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The Black Dog of Bordesley Abbey

A lonely pile of stone ruins lies in a marshy field on the edge of the Worcestershire town of Redditch. This is what remains of Bordesley Abbey, once one of England's great monasteries but after Henry VIII's Dissolution it was reduced to rubble within a century, but it is also reputed to be haunted by a spectral black dog.

Sir Guy de Beauchamp, the 10th Earl of Warwick, was a big figure in English medieval history. On his death he was the second richest man in the country after the king and amassed a vast collection of valuable books. After staunchly supporting Edward “Longshanks” I on his campaigns against Scotland he fell out of favour with his heir the young Edward II. Fans of the film Braveheart will remember the portrayal of “my gentle son” and how his probable lover was hurled from a window by Longshanks, but the reality was very different. Piers Gaveston most probably was in some kind of relationship with the young Edward and was banished from England by Edward I, not out of any prejudice but out of fear that his son would be ill advised once he became king and all his work undone.

Edward I made Sir Guy of Warwick personally responsible for ensuring Gaveston never returned to England but he did, putting the earl in direct opposition to his new king and earning him the nickname “the Black Dog of Arden” from the taunting Gaveston due to his dark and swarthy appearance. To cut a long story short, after Piers Gaveston's third return from exile he was arrested and held by the Earl of Pembroke who swore an oath to ensure he would be safe until his justice day. Guy of Warwick raided the manor with a troop of knights and dragged Gaveston off to his home of Warwick Castle, where he was summarily tried and sentenced to death. Within a couple of days he was dragged to the ancient site of Blacklow Hill and decapitated.

So what does all this have to do with Bordesley Abbey? When Guy of Warwick died he was interred there in a lavish tomb, and as the abbey's major benefactor he had already paid in advance for constant prayers for his soul. Paying for years of prayers over one's tomb was a common practise during this era, with many abbeys having choir schools established just for this purpose. When the abbey was dissolved in 1538 the prayers stopped, and the Black Dog of Arden was unleashed. Stories were told of a huge spectral hound among the ruins that chased away any who dared to enter. As time went on the buildings were raided for stone for building materials and the trees and bushes began to envelope what was left of Bordesley Abbey completely. It became a place of dread, where while you might get away with hauling some stones away in the daytime, you most certainly did not want to be anywhere near at night.

The site was rediscovered in the 1800s and some archaeological excavations commenced, but it wasn't long before the Black Dog made his appearance. At first seemingly in warning, according to an account in the diary of one of the archaeologists - “ when a louder blast of wind caused me to raise my head – at that instant another head appeared above the heap of soil on the opposite side of the Chapel – it was the head of a huge black dog. It looked at me for a moment, and then disappeared. I seized a crow-bat, and climbed to the top of the mound but my strange visitor had gone”. Sightings of the hound continued until one night when the entire group fled in terror as the beast of Bordesley charged them in red-eyed snarling fury. The Black Dog disappeared for some time before reappearing during the 1950s when another rash of sightings broke out.

Along with the Black Dog there have been many sightings of ghostly monks walking around the site, often lacking any legs, this had led to a roaring trade in “ghost hunts” at the neighbouring visitors centre, itself a very old set of buildings once used as a mill and an old needle factory. A reporter for the Redditch Standard saw a hooded man walk through a wall in 2019 and the curator of the centre was once called out in the night when an alarm went off there. After switching it off and looking quickly around, the lady heard mocking laughter and footsteps in one of the upstairs rooms and called the police. They searched the whole building and found nothing.

A tiny “pauper's graveyard” lies some way from the abbey ruins under a huge yew tree. This is all that remains of St Stephens chapel, a gatehouse chapel for travellers to pray in who were not allowed in the abbey, but continued to be used into the early 1800s. Here people have taken stones from the abbey ruins and fashioned very crude grave markers out of them with roughly incised dates, I saw one going back to 1577. They say this little plot is haunted too, and after hearing the various tales of the abbey and the old mill, this wouldn't surprise me.

Despite the quite ugly fencing running around the perimeter of the abbey grounds, but understandable considering it's historical significance, the ruin of Bordesley Abbey has a real atmosphere about it. Surrounded by marsh through the winter, it's lonely location under the dark brooding skies gives the visitor an eerie feeling. There is an interesting link between the abbey and the legend of Herne the Hunter, as the local origin for him claims he was cursed by an abbess here. A sarcophagus that probably contained Guy the Black Dog of Arden is still there but here's hoping the reverence the abbey is now treated with has calmed his spirit and he can rest in peace now...

A wall within the abbey ruins

Sarcophagus, thought to be that containing Guy of warwick

The ruins of Bordesley Abbey

Some of the grave markers in the "paupers graveyard" of St Stephens

The ghostly ruins of Bordesley

A depiction of Guy of Warwick by an artist known only as Roberto, I think this sums him up very well

The common idea of a Black Dog

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