Express & Star

The Dudley Devil: Everything we know about a man shrouded in mystery and intrigue

Ever heard of the Dudley Devil? No, probably not as very, very few knew much about the man himself back then – or even his real name.

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Nostalgia photograph of The Bumble Hole & Windmill End in Netherton. Not dated.

He was born in Netherton and was described during his life as the Dudley Devil, a satanic gentlemen, the necromancer, or the Dudley Sorcerer.

Despite his deeply secretive personality he was known far-and-wide for his prophecies, odd personality, cures for diseases and reclaiming stolen property.

Cast your mind back to the Black Country in 1790. Suffering and adversity was rife, meaning this powerful and authoritative character was well-respected and regarded as an oracle by thousands of locals as well as those from far and wide. Some travelling from miles away to seek his services.

A look back at newspaper articles shows us how "young men and silly girls, anxious to glance into the future, went to him. Husbands were sought for wives there found. Disease had its solace in his predicted cure. He was the restorer of lost goods, the discoverer of stolen property, the healer of broken hearts. As his predications were fulfilled, his reputation spread. His mode of sorcery no one could tell, but there were hundreds who could almost see that what he foretold always came true."

The ordinary working class folks of Dudley, who were of course extremely superstitious and God-fearing, believed he had dealings with the Devil himself.

His real name was Theophilus Dunn - and he was our very own Black Country wizard. Little is known about the man other than the spattering of articles that relate to his existence - and that he would charge a shilling for a cure for toothache.

So was he a real life oracle in tune with the stars and the spirits – or a manipulative conman who preyed on the superstitions the lower classes?

Historian and self-professed ‘history influencer’ Sarah Haywood, who works as a teaching assistant at Brierley Hill Primary School, has been researching the mysterious and little known figure and has shared her findings from the British Newspaper Archives with Express & Star readers.

Sarah, a mum-of-two who runs the West Midlands Historic Chronicles - The Black Country and Beyond Facebook group, said: "I've been researching in the archive and have found some interesting articles about a little-known character, who lived in Dudley. He was known as the Dudley Devil."

His prophecies were trusted and sought after, particularly during times of adversity or suffering. His scale of fees was based on his assessment of a client's social and financial standing.

His fame improved when some of his prophecies came true, this included a lost pair of boots being returned and the advice given to the Tipton Slasher regarding the outcome of his boxing matches. The Dudley Devil accurately predicted The Tipton Slashers' defeat.

He was called on to relocate lost items, including a cow and fighting cocks. One article regarding a man telling his story about his missing boots, two months after consulting the 'Dudley Devil', his missing boots turn up on the doorstep during a thunderstorm.

Unfortunately in October 1851, his life came to an end at the age of 75 when he ended his own life in the cottage he lived, on Bumble Hole.

Articles suggest he is buried in a family tomb in St.Andrew's Churchyard, Netherton. A mysterious in death as in life, there has also been some debate on this over the years due to the dates. However, a grave does remain with his name on it - and sometimes people still leave herbs and trinkets in his memory.

He was known, according to newspaper reports, to have a prominent grave with Latin, Hebrew, Greek and English inscriptions.

A grand tombstone in Netherton

One article reads: "At one time the Black Country and Birmingham abounded in so-called white witches, male and female.

"In the churchyard at Netherton, near Dudley, is a tomb bearing a Latin inscription to the memory of a man named Dunn, known locally as the Dudley Devil. Before his death in 1851 Dunn achieved considerable fame as a "diviner" of stolen property and he also claimed his charms could detect other crimes.

"In the later years his reputation spread, and there are instances of people from London and Scotland visiting Dunn in the hope of getting back missing property.

"Dunn was a smooth and engaging person and was quite well educated with considerable knowledge of astrology and horoscopes. His knowledge and apparent intellect convinced a number of educated people of his powers but the ordinary working folk of Dudley believed he had dealings with the Devil.

"When he had received the fee Dunn questions his clients closely about people in the house, their habits and movements to learn what he wished to know for the case.

"He would then tell the client what to do and how to act and say that if the property was not returned, the name of the thief would be made known. When the word circulated that the criminal would be exposed the thief was probably equally superstitious and would return the property.

"This was not Dunn's only talent he was also claimed a detailed knowledge of healing charms and magic cures which he dispensed alongside his detective work."

