‘The Legend of the Southery Wolf-Hound’, told by W. H. Barrett in Tales from the Fens (1963),
says that, when Southery was an island, cut off by Southery Fen, monks came from Ely and
began building a church. The Southery folk were a wild, rough lot, living in reed-thatched huts,
and making their living by catching eels and robbing boats sailing up to Cambridge or Ely. After
a number of monks were found with their throats cut, the abbot of Ely sent armed men to search
for their murderers in the swamps. This proving a hopeless task, he asked the Baron of
Northwold, Norfolk, in whose lands Southery lay, for help. As the baron had lost many men in
the Fens already, he sent a pack of wolfhounds to guard the monks.
The hounds arrived, but they refused to eat the fish which was all the monks had, and soon
started hunting. At first there were plenty of dead monks and soldiers for them to eat, but they
ate their way through those and began hunting the living. The Southery people abandoned the
village and went to live in the Fens, and the monks returned to Ely.
Food again becoming short for the wolfhounds, they fell on each other. At last only the
fiercest and most cunning of them was left, a bitch as big as a donkey. A Fenman found her
dying of hunger in the reeds, and friends helped him carry her home to his hut. His wife had just
had a baby, and she soon got the bitch well by feeding her milk to both her and the child. The
bitch soon became tame and friendly with the Southery men, who had now returned to the
village, but she did not like the monks.
One day she could not be found, and the Fenmen thought the monks had killed her. However,
a week or two later she returned, her pads all bloody and torn, as if she had travelled on rough
ground beyond the Fens. She was pregnant, which was strange, as there was not a dog left in the
neighbourhood. Then one day she carried from a dark corner of the hut a pup neither dog nor
wolf but something in between. He grew up to be nearly as big as an ox, and when his mother
died he took on the job of catching fresh meat for the Fenmen, often coming home with a stag or
When the church was finished, the Bishop of Elmham (in Norfolk) came to open it, riding in
with a troop of armed men. One of the soldiers, who had been in Southery when the wolfhounds
were there, saw the huge dog and made to kill it. Before he could get within striking distance,
the dog was at his throat and began devouring him as he lay kicking on the ground. The other
soldiers loosed a rain of arrows at the dog, which crept off into the fen to die.
That happened hundreds of years ago, said old Fenland storytellers in Southery pubs up to
about 1900, but, if you go out at midnight on 29 May, the date of the Southery Feast, you will
still hear the wolfhound howl as it pads along, and know you will die within a twelvemonth.
And if you look at the cornerstones of the charnel house of the ruined church, you will see that
they have been gnawed, the marks having been made by the wolf-dog, which comes on that
night every year and tries to get to the bones. That is why Southery men take the long way home
from the pub, rather than pass those ruins at midnight on the night of the Southery Feast.