Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Croglin Grange Vampire Mystery

Our modern idea of a vampire, a creature that has returned from death to prey on humans at night, is based on the Eastern European vampires myths and legends, such as vampires wearing capes or turning into bats. Although vampire myths occur in almost every culture around the world, such myths are rare in England where the idea was almost unknown until the 18th century, when reports from Europe began to surface.

This particular account dates from just after the English Civil War in the 1650's. The owners of Croglin Low Hall in Cumberland (now Cumbria) were a family named Fisher and the story was told to one Augustus Hare by a descendent of the family in 1896. For some reason of their own, the Fishers decided to go and live in the south of England and rent out the farm. The new tenants were two brothers and a sister named Cranswell. The new family stayed in their remote farmhouse through the first winter without event. The summer came and, that year, it was stiflingly hot so they slept with the windows open. At that time the Hall was only one storey high - the upstairs has been built subsequently. Near the Hall was a chapel and a small graveyard which once belonged to the Howard family, who were great landowners in these parts.

One airless summer night the men sat with their sister watching the moon rise. After a time they decided to go to bed. The sister lay in her bed, the bedclothes cast off because of the heat. She had closed her window, but not fastened the shutters. She gazed out of her window, propped up on her pillows as the long summer day faded out and night took its place. In Cumbria at midsummer, because it is quite far north, it does not get very dark at all between sunset and sunrise.


Miss Cranswell soon became aware of two lights in the belt of trees some distance from the house which separated the lawn from the graveyard. She watched and, after a while, she made out a dark shape moving towards the house and towards her window. A terrible horror seized her. She wanted to get up and leave the room, but to go to the door would have meant she had to go closer to the window. Besides she had locked the door from the inside and so would have to stand there and unlock it...all the while clearly visible to whatever was out there. Frozen to the spot, she stared at the shape...but then it turned and instead of moving closer to her window, it started to move around the house. She jumped up and ran towards the door. Her hands were shaking so much that she found it hard to turn the key. And then her heart nearly stopped. Behind her, close to her though she didn't dare look, she heard a scratching at the window. It was outside...just feet away. She stood there petrified with fear still not turning her head. Then she heard the sound of it unpicking the lead which held the glass in place. She forced herself to look and saw that one pane of the mullioned glass had come away and a long bony hand stretched in and turned the window catch. Whatever it was, it came in through the window with a rush and grabbed her...its fingers in her hair, its mouth at her throat. It bit her neck and forced her onto the ground. As it bit her she screamed.

Croglin Low Hall (Croglin Grange)

Her brothers heard the noise and came and battered at the locked door. The creature looked up as the door was broken open...it turned and fled out of the window, leaving her lying on the floor, bleeding profusely from a wound at her neck. One brother clambered out of the window and went after it. But it was fast and before he could catch it...perhaps it was lucky for him that he didn't. It disappeared into the inky blackness around the graveyard.

Trying to explain the incident afterwards, the girl rationalized that the creature must have been a dangerous lunatic. But she was still horribly shocked and her brothers took her away from Croglin to recover. They stayed away for a while, but then, as autumn came, it was she who urged them to return to Croglin. They had paid for the tenancy, and besides, she joked, it would be very bad luck to come across two escaped lunatics.

They returned to Croglin and spent the winter there. She had the same room, but always closed the wooden shutters. The brothers took to carrying loaded pistols with them around the house. But nothing happened until one night in March.


The sister was lying in bed when she heard a terribly familiar scratching at the window. She struggled to get fully awake and scrabbled for a candle and something to light it with. When she got a flame she saw that the shutters were opened. Staring in at her was a brown shriveled face...she saw its long bony hands picking at the lead of the windows. This time she screamed immediately. Her brothers rushed in with their pistols. She pointed to the window, but the creature had gone. The brothers ran out of the front door and saw it moving across the lawn towards the graveyard. They fired and one of them hit it in the leg. It scrambled away into the darkness and they lost it.

The next day the brothers summoned their neighbors, and with their help they went into the graveyard. The tenants of nearby Croglin High Hall had also been suffering visits from it and their young daughter had bite wounds at the throat. The father had thought that she had been bitten by a rat, but when the Cranswells said what had happened to their sister, they feared the worst and the father joined the party as it made its way to the graveyard.

One of the locals had heard rumors of a particular vault being home to some monster so they opened it up. They stood around, pistols and other weapons at the ready. The vault was full of coffins but most were smashed and the remains mangled and strewn across the floor. Only one coffin was undisturbed. They lifted the lid and there they saw the mummified and shriveled figure that had moved as if alive the night before. To confirm what they feared they looked at the leg and found a recent wound from a pistol ball. There and then they set fire to the dry coffin and burnt the vampire in it.

