A pile of old books scavenged from an old old bookshop in Carlisle but with surprisingly modern prices.
Books about old times and dark deeds in Westmoreland. Then, there it is. A sudden recourse to a forgotten childhood nightmare. The Croglin Vampire.
I was always an unnatural child preferring to dwell in books about the supernatural and the wonderfully terrible tales of the ghosts of Borley Rectory even when I was seven and lived in garishly sunny defiantly ghost free Queensland. I have a faint memory of when it was my turn to talk in front of a brightly painted sunbaked classroom to my Australian seven year old peers about a ‘topic of interest’.
My well researched ( this the day before the internet and in Australia) carefully annotated onto small cards to fit in my palm, talk focused on the Hand of Glory. To me it was the well renowned story of a stinking murderer’s murdered hand, cut off the wrist of the recently hanged perpetrator which would make a candle, redolent with the stinking bubbling wax of the deceased, strong, devilish and evil enough to cause any natural people to an indecent unnatural slumber. Those with the Hand of Glory were able to commit thievery and such other devilish acts the owner of the deceased hand would surely approve deeply have approved of if indeed they weren’t the cause of the power, somehow still causing such merrily unpleasant mayhem despite the rest of their remains having been quickly nastily vanished in quicklime under the shadow of the place where they died.
Such things happy childish memories are made from. I hope I made the brashy overconfident Pom hating middle-class kids of Suburban Brisbane sleep less well at night but very much doubt it.
I wasn’t invited to many parties.
It turned out, the next year, that they had no interest in the haunting of Borley Rectory either.
The Croglin Vampire
Have you ever had a book that scared you so much that when you were a child you kept it out of your room at night in case it somehow DID something? The hideous thought when you lay in bed, that the same terrifying garish image on the front of the book or an embedded internal illustration still burning from the inside could somehow relay itself from its badly drawn two dimensional shape into a diabolical figure, the last thing you ever saw? And you are to young to have ever heard of the work of MR James.
So you get up, despite being rigid with fear, despite the fact you live and breathe vampires and ghosts in the day, you really really don’t want them to exist in the night time and bravely move the book, the book with the Croglin Vampire’s vague fuzzy face and piercing eyes out into the hall outside your bedroom which means all will be well and you can sleep. But you can’t and then you need a wee. And the book is outside. And will look at you.
I had never been to Cumbria but Cumbria visited me.
The nightmares happened in the suburbs of Brisbane, not generally noted for their vampiric activity but still the Croglin Vampire was there, staring in at me with those flaming eyes. The croak of the cane toads, the night an outrageously loud whirr and buzz of a myriad of loud outlandish killer creatures was nothing compared to It, the small wetting of the bed in case I saw It when I crossed to the loo; never mind the redback spiders and poisonous snakes that lived in the house, under the toilet seat, in footwear, the bullying for being a ‘pom’ and a bloody weird one at that.
No, it was the Croglin Vampire I was terrified of.
What if the book opened? What if I saw THAT face? So I lay awake at night, rigid and terrified in a small suburb near Brisbane, the pool filter burbling away outside because of THAT Victorian drawing in a mass produced Readers Digest Book. I didn’t care about the snakes. You can see snakes.
I can’t find that picture now. In retrospect it was a black fuzz with red eyes, a Muppet gone rogue. Google Images shows more schlocky horror images including a Croglin Beer featuring vampiric teeth.
The image of that fuzzy black shape with nothing but red eyes still haunts me. Stephen King’s writing is nothing compared to what your own imagination can produce when you are nervous and alone in a place that doesn’t feel like home.
I look later in my beloved much travelled, much thrown out of the bedroom Readers Digest Book of Ghosts, Mythology and Folklore and the Croglin Vampire is not featured in there.
I feel strangely bereft. It must have been in another terrible Ghost book but a thread to the past has been pulled. I feel I can’t trust my memory, vampires or books anymore, many ludicrous Google searches have been completed but typing in ‘fuzzy faced weird vampire Cumbria scary’ is a low point.
