“Behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth.”
– Daniel 7:7
The backdrop of the Southern Necropolis has held its place in the annals of Glasgow’s history for time immemorial. Amidst the gravestones of prolific merchants and traders from a time where Glasgow was recognised as ‘the second city of the [British] empire’, many citizens have taken the time to sojourn and explore. The Necropolis is also home to several war graves with soldiers interred from both World Wars. Its entrance looms over Caledonia Road in the form of a stunning gatehouse designed in the mid-seventeenth century by Glaswegian architect Charles Wilson – who is also interred on the grounds. Anyone who has paid a visit to the iconic cemetery, nicknamed “The City of the Dead”, would agree that the area is teeming with ghostly atmosphere and an air of supernatural mystery.
What some may not know, however, is that in 1954 this site played host to a fervent monster hunt – made up entirely of children. And so gave birth to Glasgow’s very own urban legend, comparable to the likes of the Mothman and the Jersey Devil.
The first ripples of rumour pervaded through playgrounds across the city in hushed whispers. Tales of a seven-foot-tall bloodsucking monster with teeth made of iron stalking the grounds of the Necropolis travelled between schools, on the lips of children of all ages. The ‘Gorbals Vampire’ was already said to have brutally killed and eaten two young boys, and the children decided to take it upon themselves to put an end to the ghoul’s reign of terror. The adults weren’t going to believe them, after all.
“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,” stated Ronnie Sanderson, aged eight at the time of the vampire hunt.
The graveyard teemed with life on the evening of September 23rd, 1954; small hands clutching stakes and crucifixes, hundreds of youthful eyes fixated on a common goal and clinging to a sense of vigilante justice. The backdrop of the steelworks at the edge of the Necropolis lent itself to the scene. Industrial flames danced across the tombstones and cast strange shadows over the children’s faces.
Tam Smith, another of the youngsters present at the time, said: “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 the red light.”
The haunting shadowplay acted out across the kirkyard would likely play tricks on the young minds of the hunters. As such, it would not be difficult to see a looming seven-foot shadow lurking amidst the graves. Hysterical children screamed that they could see the beast from all corners of the site.
It got to the point where the police were called by many a concerned citizen, and PC Alex Deeprose made his way to the cemetery to respond to the reports of the cemetery being overrun with children. The sight which he beheld was an extraordinary one, and try as he might, the children would not disperse when told by the officer. They only gave up the hunt when, as it often does in Scotland in September, dark clouds coalesced overhead and it started to rain.
The young vampire hunters turned up at the Southern Necropolis for the next two nights in dwindling numbers, until September 26th, when the Sunday Mail ran the headline: “Vampire With Iron Teeth is ‘Dead’”.
Although the hunt was over, the bizarre tale of the Gorbals Vampire sent ripples throughout the populace of Glasgow, gaining traction after appearing in the local press. The story was even covered in worldwide news. Appalled parents, teachers, and Christians sought answers as to why their innocent children had become so embroiled in the macabre myth. The most obvious culprit arose in the form of American horror comics; specifically, one entitled ‘The Vampire with the Iron Teeth’. Horrified adults blamed these stories for their malicious influence on young minds. Their case even reached Parliament and likely played a pivotal role in the 1955 Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act being passed.
So, what actually caused this vicious creature to manifest in the collective psyche of Glasgow schoolchildren? Far removed from the brooding beauty of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and the punkish anarchy of the Lost Boys, the Gorbals Vampire both frightened and excited young Glaswegians, and resulted in mass hysteria akin to that of the Salem witch trials of the late seventeenth century. It is also worth mentioning that the two boys the vampire had supposedly killed were likely imagined, as no records exist of any missing or murdered children at the time.
Many have offered their takes on this vampire hysteria of the 1950s. Some blamed the aforementioned graphic novels imported from America. Perhaps it was the haunting atmosphere of the Necropolis itself, a frequent playground of Gorbals children. ‘Jenny wi’ the Airn (Iron) Teeth’ was said to haunt Glasgow Green in the early nineteenth century, amongst other infamous ghoulish happenings in the city. It is also worth noting that the Gorbals was a heavily working-class district; the stress of poverty weighing on the children’s heads may have conjured up a tangible ‘monster’.
This article was brought to you by Rhys Nelson in association with Promotions.