In his book Legends of the Lake District, J. A. Brooks tells that in the early years of this century the tenants of Croglin Low Hall had to deal with a fire in the dining room chimney. When the fire died down and they were rebuilding the chimney, they found an ancient burnt corpse in there. Though the tenant wanted to rebury the corpse in a churchyard with proper Christian rites, he died before he was able to do this. Some people think that the corpse is still there in the chimney.


Adaptations on the Croglin Range Tale

Augustus Hare, who had the story printed, said he heard it from a Captain Fisher who leased the property after the Cranswells. He dated the events to around 1875. This immediately aroused suspicion that he had actually adapted certain sequences in a 'penny dreadful novel' possibly by James Malcolm Rymer: 'Varney the Vampire' published in 1847. Penny dreadfuls were deliberately sensational. The books sold for a penny, often authors did not want to admit they wrote them.

In 1924, Charles G. Harper decided to challenge Hare's account of the vampire. He went to Cumberland and could not find Croglin Grange, although he found both a Croglin High Hall and a Croglin Low Hall. There was no church nearby. The closest was a mile away. There was no vault as described by the brothers and the villagers.

Later a man called F. Clive-Ross visited the area and in turn challenged Harper's findings. He interviewed the local people and deduced that Croglin Low Hall was the Grange. He also noted that a chapel had existed near the house and its foundation stones were still there in the 1930s.

Then in 1968, D. Scott Rogo, a writer, using a book published in 1929 that contained both stories concluded that it was likely that one story was based upon the other and therefore Croglin Grange was most likely a hoax.

However some years later F. Clive-Ross found a witness, Mrs Parkin who lived at Slack Cottage in Ainstable who said she had known one of the Fishers. However this gentleman was born in the 1860's had heard the story from his grandparents. Mrs Parkin also said that according to the deeds of Croglin Low Hall, it was commonly called Croglin Grange until 1720".

So Hare had made a huge blunder. If the story had taken place it was two centuries earlier in 1680-1700 not the 1870s. Clive-Ross published his research in 'Tomorrow magazine, spring 1963'.

More recent research by Lionel Fanthorpe also suggests that the events took place in the late 1600s. A vault close to the Grange was demolished during Cromwell's time. Hence these findings, place the events before the publication of Varney the Vampire.

So what exactly happened? We shall never know. It is possible that Varney's author heard the legend and decided to write about it as a Penny Dreadful. It was said the book was based on events that took place during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), near the time of the incident. Maybe Hare used Varney the Vampire for his book or perhaps he heard about the legend independently and wrote his own account. Whatever the truth, the Croglin beast will remain a mystery.

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The Beast of Croglin Grange - Augustus Hare - 'Story of My Life'

Captain Fisher also told us this really extraordinary story connected with his own family:

Fisher may sound a very plebeian name, but this family is of very ancient lineage, and for many hundreds of years they have possessed a very curious sort of place in Cumberland, which bears the weird name of Croglin Grange. The great characteristic of the house is that never at any period of its very long existence has it been more than one story high, but it has a terrace from which large grounds sweep away towards the Church in the hollow, and a fine distant view.

When, in lapse of years, the Fisher's outgrew Croglin Grange in family and fortune, they were wise enough not to destroy the long-standing characteristic of the place by adding another story to the house, but they went away to the south, to reside at Thorncombe near Guildford, and they let Croglin Grange.

They were extremely fortunate in their tenants, two brothers and a sister. They heard their praises from all quarters. To their poorer neighbours they were all that is most kind and beneficent, and their neighbours of a higher class spoke of them as a most welcome addition to the little society of the neighbourhood. On their part the tenants were greatly delighted with their new residence. The arrangement of the house, which would have been a trial to many, was not so to them. In every respect Croglin Grange was exactly suited to them.


The winter was spent most happily by the new inmates of Croglin Grange, who shared in all the little social pleasures of the district, and made themselves very popular. In the following summer, there was one day which was dreadfully, annihilatingly hot. The brothers lay under the trees with their books, for it was too hot for any active occupation. The sister sat in the verandah and worked, or tried to work, for, in the intense sultriness of that summer day, work was next to impossible. They dined early, and after dinner they still sat out in the verandah, enjoying the cool air which came with evening, and they watched the sun set, and the moon rise over the belt of trees which separated the grounds from the churchyard, seeing it mount the heavens till the whole lawn was bathed in silver light, across which the long shadows from the shrubbery fell as if embossed, so vivid and distinct were they.