The Croglin Vampire
This is a story involving those with money and a family name. Many other places and names with dark stories and histories have vanished but is this due to the natural clearances and dismissals of people with ‘normal’ lives, nothing written down, small sharp deaths and the fact the people with money, priority, and literacy are still remembered because they had the chance and ability to write down their own folklore, had the influence to be remembered. The poor had nothing but legends and stories held between their mostly illiterate selves, the rich, written stories told in hushed voices, written down in ledgers and retold in gas-lit libraries by the righteous and the good.
These tales listened to and retold, tampered with, exaggerated and now in the servants kitchen, the harsh stinking splatter and smelter of a tallow candle.
Some say the Cranswell siblings were from Australia, others say they never existed, it was all a hoax.
This is as most of the ‘truth’ as I can muster: the many dark folklore tales and legends argue amongst themselves as to the provenance and truth of this story.
1874- or thereabouts
Three Australian siblings of worth rent a house for seven years, renting being more common for those with money than is the case nowadays. People with income from family estates and inheritances did not have to be beholden to a certain area but could travel as they pleased, renting huge houses and the accompanying servants, happy to leave the Victorian fug of industry and illness they have earnt a good income from.
Micheal, Edward and Amelia are an instant and popular attraction, sudden and welcoming new arrivals to a small party circuit of the remote Eden Valley, engaging and polite members of society, novel dinner guests, and excellent card players. People are delighted to host them and listen to their engaging anecdotes- it is a long lonely winter here. Well travelled neighbours from exotic (but not too darkly exotic) climes who can play Whist and talk about something apart from the problems with the multifarious diseases and deaths of sheep and of the inclement weather. What a pleasure.
The Croglin Vampire
Amelia, tired and fretful, is bored, fractious,can’t sleep.
What a place is Croglin, somewhere between life and death. How she wishes she was somewhere else, with someone else, how she dreams about escape, to be somewhere else with someone else, she is withering away here in this blighted remote valley, a place that makes bloody provincial Carlisle seem exciting. How she hates bloody card games and the pointlessness of sheep. How she wishes for the nocturnal aliveness of Australia, the constant symphony of a multitude of strange unknown creatures taking the night for their own.
A full moon, a view of the churchyard. She tosses and turns, scared, irritated, uncomfortable and so bored of the endless night, waits in vain for the trill of a bird, the sign this death in life is nearly over and reality and chatter, brightness can commence once more. This silence so different from the constant hum and shriek of the symphony of buzzing, humming and shrieking, a comforting sound of being alive even when enshrouded by the dark. There, the noise in the dark was of a thousand creatures living. Here, only the sudden cut off scream when a creature realises it is about to die. It is hot but even the heat here is dull, not the furious blaze that so quickly vanishes upon the so sudden Australian nightfall ( such an appropriate name) but now just the constant sluggish boredom of a low sweaty summer heat that does not change from day to night, just a suitably English dully subtle creeping of grey to black. No constant chirping humming singing of a chorus of the unseen creatures of the night, just occasional jarring muffled squeaks and screams that speak only of terror and death.
Looking out the window, languidly irritated, as only those of her class can be, towards the graveyard, a strange light, two small red glowing lights emanating from the graveyard, a place she likes and seeks comfort in, the sheer immense vast spectacle of the history of this country will never be appreciated by people who only appear to care about sheep and their many ways of quiet benign deaths.
Maybe this is a sheep? Must be some sort of animal?
But the eyes, they must surely be eyes, are too high.
The red glowing lights, spread out a few inches across are coming closer, she turns away, refuses to believe because that would make a mockery of her whole life, all her beliefs and also make It real. This is a summer evening, they had been drinking on the lawn the Thing is somehow crossing only a few hours before. This simply cannot be.
An eternity in a minute, It reaches the house. It reaches her window.
A scratch, a bloody scratch, that’s all it is in this hellhole full of vermin. That’s all.
Closer now, closer. More furious, more human yet inhuman, louder now, now louder, she will not surrender, refuses to believe them a sudden silence and she
Two burning eyes stare at her.
She turns, this can not be happening, she refuses to believe in such ungodly acts.
Scratch, scratch, scratch, the window are being scraped against by this Thing, this thing that goes against all that’s natural in the world.
