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The Dudley Devil

By Josephine.Jasper  |  Posted: August 15, 2013

Netherton Churchyard - Dunn's last resting place

Netherton Churchyard - Dunn's last resting place

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  "Dreamer" Dunn - The Dudley Devil - was buried at Netherton Churchyard in 1851. The fact that his body was placed in consecrated ground, caused much shaking of heads in the area for, during his lifetime, Dunn's many inexplicable achievements encouraged less educated folk to whisper that he had a contract with "the black un"

  Certainly he was known for many miles around his Dudley birthplace as "a cunning man" of great accomplishments and it is a matter of record that his clients travelled from such far flung places as Worcester. Staffprd and even London, to consult with him.

  Dunn was a man of good education, well aquainted with the works of famous astrologers, could cast a horoscope and discuss the subject with an expertise which impressed his more learned clients. But - he was all things to all men!

  His poorly educated neighbours saw him as a "wizard", possessed of supernatural powers and held him in great awe. He professed to be able to recover stolen property, for a fee which matched the pocket of those who consulted him. His method was to "put a  spell" upon the thief which would cause him to return the property he had stolen to its owner - and, no doubt, his system depended upon the felon hearing of the spell and being so in fear of it that he would rather return the booty than risk the frightening consequences of retaining it.

  These consequences ranged from the criminal turning into a toad to the withering away of the offending villain's hands - and Dunn's black reputation ensured that his "spells" were often successful, in that the stolen property was promptly returned.

  We may scoff at such superstitious awe today, but it must be remembered that "The Dudley Devil" flourished at a time when "witchcraft" still had a great influence on the credulous.

  In addition to his "stolen property" spells, Dunn prescribed "charm-cures" for ailments like tooth-ache or gout. These often had a biblical leaning, as the following tooth-ache cure reveals.

  "Peter sat at the gate of Jerulsalem. Jesus passed by and said ....what ails thee Peter?

  Peter said unto Jesus... my teetch ache and are sore, l am unable to stand or to walk!

  Jesus said....Arise and walk,Peter, in the name of the Father, Son and Ho;ly Ghost.

  He that puts faith in these words l now spake, his teeth shall never ache...."

 The above charm cost one shilling, was written on a small piece of paper and placed in a small leathern pouch, with instructions that it must be worn close to the sufferer's body. Dunn stressed that it would only work as long as his client "had strong faith"

  This was a strong psychological ploy, for people were loath to admit their faith had been found wanting and usually testified to the success os Dunn's cure.

  The Dudley Devil also claimed to be able to foretell the future and, indeed, his career as a "cunning man" really took off in 1882 when a  prophecy which he had made, five years before, concerning Tom Hickman, the great Dudley bare-knuckle fighter, was seen to "come true".

  In 1817, Dunn, using the non-de-plume "Seer Shaw" appeared with his fortune telling booth at many Black Country wakes. This was also the period of Tom Hickman's ring apprenticceship and after he had successfully taken part in a bare-knuckle contest, at Wednesbury Field, in that year. Hickman visited Seer Shaw's booth to enquire what the future held for him.

  Hickman laughed aloud when the fortune-teller prophesied that he would meet with much success but would die at an early age "crushed by coal". Hickman a blacksmith by trade had never entered a coal-pit nor ever intended to do so and scoffed at the prophesy.

  However, after a few years during which he became the most famous pugilist in the land, Hickman was "crushed by coal" as the seer had forecast.

  His untimely end came on |December 10 1822, when he was driving his "chaise and pair" along the turnpike road close to his house. He had been drinking heavily and recklessly attempted to overtake a heavily laden coal-wagon. In doing so his vehicle swerved into a ditch. Hickman was thrown from the driving seat and a wheel of the coat-cart passed over his head, completely crushing it.

  From that moment the Dudley Devil's fortune was made. He dropped his "Seer Shaw" guise, "fairground" regalia and set up in private prectise in Dudley.

  Despite the fact that "cunning men" had been placed outside the law for more than 200 years he continued to flourish, defying the statute, passed in 1614, which threatened.....

  "If anyone should be convicted of having undertaken to tell where any treasure or goods lost or stolen may be found, he shall for the fist offence suffer one year's imprisonment, without bail, once in every quarter, stand in the pillory for six hours and for a second offence, suffer as a felon without the benefit of clergy."

  It appears that Dunn was not alone in his profession, in the Dudley area for the famous Non-conformist, Richard Baxter wrote of a Sedgeley man with similar talents...

  "When l lived in Dudley, Hodges of Sedgley, two miles from the town, was commonly accounted a cunning man. When l lived at Kidderminster, one of my neighbours affirmed that, having his yarn stolen, he went to Hodges (ten miles off) and he told him that at such an hour he should have it brought back home again and put in at the window.

  So it was, and as l remember the story, Hodges showed him the face of the thief in a glass. Yet - l do not think that Hodges made any known contract with the devil, but thought it an effect of art..."

  Baxter, a well educated and deeply devout man, obviously believed that Hodges of Sedgley was the possessor of supernatural powers and if a man of his learning held such a belief it is not difficult to imagine the great awe in which Dunn was held by considerably less learned neighbours in Dudley.

  He lived very well on the proceeds of his profession for many years.

  The Dudley Devil died in 1851, at a house in Dudley Port and was buried, near his birthplace, at Netherton. A brief report of his demise contained the smug foot-note...

  "No surprise is engendered by the fact that Dunn's so-called powers did not enable him to foretell the date or hour of his own death which was sudden and attended by tragic circumstances..."

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  • mawkin  |  April 04 2014, 2:09PM

    Whereabouts in Netherton churchyard is his grave? I remember seeing a photo of it years ago (in the Bugle I think) It was badly weathered and had some classical Greek lettering on it as I remember.

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