The Gorbals Vampire - Kids vs Vampires
Updated: Jul 25
The Scottish people are known for their bravery, so much so that it has become a trope in movies and TV. While you might expect exceptional bravery from an adult, few would attribute great bravery to small children. That is until the police were called to investigate reports of hundreds of children, aged 4-14, patrolling the nearby necropolis armed with stakes and blades. The officers learned that the children were hunting the giant vampire that had taken two of their cohorts. This is the story of the hunt for the Gorbals Vampire.
The Age of Steel
Glasgow was an industrial city in the 1950s, and Gorbals had become a slum surrounded by factories following the war. The nearby steelworks that had pumped out weapons of war in earlier years now cast the fog a reddish color. One can easily imagine any number of steampunk terrors lurking in those shifting mists. Overcrowded housing projects filled the polluted streets of Gorbals and many lived in squalor.
Rumors began spreading through the projects that two kids had gone missing. These rumors soon grew a tail, and thus the Gorbals Vampire was born. People claimed that it was the 7ft tall vampire with fangs made of iron that lurked in the Gorbals Necropolis that had taken the kids. The children were particularly taken by these rumors, and soon many of them reported having seen the fiend.
Panic was growing in the hearts of believers around Gorbals and belief was rampant among the children. The police made a public statement that there had been no reports of missing children. They got the headmaster of the school to denounce the rumor as false, all to no avail. Children have a way of thumbing their nose to what was clearly a cover-up.
The tale of the vampire grew further when reports of an accomplice came out. This accomplice was, of course, a witch:
"There was an old lady who used to carry two cats in a basket. She would go to the graveyard to get peace away from the kids and let her cats have a wander. But she was in there the night we went looking for it and people were involving the ‘cat woman’ with the iron man. It was a shame when you think about it, she was an eccentric with wiry hair, but we called her Tin Lizzie. She was the iron man’s ‘burd’.”
There was also the legend of Jenny Wi the Iron Teeth, a ghost that was said to haunt the Necropolis. Another inspiration for the vampire can be found in the Bible, Daniel 7:7 reads “Behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth.”
Parents and authorities did what they still do best and blamed popular media. They claimed that the popularity of American comic books like Dark Mysteries, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror had corrupted their pure and unimaginative children. Dark Mysteries did run an issue that featured a vampire with iron-teeth, so that had likely influenced thinking a bit. These parents and officials would spearhead the charge for censorship of media for young readers, and in 1955 the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act was passed. This Act is still in effect to this day and limits how graphic a children's story can be.
The children may have been the ones crafting weapons and stalking the night, but the jury is out on who was more hysterical at the time.
The Assault of Gorbals Necropolis
The children of Gorbals had had enough of the vampire's reign of terror and decided to act. No one knows who started the movement, but soon all the children were passing around letters in a grassroots campaign. Like any good mob, the children got organized and agreed to assault the Gorbals Vampire on the 23rd of September 1954. They would not wait for the monster to come to them, and so the plan was set.
Ronnie Sanderson, who was 8 at the time, remembers being posted on the wall of the Necropolis as a lookout:
"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 quick and get away from it. I just remember scampering home to my mother: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘I’ve seen a vampire!’ and I got a clout round the ear for my trouble. I didn’t really know what a vampire was."
Another eyewitness, Tam Smith, had this to say to the BBC:
“The red light and the smoke would flare up and make all the gravestones leap. You could see figures walking about at the back all lined in red light.”
The police arrived to find the cemetery swarming with children wielding pointy objects. Their efforts to disperse the crowd failed, and only the onset of the rain could dissuade the stalwart hunters. Children would return to the Gorbals Necropolis for two more nights in search of the iron-fanged devil.
Death of the Gorbals Vampire
The Sunday Mail newspaper published a story on the 26th of September in hopes of ending the hysteria. The story, featured above, reads:
"VAMPIRE WITH IRON TEETH IS “DEAD”
THE vampire with iron teeth is dead. The vampire—which was supposed to be running amok in Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis on Thursday after devouring two little boys—started children armed with penknives, sticks and stones on a mammoth hunt.
They swarmed over the seven-foot-high wall and started searching the cemetery. The rumours swept through the Hutchesontown district of Glasgow with amazing speed. Police were called out. Lurid comics and a horror film are blamed with starting the scare.
But last night all was quiet at the necropolis. Youngsters who swarmed the surrounding streets guiltily laughed at the idea of a vampire."
In the end, the children came to their senses and abandoned the hunt. Their parents and countless parents after theirs would never give up the hunt for potential negative influences. Thousands of books and publications would be banned across the globe in the name of preserving purity. The definition of harmful content has shifted over the years from actual stories of murder and mayhem to the modern witch-hunts of things as innocuous as Pokémon and Peppa Pig.