After a day in Gloucester, I headed back to the train station via Black Dog Way. The folklore fan in me had visions of this busy dual carriageway once being a sinister stretch of road where travellers would be hounded by the apparition of a black shuck until they could make it to the safety of the nearest inn. Despite the warmth from the fire, the traveller would shiver and shake as they told those inside of their encounter with a huge beast with flaming eyes and the landlord would pour a stiff drink for both the initial shock of the experience and the one that would follow when the locals imparted the news that to meet with the Black Dog was a sure sign that you would soon be meeting your maker. They are not all good dogs, Brent.
Was I barking up the wrong tree though? Well, I was right about there being a giant canine in the vicinity but it was more of a sign for a pub rather than one of impending death. The name of the road takes its name from a coaching inn called ‘The Black Dog’ on Northgate Street which had a huge black dog, carved from New Zealand Kauri pine, on its roof. That said, the pub was demolished in the 1960s and so perhaps it was, in its own way, a meta-portent of the building’s eventual doom.
The dog was thought to have been destroyed along with the inn but it was discovered in a brewery warehouse in Stroud in 1973 and rescued, and is now at the Gloucester Life Museum. It was carved in 1908 by Arthur Levison, assisted by his son Arthur Levison Jnr, to replace another carved canine made of petrified oak. Yes, those black dogs are so fearsome, even the wood used is scared stiff.
Whilst on the subject of folklore, it’s worth mentioning that during renovations to the Black Dog Inn in the 1950s, ‘an old pointed shoe resembling a clog’ was discovered behind a partition in an upstairs room, along with two coins from the 1740s. It’s highly likely it didn’t end up there by accident. As Brian Hoggard explains on his Apotropaios website, around 2,000 examples of concealed shoes have been discovered in this country and research suggests their purpose was to ward off evil spirits. Interestingly, the museum where the inn’s black dog has been re-homed is a timber framed building dating back to Tudor times, and on some of its beams are other examples of folk magic including marks scorched into the wood to protect the house from fire.
So the road took its name from the inn but what’s still to be considered is where the inn got its name from. There’s life in this old black dog’s tale yet…
Gloucester Citizen January 11th 1950
Gloucester Citizen January 21st 1950