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

Fortune tellers in the Black Country

Another fascinating article reads: "The black country has for at least half a century been a happy hunting ground for gipsy fortune tellers. And more audacious still, in several towns, are resident magicians, who rule plants and reveal secrets for a consideration. And when a woman misses an ornament or other valuable, she goes to a wizard, or else to a wise woman, to learn who is the thief. One of the star students was so successful in unravelling hidden secrets that his skill was attributed to his dealings with the Evil One, and he had a more than local reputation, he was known far and wide as The Dudley devil."

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

The lost pair of boots - and a trip to the Dudley Devil

Another article read: "The following is one case out of many. A man in this neighbourhood lost a pair of boots.

"He spoke publicly of the theft, and even acquainted the police of it; but the boots were not found. At last he determined to have recourse to a noted necromancer, styled rather more truly than euphoniously, the Dudley Devil.

"A visit was therefore paid of the satanic gentlemen but what passed has not been transpired to the public. The result however was most satisfactory- at least the to individual who lost the boots. One night the man who had lost them went to his door and there he found a pair of boots. Did his eyes deceive him? They were the lost boots. The Dudley Devil had supported his reputation.

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

The unravelling of the Dudley Devil – and losing face over the missing fighting cocks

It is reported that not all cases of the Dudley Devil ended in success.

Another report states: "A series of cases where he was unable to find the missing goods or cure particular ills. He lost a great deal of face over the fighting cock affair for example.

"A well known Black Country cock fighting man had one of his best birds stolen. Dunn was brought in to solve the case but his spells and charms proved useless. News of this failure spread among the spirit fraternity and after this and other failures the locals stopped using his services."

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

The Dudley Devil on the hunt for missing people of the Black Country

An article in Worcester Chronicle stated: "At the weekly meeting of the board of guardians of the Stourbridge union, Mr Chadwick reported than at aged female pauper who had been permitted to leave the house on Monday, to visit friends in Brierley Hi, had not returned.

"Her sister-in-law to whose house she was going was introduced to the board but she could give no information. They had consulted the wise man of Brierley Hill, not Dunn, the celebrated Dudley Devil, who had ruled the planets, and said that as the moon and stars were in decline she was no doubt in the earth. He thought he could see that she had fallen into the canal and had been squeezed into the earth by a boat and would never more be seen by eye of man. The soothsayer assured her such was the fate of her friend as indicated by the stars."

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

A sad end for the Dudley fortune teller

An article stated: "For many years has resided at Netherton near this place Theophilus Dunn, a strange man, whose real name but few knew, although neither old nor young for miles round were ignorant of the Dudley Devil.

"A powerful man he was, of commanding, and of lates years, venerable appearance and somewhat eccentric in manner.

"He was an oracle as sacred to thousands in that locality as that of Delphi was two thousand years ago to the people of Greece.

"He was the chief resource in times of difficulty or trial to half the lower classes of society in the district in which he resided.

"Time crept upon him unawares. However, and he began to totter down the hill of life He had enjoyed the happiness of the married but of late years his wife had lived apart from him and he resided along in a cottage in a row of houses of which, he was the owner.

"On Thursday morning last he did not appear. It was concluded that something unusual had occurred and inquiry discovered that the old man - he was between sixty and seventy years of age had put a period to his existence.

"He had committed the rash act of singular determination having affixed a hankerchief to a beam then round his neck and thus strangled himself. His death in a district where his peculiar claims to notice were well known has excited considerable interest. He was a man who possessed some property chiefly we believe in houses.

"And inquest was held on the body on Saturday last at The Fox and Goose Inn, Bumble Hole - the deceased had been labouring under a deranged state of mind - insanity. The deceased was known far and wide for his activities in the black arts - many had come forty miles to consult him on their destiny."

Articles on the 'Dudley Devil' from the British Newspaper Archives

And that is what we know about the Dudley Devil himself - true magician and man of the spirits or intelligent and manipulative Black Country conman who tapped into the insecurities and superstitions of his 18th century peers? You can decide, but one thing is for certain he should definitely feature as one of the region's most legendary.

Picture of Windmill End looking towards Cobb's Engine House used for Melvyn Jackson's model presented to Bumble Hole Nature reserve in Netherton
Picture of Windmill End Halt & Canals in 1946 used for Melvyn Jackson's model presented to Bumble Hole Nature reserve in Netherton
Picture of horse pulling a narrow boat, Netherton tunnel 1956 used for Melvyn Jackson's model presented to Bumble Hole Nature reserve in Netherton