It’s not a phenomenon normally associated with Welsh folklore, but while researching for a new book I have recently come across a series of articles which amount to Vampire stories set in south Wales. They are set in the eighteenth century but were written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
This was a time when ‘gothic’ themes were very fashionable in Britain. Writers like Arthur Machen, the man from Caerleon credited with coming up with the ‘Angel of Mons’ story when he was a journalist during World War I, were enormously popular. And ‘Welsh Gothic’ in particular was all the rage as the recent discovery of the lost manuscripts of the Mabinogion had put our dragons and beasts and wizards at centre stage globally.
The stories about our vampires are quite unique compared to similar stories from elsewhere at that time. There is also a very definite theme with them.
When you think of more famous vampire stories like ‘Count Dracula’ and ‘Nosferatu’, the story is very much about a visible phenomenon. A character with a personality, with a back story and a physical presence. In the Welsh tradition, vampires are not seen, and little is known about who they are (or were). They are also, generally connected to an inanimate object such as an item of furniture, rather than able to wander wherever they like under the cover of darkness. They also do not appear to be put off by crosses and religious paraphernalia.
The following account is fairly typical of the genre and was first published by Marie Trevelyan in 1909.
A large, old farmhouse, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons was taken over by new tenants. They discovered that some old furniture belonging to the previous occupants still filled many of the rooms. This was not really a problem to them as they did not generally use these rooms. But they were dusted down, and a fire lit in the hearth when a pious minister was due to stay as a weekend guest. He was going to be preaching at the local chapel that Sunday.
He arrived on the Friday night quite exhausted from his journey and retired to his chamber early where he sat in an armchair by the window and read from his bible before falling asleep. Through the night he was tormented by bad dreams and when he woke, he spotted that a wound on the back of his hand was bleeding. He wrapped it with a handkerchief and commented to the lady of the house over breakfast that there may be a couple of nails in the armchair that need attention and he showed her his wounds.
She was quite shocked as a previous visitor who had stayed in that room had complained of the same thing, so she had already had the armchair overhauled by an upholsterer. She went to the room and checked the chair over herself but could find nothing that could have caused the minister’s wounds.
The following evening the minister once again fell asleep in the armchair after spending some hours reading his bible. He was awoken by a feeling which he described as being “as if being gnawed at by a dog”. He had a pain which ran down the whole left-hand side of his body and he felt so weak that he struggled to get to his feet and strike a light. When he finally did, he lifted his shirt to see wounds across his rib cage like those he had seen on the back of his hand. All of them oozing with blood.
On Sunday morning as the congregation were leaving chapel the minister was introduced to the landlady who owned the farmhouse. He said to her ‘Madam, you may or may not know it, but I believe a vampire frequents your house. The dead man who owned the furniture comes to suck the blood from intruders and is probably not pleasantly disposed towards ministers of the Gospels.’ To which she replied, ‘It has happened to two ministers before you’.
An exorcism was said and when the minister departed the house, he declared that the malignant spirit had been put to rest. But in 1850, a dignitary of the Church of England stayed at the house and reported the same unpleasant experience and could show similar wounds on his left hand, arm, and leg.
I’m no expert on these matters, but surely, just get rid of the chair?
Graham Loveluck-Edwards is an historian and author of ‘Legends & Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’ and ‘Historic pubs of Wales’. Available at Amazon and all good independent book shops or at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk.
View his videos on local history by visiting his YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/user/GrahamLoveluck