Norman Ralph Fitz-Geremund found the hermit in the woods, and touched by the baker’s piety, gave the man the site of the hermitage and a tithe of his mill at nearby Borrowash. Then the hermit built himself a more pretentious oratory and a cottage to end his days.

Dale Cave

One of my favorite legends to incorporate into a story was that of St. Cuthbert and Lindisfarne Island. I used Lindisfarne as the final location of vampire George Wickham’s remains in “Vampire Darcy’s Desire.” The island is said to have magical powers.

One of those powers is the idea that those buried on the island do not decay. This comes from the tale of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert, monk, hermit and Bishop of Lindisfarne, died on 20 March 687.

St. Cuthbert’s coffin

Eleven years after his death the monks went to dig up the body, to translate it into the fine new shrine inside the church, and found, to their astonishment, that his body was incorrupt. Bede, the first English historian, said that Cuthbert was more like a sleeping than a dead man.

418 years after Cuthbert’s death, questions arose as to whether Cuthbert’s body remained undecayed. Therefore, nine monks, led by Prior Turgot, examined the contents of the coffin. The first account of this is in Symeon of Durham’s ‘Historia Ecclesiae Dunhelmensis,’ written in the 12th Century.

The nine monks carried the coffin into the new church. There, they lifted the lid and removed the cloths until they exposed body of Cuthbert. The monks reported that Cuthbert was lying on his right side, whole and undecayed, as though he were asleep. The watchers immediately fell on their knees and recited the penitential psalms. Then they removed the bones of Bede and other saints, which had been stored in Cuthbert’s coffin and put them to one side.

Two of the monks nervously lifted out the body, and the watchers reported that it sagged, as if alive. A new floor was made for the coffin and Cuthbert’s body replaced. News of the revelation spread quickly amongst those who had been invited for the translation ceremony, but skepticism persisted.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the NE coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and constitutes a civil parish in Northumberland. A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides–something well described by Sir Walter Scott: “For with the flow and ebb, its style/Varies from continent to isle/ Dry shod o’er sands, twice every day/ The pilgrims to the shrine way/ Twice every day the waves efface/ Of stave and sandaled feet the trace.” This fact played out well in “Vampire Darcy’s Desire” because Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam chose the island because vampires supposedly cannot cross water. However, a causeway would provide Wickham an escape. Large parts of the island, and all of the adjacent intertidal area, are protected as Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve to help safeguard the internationally important wintering bird population. I did not use the birds in the story line, but I am enthralled with the idea of how the birds return to the island year after year.

I have added several more unusual new and unusual legends to “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy.” When you read it, I hope you will think of the way I have previously used unusual tales in my novels, while you enjoy the reading journey.

Book Blurb:

Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor – the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.


Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced – finding Georgiana before it is too late.

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Publisher – Ulysses Press



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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3 Responses to Incorporating Fascinating Legends into Classic Story Lines

  1. mesmered says:

    Firstly love the sound of Disappearance… a TBR to be sure.
    Secondly, you mention something that has great significance in my own writing. I have a fascination with folktale and many of the secondary characters in my imagination are descended from myth and legend. There is an exceptional book: Carol Rose’s Encyclopedia of Spirits, Faeries, Gnomes and Goblins and it details all the creatures that people the world’s legends. It’s my bible!
    Thirdly, great post pointing to the strongest stories of all! Thanks so much, Regina.

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