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In Northern English folklore, the Barghest or Barguest , is a mythical monstrous black dog with huge teeth and claws,[1] though in other cases the name can refer to a ghost or household elf, especially in Northumberland and Durham (see Cauld Lad of Hylton).

Origin of the name[edit]

"Ghost" in Northern England was pronounced "guest," and the origin is thought to be of the combination burh-ghest, "town-ghost." Others explain it as cognate to German Berg-geist "mountain demon" or Bar-geist "bear-demon".[1] Another mooted derivation is 'Bier-Geist', the 'spirit of the funeral bier'.[2]

Domain and description[edit]

One notable case is said to frequent a remote gorge named Troller's Gill. There is also a story of a Barghest entering the city of York occasionally, where, according to legend, it preys on lone travellers in the city's narrow Snickelways. Whitby is also associated with the spectre.[3]

In the 1870s a famous Barghest was said to live near Darlington who was said to take the form of a headless man (who would vanish in flames), a headless lady, a white cat, a dog, rabbit and black dog. Another was said to live in an "uncannie-looking" dale between Darlington and Houghton near Throstle Nest,[2] and yet another haunted an area of wasteland between Wreghorn and Headingley Hill near Leeds.[4]

Besides taking the form of a large black dog with fiery eyes, it could also become invisible and walk about with the sound of rattling chains.[4] At the death of any notable person the barghest would appear, followed by all the other dogs of the local region in a kind of funeral procession, and begin howling and baying. It may also foretell the death of an individual by lying across the threshold of his or her house. It is sometimes said that like the vampire the barghest is unable to cross rivers.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Many stories feature ghostly black dogs. Dogs specifically named as barghests appear in the following:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barghest". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 399.  This in turn cites:
    • Wirt Sikes, British Goblins (1880)
    • Notes and Queries, first series, ii. 51.
    • Joseph Ritson, Fairy Tales (Lond. 1831), p. 58; Lancashire Folklore (1867)
    • Joseph Lucas, Studies in Nidderdale (Pateley Bridge, 1882)
  2. ^ a b Henderson, William (1879). "Ch. 7". Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders (2nd ed.). Folk-Lore Society. p. 275. 
  3. ^ Jeffrey Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, (1923)
  4. ^ a b c Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0394409183.