The Gory bells and the Gorbals Vampire

Just south of the river Clyde sits the  Gorbals. The area has a colourful history but here I want to talk about just two of its most famous urban legends- How it got its name (allegedly) and its most famous monster !

The Gorbals has been its own wee ‘village’ in some incarnation since the middle ages and a lot has been argued as to the origins of its name.

One theory involves the leper colony at St. Ninians croft-  which is estimated to have been somewhere between where Hospital street, Adelphi street and the ‘Gorbals bridge’ at Crown street stand now . Allegedly it was founded in 1340 as a place of shelter and respite for the lepers of the area.

The story goes that when the lepers wandered into the city over the Gorbals bridge they would ring bells to warn the uninfected of their arrival – the so called ‘gory bells’Its also said  that the monks who cared for the lepers would ring the bells if one of their wards had escaped to warn the city of the risk.

The truth is there was a leper colony but no concrete evidence can be found for the ‘gory bells’ or this being the origin of the name, although, while on a recent jaunt to the kelvin grove I did spy this map which clearly spells the name as Gorbells…..

 

Leap-Frog

The other story I wanted to share was that of the Gorbals vampire.

In September of 1954  rumour spread of two  boys who had gone missing in the area. It was soon claimed that they had been taken – and eaten no less by a vampire with iron teeth! who happened to conveniently reside in the local graveyard- The Southern Necropolis

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The Southern Necropolis,  is still located in the heart of the Gorbals and dates back to the 1840, holding a good quarter of a million people. Its a dark, broken and desolate place – more so than most cemeteries having fallen victim to years of vandalising and weather beating. It also holds a wealth of interesting stories of which this is just one.

Now, unlike most children  who would fearfully run home to hide under their beds the children of the Gorbals were having none of that! No sooner had the story reached their young imaginations than they were off in their droves to hunt down the beast! wee stones and sticks in hand.

 

The children raced out of school at 3pm. It doesn’t get fully dark until 7pm but it being Autumn in Glasgow we can assume it would be dull, grey and overcast with watery daylight trickling between the thick trees which surround the grave sites. A police officer who went down after hearing about the commotion described the cemetery to be ‘teeming’ with hundreds of  mini vampire hunters ready for battle.

As they lay in wait the near by Dixon Blazes industrial estate blasted their furnaces causing flames and smoke to shoot out of the chimneys and paint the afternoon sky red. An event which supposedly gave everyone a jump!

After waiting until dark, cold and hungry the kids tailed off home. Confident that their presence scared off the Vampire for good. The newspapers backed them up on this.

The aftermath of the great vampire hunt was substantial . This quirky wee tale which gripped the small suburb of Glasgow made London headlines.

 

Horror comics such as Tales From The Crypt were blamed and as such the Children and Young persons (Harmful publications) Act of 1955 was passed to avoid any further hysteria. Even though no such monster was ever published in any of the offending comics…

 

 

More than 60 years later, five of the original hunters themselves posed for photos in the Southern Necropolis and retold their stories to Johnny McKnight who produced a play ‘The Gorbals Vampire’ which was shown at the Citizens Theatre in 2016

You can hear some great stories from the time on the Citizens theatre Soundcloud account at  https://soundcloud.com/citizenstheatre.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Gory bells and the Gorbals Vampire

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  1. My great-grandfather x 7 or 8 was John Dickson (sic) of the Dumbarton Glassworks. His nephew was William Dixon of Govan- he of ‘The Blazes.’ He is therefore a kind of great-uncle to me. Do you think William might be buried in that cemetery as I couldn’t find him in The Necropolis near the cathedral….?

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    1. I think that’s a good shout, he may well be. I guess it depends on where he lived more than anything. If he was from around that area he may well be!
      Southernnecropolis.co.uk might be a good place to enquire. Also the family archives at the Mitchell library are amazing and the staff are very helpful!!

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      1. Thanks- I did spend time at The Mitchell some years ago, but it was mainly industrial history books about the factories and collieries that they had. He did live in Govan- and London and France in the winter. He was very rich. By the time my mother came down the line the money had all gone! Wm’s son ( Wm Smith Dixon) was childless and he left his estate to his great-nephew who died young and then he left everything to his wife and she died young, so left everything to her sister. Not bothered about that- just love the stories! The annoying thing is that Helensburgh Libraries have shifted everything to Inverary, as it comes under Argyll, so never have time to go there and librarians now can’t tell you anything. You have to do personal research! Thankfully I have 10 A4 files of paperwork that I have painstakingly put together.

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