The Gorbals Vampire

On the evening of September 23 1954, Glasgow was terrorised by a nightmarish creature… at least according to a group of youngsters. Mania led to a vampire hunt en masse, with children and young persons grabbing their pitchforks and torches to search for a seven-foot-tall monster — The Gorbals Vampire.

What led these children to leave their homes and wander Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis searching for a vampire? Was there a vampire in Gorbals to begin with? We’ll cover everything you need about this peculiar evening in Scotland right here.

The Gorbals Vampire History

To set the context of the Gorbals vampire incident and the ensuing mass hysteria, it’s essential to understand the context that the children in Glasgow were living in. The part of the city that they lived in was called the Gorbals, a relatively poor part of town with a growing steel industry. 

The name Gorbals comes from Medieval origins, likely stemming from the Leper’s House at St Ninian’s Croft. As the lepers of the hospital crossed the bridge, they rang bells to warn the uninfected of their approach. These were called the ‘gory bells’, slowly becoming Gorbals—a frightening origin.

Living Conditions in the Gorbals

The industry grew and grew in Gorbals as time passed, but its residents didn’t receive its spoils. In fact, Gorbals was one of the most poverty-stricken districts, overcrowded and with poor sanitation. In the 1900s, the area was even struck with an outbreak of the Bubonic plague, which festered and grew in the unsanitary conditions present within Gorbals.

As the century progressed, the heavy industry in Gorbals declined, unemployment grew and drunkenness and crime with it. Even in such economic strife, the area was bustling with life and drew several migrants into the tenement buildings. By the 1930s, the area had one of the highest population densities per square kilometre, which led to a high infant mortality rate, crime, and misdemeanours.

Gorbals became ripe for the rumour to spread like wildfire and infect the active minds of young Glaswegians.

Biblical Influences

Of the migrants that arrived at Gorbals, many were Irish Catholics, Italians, and Jewish. They brought Biblical influences with them, including the more frightening descriptions in the Old Testament. This could have planted a seed within the minds of young boys and girls of Gorbals, especially with this description:

‘Behold a fourth beast, dreadful terrible, and strong exceedingly, and it had great iron teeth.’

Story of the Gorbals Vampire

With the stage set for the Gorbals Vampire story, we can dive deeper into what happened that night in Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis on September 23 1954.

Shadow Monsters with Iron Teeth

The Southern Necropolis was a frequent place for children to hang around in Gorbals. The town was frequently dominated by the sounds, smells, and sight of the Dixon Blazes – an iron foundry that would bellow out the smoke with the night sky lit in an ominous orange hue. This was usually accompanied by a clanging of the ironworks, with polluted air spoiling the town’s scent.

The Necropolis was one of the only open places where children could enjoy green pastures. The spooky surroundings mixed with the orange glow would make people appear like fiery shadows, which likely sparked the imagination of children in the area. When ghost stories abound, they all latch onto similar things. The figures walking through the night could all fall prey to the same superstition.

The dark mysteries, accompanied by the terrifying sensations of the iron foundry, make it easy for a vampire to be born. And so it was.

Gorbals Vampire Terrorises a City

In the heart of such a poverty-stricken town, it wasn’t unusual for children to go missing. In this case, however, when two schoolchildren went missing in close proximity, the culprit wasn’t just anybody… it was a monster! It’s not difficult to imagine rumours spreading from schoolyard to schoolyard of a monster that stalked the Necropolis.

With pale skin, red eyes, seven-foot height, and sharpened fangs made of iron, the Gorbal Vampire became genuinely alive in the hearts and minds of young Glaswegians. However, while many children would’ve cowered at home, the children in Gorbals were hardened by poverty and took matters into their own hands.

When the school bell rang at 3 pm, nearly four hundred school kids armed themselves with various weaponry. They took sticks, stones, kitchen knives, and their faithful hounds to slay the mythical creature. The stories around this time are fascinating to hear, especially from many children who grew up to remember the evening with great detail.

Ronnie Sanderson, for example, recalls the following from the evening:

“It all started in the playground – the word was there was a vampire, and everyone was going to head out there after school. At three o’clock, the school emptied, and everyone made a beeline for it. We sat there for ages on the wall, waiting and waiting. I wouldn’t go in because it was a bit scary for me. I think somebody saw someone wandering about, and the cry went up: ‘There’s the vampire!’ That was it – that was the word to get off that wall quickly and get away from it. I just remember scampering home to my mother: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘I’ve seen a vampire!’ I got a clout round the ear for my trouble. I didn’t know what a vampire was.”

The Police Get Involved

The children set about in the Southern Necropolis and started their hunt for the Gorbal Vampire despite their parents’ protest against the fact. A few locals even called the police on the situation, although the local constable was extremely confused when he saw several hundred children armed to the teeth searching through the ruins of the Necropolis.

He outlines his astonishment in the following quote:

“When I appeared, I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. All shapes and sizes of children streamed after me, all talking at once and telling me of the ‘vampire with iron teeth’. This I could handle, but when grown-ups approached me and asked earnestly, ‘Is there anything in this vampire story?’ it made me think.”

The police couldn’t do anything to dissuade the children from their search. Instead, they called out the headmaster of one of the local schools, St Bonaventure’s Primary School, to speak with the kids. He reassured them that there was no such thing as the Gorbals Vampire. The schoolchildren left for their homes but continued their search over the next few evenings.

Are They Real, or Are Comics to Blame?

The media caught this story of young vampire hunters, and it soon became a national press headline. As it was found out, there were not two young boys or missing or murdered children, which had originally spurred the youths to action.

Instead, the media blamed American horror comics for filling the minds of these children with horrors. This was reinforced by the fact that a comic book had a story entitled, ‘The Vampire with the Iron Teeth’.

The debate soon reached parliament, and various groups pressured the government to act, including the Teacher’s Union, Christian groups, and the Communist Party. As a result, the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act became law in 1955 and still stands today.

The Gorbals Vampire Today

Thankfully, the haunting atmosphere that spawned the Gorbals Vampire in Gorbals is no longer. The industry has declined and no longer plagues the area with soot, smoke, and fire and new houses have been built to ensure that people are as confined as they once were. 

You can see various remnants of the tale in the town today, including the Gorbals Vampire Mural that was adapted for the Citizens Theatre in 2016. There’s a great place to take photographs, and you can also watch a play!

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