It is slowly picking off the lead, she is unable to move, a withered ancient hand, long and bony is now somehow inside and whilst she lies there, that old cliche ‘paralysed with fear’ she thinks is a real thing, a real thing of utter terror, not a standby cliche anymore. Why can’t she move? Scream?
It comes, closer, closer. She cannot move. Then closer, she can feel the breath of the undead ( worse than when a friend of her brothers entreated a kiss) the dreadful fingers encoiled in her hair.
Then the teeth enter her neck.
She is finally able to scream, a flurry of activity, the Thing runs, one of her brothers chases it, leaps through the open window, the other brother reaches for his hysterical bloodsoaked sister.
The Thing is lost, Amelia beside herself but the wound proves to be shallower than expected and the creature is said to be an escaped madman before most people come to the happy conclusion that it was ‘just’ an escaped ape from a circus, probably responsible for a similar recent attack on a nearby farmer’s son.
‘She was dreadfully hurt and her wound was a very definite one but she was of strong disposition, not given either to romance or superstition’ – Augustus Hare
Amelia still needs calming, needs to stop staring at the window, sisters don’t get married this way. Unmarried sisters are expensive. Ones prone to hysteria even more so. A small retreat in a calming foreign environment, a place renowned for calm.
They go to Switzerland. Everyone of worth seemed to have sojourned to Switzerland in the 1900s. Do unnatural red eyes glare at Amelia there? She is said to have been relaxed there, pottered, became interested in botanical expeditions and the unusual plants to be found therewithin, became herself again.
Despite the terrible events of the night, Amelia for some reason, wishes to return to that moribund sinking Hall. Misses it, misses the strange light interplay over the valleys, one part lit as light as day, the next dark as a tomb, misses the calm slow friendliness of her neighbours or maybe it is a more prosaic reason relating to contracts and rent. Perhaps there is a hidden reason, that she wishes to convince herself that it was all really just an unfortunate accident, still has secret nightmares and there is only one way to make sure that there was no Thing, just an escaped Thing, an animal or person known and labelled by humanity and dealt with.
Her brothers are apparently anxious for them to move elsewhere but the lady is not for turning.
They return, the September of 1875. Amelia calm. You need to be calm as a woman in these times, especially when you have been known as ‘hysterical’ and had to ‘take a trip to Switzerland’. Oh, how the well dressed people of worth smile sweetly to each other, not able to vicariously gossip but a small head tilt as to someone’s frailty can mean a lot, more than a lot, a descent into hell, no matter your class and worth.
Even the most well bred woman can enter a hell hole of physicians and quacks into a seemingly grand country house. Behind the grand reception and smiling platitudes to the well meaning relatives who are paying a great deal to make you better or are embarrassed by you and wish you removed from the social circuit a beaming neatly dressed doctor, who reassures them that all will be well. Then the small back rooms, the abuse and restraints , the ‘trials’ of new techniques.
Thus, you show that you are relaxed and unconcerned about previous events, know them to be of no concern anymore, acts of crass humanity.
Even in the face of the seemingly undead and now a pistol lies under a good cotton pillow in the bedroom of your brother.
You will lay these fake demons to rest once and for all.
The Croglin Vampire
March, 1896 and suddenly in the middle of the night, a scream again.
This scream is even more hideous than the last and again the heroic brothers charge into Amelia’s room, the shutters have been forced open and a dark hairy figure vanishes back through the open window. They follow in quick pursuit; Edward aims and fires, stagger, the creature is slower now, he has hit it in the leg- he watches it stagger hideously, slower, slower, slower until it appears to dissolve into a vault in the nearby graveyard. There is nothing to be done here until daylight and God’s will.
The next day, a small anxious crowd of neighbours and the Cranswells.
The vault is opened and an unholy mess within, ‘The vault was full of coffins; they had been broken into and their contents, horribly mangled were scattered all over the floor’. (Augustus Hare)
Lying inside an old coffin is an ancient withered body but with a fresh wound, blood flowing freely from a long dead leg.
The small community worked together to build a bonfire in the corner of the old churchyard, old coffins from the disturbed vault maybe feeding the pyre until the creature is laid on top, shrivels and dies again.
