Many of us will know the story of Count Dracula, created by Bram Stoker in 1897. But Dracula was not the first vampire in English literature, let alone the first to stalk England searching for blood.
Vampire of Dent
In 1715 George Hodgson died at the grand age of 94. He was buried in the corner of Dent Churchyard. That should have been the end of the story but, surprisingly, George began making regular appearances in and around Dent, and stories began to circulate about George’s previous life. A friend recalled that George enjoyed a daily glass of sheep’s blood as a tonic. A neighbouring farmer recounted the tale that he had seen a black hare one day, raising his gun he had shot and wounded the creature, and followed its bloody trail to George’s door where, surprise, surprise, he had looked through the window to see George tending a shotgun wound. There was a lengthy town meeting and a decision was taken to exhume George and then take whatever action was deemed appropriate. George’s coffin was brought to the surface, and his body inspected. The skin was pink and healthy, his hair and nails had grown somewhat, but he was undoubtedly dead. A new grave was dug at the entrance of St. Andrew’s Church, a stone laid, and a brass stake driven through his heart.
The natives of Renwick, were once known as ‘bats’ due to the creature that is said to have flown out of the foundations of the church in 1733. Although, the existence of vampire bats wouldn’t be confirmed until 1832, when Charles Darwin witnessed one feeding off a horse during his voyage to South America. The creature in Renwick has been referred to as a Cockatrice – a mythical creature with a serpent’s head and tail and the feet and wings of a cockerel.
Vampire of Croglin Grange
The story as written by Dr Augustus Hare, in his ‘Memorials of a Quiet Life’ 1871, but the tale is considered even older, from the 1750s as told by a Mrs Fisher.
Croglin Low Hall, or ‘Croglin Grange’ as it is often referred to in this folktale, sits about 15 miles south-east of Carlisle. The name ‘Croglin’ may derive from the Brittonic ‘crug’ (isolated hill), and ‘linn’ (pool). Croglin Grange had been rented to a young woman named Amelia Cranswell, and her two brothers, Edward and Michael. During one particularly humid summer’s evening, Amelia was trying to desperately sleep, when a strange creature appeared at her window. It began picking out the lead surrounding a windowpane with its long fingernail. Removing the glass, it put its hand through the gap to undo the latch and it let itself in. The creature was described as having human features, a brown face, and flaming eyes. Terrified, Amelia froze, allowing the creature to grab her and bite her throat. Screaming awoke her brothers, but by the time they came into the room, her assailant was gone.
After a trip to Switzerland, the three returned to Croglin Grange and the creature appeared as before. This time, Edward shot it in the leg and the brothers were able to track it down to a burial vault in the local cemetery. They waited until morning to enter the vault, where they found the vampire, with a fresh wound to the leg, sleeping inside a coffin. They set fire to the coffin, burning its occupant, dead!
Stagg’s The Vampyre
Written in 1810 by John Stagg (1770–1823) a Cumberland poet, known as the “blind bard”. The Vampyre is a poem about Lord Herman and Gertrude being terrorized by Sigismund, a particularly grisly vampire-beast.
Further afield, a few Vampire tales from Northumberland and Scotland
Berwick-upon-Tweed is home to one of the earliest accounts of a British vampire. During the mid 12th Century writer William of Newburgh said: “A great rogue, having been buried, after his death sallied forth (by the contrivance, as it is believed, of Satan) out of his grave by night, and was borne hither and thither, pursued by a pack of dogs with loud barking; thus striking great terror into the neighbours, and returning to his tomb before daylight.” The locals eventually found his resting place and set his corpse alight.
Alnwick castle was also known as the home of one of the country’s most terrifying vampires. This particular bloodsucker had a hunchback and in the Middle Ages he would stalk the grounds of the castle spreading terror and disease. The local peasantry apparently grew tired of his nightly raids, rounded on him with pitchforks and torches and reduced him to ash.
In Glasgow in 1954 a group of local schoolboys claimed to have seen a vampire with iron teeth. It had “strangled and devoured” two small boys, despite there being no record of any missing children in the area. It led to hundreds of schoolchildren vampire hunting in the city’s graveyards. The incident was put down to the popularity of an American comic series which contained stories about vampires.
One final curious addition to vampire lore – Bele Sheephead
Date unknown, but somewhat of an urban legend, the story of the young girl who finds her pet lamb killed by a fox. Rather than mourning her beloved pet, she drank it’s blood. By the next full moon she was transformed into a were-sheep, stalking unsuspecting travellers on Dunnerdale Fell.
George, Sam. 2018. Older than Dracula: in search of the English vampire
Hare, Augustine. Story of My Life. 6 vols. London: George Allen, 1896-1900
Melton, J. Gordon. 1999 The Vampire Book
Stuart, R. 1984 Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century Stage
McPhee, R. 2014 Vampire Britain: UK could be home to more blood-sucking night feeders than Dracula’s homeland
Dent Village Heritage Centre, Dent
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