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Fangtastic ​Gorbals play recalls vampire hysteria

The Gorbals Vampire
The Gorbals Vampire

THE scenes were incredible.

A baying mob of child vigilantes stormed the cemetery as they hunted the man – or creature – who had abducted two little boys.

The night sky was lit up orange by Dixon’s Blazes, the belching, brooding iron foundry behind the Southern Necropolis, throwing spooky shadows around the Glasgow graveyard.

Hundreds of kids were armed with sticks, stones knives and axes, ready to unleash fury on a demonic being that stood 7ft tall and had massive, iron teeth.

Police had to be called to control the hunt, which happened over three nights in September, 1954, and gripped the residents of the Gorbals community.

Of course there was no vampire. And neither had two kids from the area gone missing.

The mass disturbance was blamed on the importation of American horror comics, such as Tales From The Crypt. It was also suspected that a kids’ poem, Jenny Wi’ The Airn Teeth, or a bible passage about a beast with iron fangs, may have sparked the madness.

The bizarre incident, which became known as The Gorbals Vampire, led to the 1955 Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act being passed.

Now, more than 60 years on, the tale has inspired a community project in the Gorbals.

A play based on the story has been scripted by local writer Johnny McKnight and will be performed at The Citizens Theatre by a cast of almost 60 non-professional actors recruited from the area.

With a nod to the American horror comics that were partly blamed for the hysteria, workshops have been set up for youngsters to create their own comics about the event.

There was also a short story competition for secondary school pupils. The six finalists’ stories will be published in a book.

There will also be an exhibition about the project and the legend in The Citizens’ foyer from October 26-29.

Bob Hamilton and Kenny Hughes were two of the kids who armed up and went after the “vampire”.

Kenny recalled: “Apparently, he had big fangs, like a walrus.

“We heard he’d kidnapped two boys and we were all trying to figure out who they were.

“It snowballed, and it was said this guy’s living up in ‘the gravey’ (graveyard). Then the vampire thing came in, but as far as we were concerned it was a man with the iron teeth. Whoever it was, we were going to chase him.

“In those days we had no television, so the jungle drums went from street to street. Someone would say, ‘Do you know what’s going on tonight?’ and the kids would think, ‘we’re into that, it sounds good’ and we’d all head off up the gravey.

“We weren’t scared because we didn’t know what was going to happen.

“Once we got up there we were more frightened, thinking this could be real. Especially when we saw the older ones with weapons and we thought, ‘This could be serious, I don’t know if I want to stay here.’”

Bob, who is taking part in the play, said: “I ran home to get a hatchet from the coal bunker. Everyone was tooled up, you had to be, because there was a vampire.

“We didn’t have Christopher Lee there to explain you had to put a stake through a vampire’s heart – we were just going to cut its head off.

“And we didn’t have garlic – nobody in the Gorbals knew what garlic was.

“I don’t know what we would have done if we’d actually met one.”

Johnny McKnight, despite being a fan of vampire stories, had never heard of the Gorbals version.

“It was completely new to me but I read up on it,” he said.

“I loved that in Glasgow the kids weren’t scared about someone going around killing weans – instead they got their chibs and went on the hunt!

“It’s for Halloween, so I wanted to heighten the fear. Who knows, maybe the weans were right!”

The project was the idea of The Citizens’ associate director, Guy Hollands.

He said: “It’s funny, moving and has a real heart to it.

“We have a cast of more than 50 and it’s a story we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

“The community seems to have really come on board with it.”

The Gorbals Vampire Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, October 28-29


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