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.
An old house had been rented out to a woman and two brothers, Amelia, Edward and Michael Cranswell. During one summer, Amelia was trying to sleep when a strange creature appeared at her window and began picking out the lead surrounding one of the window panes with a long fingernail, then removing it and putting its hand through the resulting gap to undo the window latch and let itself in. It was described as having a brown face and flaming eyes. The vampire bit her in the throat. When her brothers came into the room, the monster was gone. While one brother tried to help his sister, the other went after the creature. After a trip to Switzerland, the three returned to Croglin Grange and the creature returned again. The brother shot it in the leg and was able to track it down to a vault in the local cemetery. They waited until the next day to enter the vault, where they found the body of the vampire, with a fresh wound to the leg, resting inside a coffin. They then burned it.
Vampyre of Seaton
Sometime in the 1750s, two men were returning home from work when they heard the most terrifying screams coming from a nearby farmhouse. Entering the property, they witnessed a young girl being attacked by a strange looking man with fangs for teeth, and blood dripping down from his gaping mouth. On challenging this strange man, he fled towards the village of Seaton. The young girl was taken to a local tavern where the owners wife dressed the wounds and calmed her nerves with ale. As the tale was recounted to the customers, a shocked blacksmith suggested his wife had been attacked quite recently in a similar way. An angry mob gathered, and they set out to the village of Seaton. Passing the old cemetery, they discovered many graves had been disturbed, but one coffin, intact, emitted terrifying sounds from within it. The coffin lid was removed and the strange man was dragged out, hailed to a nearby tree, and set alight. There ended the Vampyre of Seaton. It’s said, the nail used to pin the vampyre to the tree is still visible, but those who try to remove it, burn their hands.
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