IF you’d been passing through the village of Shapwick on October 12, 1706, which that year fell on a Tuesday, then you might have come upon the strangest of scenes - an old man in a wheelbarrow, surrounded by frightened locals brandishing pitchforks and sticks, in a confrontation with - a crab!

Since that day, some rather unkind aspersions have been cast with regards to the intellect of the good folk of Shapwick, who in their incomprehensible naivety took the carapaced curiosity to be a monster!

And in case you’re wondering, the old fellow in the wheelbarrow was the local ‘wiseman’ who, “as infirm as he was gifted”, being bedridden, had been wheeled out to give his learned opinion; after due scrutiny, his conclusion was that the crab was indeed a monster.

In truth, the story of the Shapwick Monster may be nothing more than a good old-fashioned Dorset folk tale, yet the phrase ‘A Shapwick Monster’ has since lent itself to the definition of ‘something too extraordinary to be explained’, and as such the origin of this bizarre story is surely deserving of further explanation in itself.

As with all good yarns, often woven into the fabric of local legend, the particulars vary, but the popular version tells of a travelling fishmonger from Poole, bound for Bere Regis, unaware that a large, live crab had dropped from his cart as he passed through the outskirts of the village.

As he trundled on out of sight, with his slightly lightened load, the villagers of Shapwick, apparently never having seen a crab before, believed it to be some kind of Devil or monster, and armed with rudimentary weapons attempted to drive the evil creature away.

While the tale may simply have been intended as a jibe, a jovial slight against Shapwick’s apparent collective simplicity, it might not be unreasonable to suppose that, some ten miles from the coast, nobody in Shapwick had actually ever seen a crab before… The tale did have a further nip to its claw, however, as it was said that after that day, not one of the inhabitants of Shapwick would go near a fishmongers’ stall for fear of being scorned and ridiculed.

With regards to the ultimate fate of the Shapwick Monster, the fishmonger did eventually return once he’d realised part of his profit margin had escaped from his cart. When he came upon the scene, however, he was so amused by the furore and commotion his temporary loss had occasioned that he laughingly related the incident as he continued on his way, spreading the story about the simple folk of Shapwick along the road to Bere, and doubtless beyond.

Near on a century and a half later, in the 1840s the story was still making the satirical rounds, re-told in doggerel verse penned by Buscall Fox, his somewhat lengthy poetical effort accompanied by his own mocking illustrations.

To this day, the celebrated weathervane showing the crab and villagers atop the roof of the aptly named Crab Farm is a reminder of the story, and yes, crab does feature on the seasonal menu of Shapwick’s Anchor Inn!