When they separated for the night, all retiring to their rooms on the ground floor (for, as I said, there was no upstairs in that house), the sister felt that the heat was still so great that she could not sleep, and having fastened her window, she did not close the shutters - in that very quiet place it was not necessary - and, propped against the pillows, she still watched the wonderful, the marvellous beauty of that summer night. Gradually she became aware of two lights, two lights which flickered in and out in the belt of trees which separated the lawn from the churchyard, and as her gaze became fixed upon them, she saw them emerge, fixed in a dark substance, a definite ghastly something, which seemed every moment to become nearer, increasing in size and substance as it approached. Every now and then it was lost for a moment in the long shadows which stretched across the lawn from the trees, and then it emerged larger than ever, and still coming on - on. As she watched it, the most uncontrollable horror seized her. She longed to get away, but the door was close to the window and the door was locked on the inside, and while she was unlocking it, she must be for an instant nearer to it. She longed to scream, but her voice seemed paralysed, her tongue glued to the roof of her mouth.

Suddenly, she never could explain why afterwards, the terrible object seemed to turn to one side, seemed to be going round the house, not to be coming to her at all, and immediately she jumped out of bed and rushed to the door, but as she was unlocking it, she heard scratch, scratch, scratch upon the window, and saw a hideous brown face with flaming eyes glaring in at her. She rushed back to the bed, but the creature continued to scratch, scratch, scratch on the window. She felt a sort of mental comfort in the knowledge that the window was securely fastened on the inside. Suddenly the scratching sound ceased. And a kind of pecking sound took its place. Then, in her agony, she became aware that the creature was unpicking the lead! The noise continued, and a diamond pane of glass fell into the room. Then a long bony finger of the creature came in and turned the handle of the window, and the window opened, and the creature came in; and it came across the room, and her terror was so great that she could not scream, and it came up to the bed and twisted its long bony fingers in her hair, and it dragged her head over the side of the bed, and - it bit her violently in the throat.


 As it bit her, her voice was released, and she screamed with all her might and main. Her brothers rushed out of their rooms, but the door was locked on the inside. A moment was lost while they got a poker and broke it open. Then the creature had already escaped through the window, and the sister, bleeding violently from a wound in the throat, was lying unconscious over the side of the bed. One brother pursued the creature, which fled before him through the moonlight with gigantic strides, and eventually seemed to disappear over the wall into the churchyard. Then he rejoined his brother by the sister's bedside. She was dreadfully hurt and her wound was a very definite one, but she was of strong disposition, not given either to romance or superstition, and when she came to herself she said, 'What has happened is most extraordinary and I am very much hurt. It seems inexplicable, but of course there is an explanation, and we must wait for it. It will turn out that a lunatic has escaped from some asylum and found his way here.' The wound healed and she appeared to get well, but the doctor who was sent for to her would not believe that she could bear so terrible a shock so easily, and insisted that she must have change, mental and physical; so her brothers took her to Switzerland.

Being a sensible girl, when she went abroad, she threw herself at once into the interests of the country she was in. She dried plants, she made sketches, she went up mountains, and, as autumn came on, she was the person who urged that they should return to Croglin Grange. 'We have taken it,' she said, 'for seven years, and we have only been there one; and we shall always find it difficult to let a house which is only one story high, so we had better return there; lunatics do not escape every day.' As she urged it, her brothers wished nothing better, and the family returned to Cumberland. From there being no upstairs in the house, it was impossible to make any great change in arrangements. The sister occupied the same room, but it is unnecessary to say she always closed her shutters, which, however, as in many old houses, always left one top pane of the window uncovered. The brothers moved, and occupied a room together exactly opposite that of their sister, and they always kept loaded pistols in their room.

The winter passed most peacefully and happily. In the following March the sister was suddenly awakened by a sound she remembered only too well - scratch, scratch, scratch upon the window, and looking up, she saw, climbed up to the topmost pane of the window, the same hideous brown shrivelled face, with glaring eyes, looking in at her. This time she screamed as loud as she could. Her brothers rushed out of their room with pistols, and out of the front door. The creature was already scudding away across the lawn. One of the brothers fired and hit it in the leg, but still with the other leg it continued to make way, scrambled over the wall into the churchyard, and seemed to disappear into a vault which belonged to a family long extinct.

The next day the brothers summoned all the tenants of Croglin Grange, and in their presence the vault was opened. A horrible scene revealed itself. The vault was full of coffins; they had been broken open, and their contents, horribly mangled and distorted, were scattered over the floor. One coffin alone remained intact. Of that the lid had been lifted, but still lay loose upon the coffin. They raised it, and there, brown, withered, shrivelled, mummified, but quite entire, was the same hideous figure which had looked in at the windows of Croglin Grange, with the marks of a recent pistol shot in the leg; and they did the only thing that can lay a vampire - they burnt it.

NOTE: Charles G. Harper's version of the story can be found at "Haunted Houses - Tales of the supernatural with some accounts of hereditary curses and family legends"...Lon


Click for video

Sources:
myths.e2bn.org
www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk
lookaroundcumbria.yolasite.com
www.shroudeater.com
www.whitehaven-news.co.uk
www.guardian.co.uk
Charles G. Harper - "Haunted Houses - Tales of the supernatural with some accounts of hereditary curses and family legends" - Chapman & Hall, London, 1907

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