The Cranswells leave the area very shortly afterwards.
This is a legend that has appeared in many forms- the most famous being by the aristocratic traveller/clergyman Augustus Hare in his six part autobiography,The Story of My Life 1896-1900, narrating a story allegedly told to him by Captain Fisher, a story relating to himself and his own family, the ancient owners of Croglin Grange, seven hundred years of the same family residing in the small area of Cumberland but who wished to move further south and thus were happy to rent their ancestral home.
Trying to find truth and a true time scale in tales such as this has left me with a headache and a delightful feeling of mockery and naughtiness from either the undead or those who so proclaimed in their existence.
Truth and fiction intermingled together; did this really happen?
One could look at the fretful Amelia in a more Freudian way, a girl becoming a woman, trapped by the confines of the conservative unsexual behaviour expected of a woman in these times, the remote landscape and the untamed masculinity of her elder brothers. Vampires are now renowned for their interspecies sexuality due to popular television shows such as Twilight. A popular joke nowadays is ‘we used to be scared of vampires, now we just want to have sex with them.’
Is this really such a modern phenomenon though?
Look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, dark sexuality and young white virginal throats.
People have been drawn to the dark for a long time. Amelia envisages a dark figure breaking into her stifled unnatural room, she is powerless to resist, cannot escape his clutches, he looms over her, eyes blazing before sinking into her vulnerable neck. Is he a sudden supernatural terrifying and unwanted figure in her bedchambers? Is he a lucid dream from someone confined and repressed and lost somewhere in the Eden Valley, so long away from home, who thinks and dreams of someone, anyone entering her room for a nefarious deed and a touch of her white unblemished neck? Was he even a real character, a local chancer, maybe even allowed in her chamber until the stirring of a brother negates a sudden scream to show her virtue and innocence if discovered?
Did any of this even actually happen and surely there must be some solid evidence for such tales of disrupted and desecrated graves?
Firstly, the name of Croglin Grange is fiction. There is as Charles Harper ( author of Haunted Houses ( 1907) mentioned in 1924 when researching the tale of the Croglin Vampire that a Croglin High Hall exists and a Low Hall but not a Grange and the most likely place for the story to have occured is the The Hall which exists over a mile from the graveyard. Also ‘The churchyard contains no tomb which by any stretch of the imagination could be identified with that described by Mr. Hare.”
There are uncanny links between this tale and a Victorian penny dreadful where the vampire enters the room of a young girl in a strangely similar manner, James Rymers, Varney the Vampire published in 1845.
“All was darkness, save a dull, reddish kind of light that now and then, from the nearly consumed mill in the immediate vicinity, came into the room. But by that light, dim, uncertain, and flickering as it was, some one was seen to make for the window.
Henry, although nearly stunned by his fall, saw a figure, gigantic in height, which nearly reached from the floor to the ceiling. The other young man, George, saw it, and Mr. Marchdale likewise saw it, as did the lady who had spoken to the two young men in the corridor when first the screams of the young girl awakened alarm in the breasts of all the inhabitants of that house.
The figure was about to pass out at the window which led to a kind of balcony, from whence there was an easy descent to a garden.
Before it passed out they each and all caught a glance of the side-face, and they saw that the lower part of it and the lips were dabbled in blood. They saw, too, one of those fearful-looking, shining, metallic eyes which presented so terrible an appearance of unearthly ferocity.”
Other sources suggest that the Fishers were well aware of an ancient local vampire tale even before they rented the Hall to the unsuspecting Australians.
Yet there is historical information which points to an earlier destroyed church nearer the old Hall, a church, founded by monks and with a vanished graveyard, so slowly things start to go from the ludicrous to the somehow strangely almost possible.
At the time of writing, I had planned to finally visit the grave of the Croglin Vampire but due to a mutating killer virus, was not allowed to leave my immediate area. Suddenly the archaic terrors of the past have become more personal. I don’t live in Australia anymore though. I live in Cumbria. And my old copy of ‘Folklore, Myths and Legends’ scrawled with my nervous seven year old writing is still not allowed in my bedroom.