There are some areas of the paranormal and unexplained that certainly stand out more than others, and seem to be more embedded in legend and folklore than anything else, yet which also sometimes come tearing through into the possibly real. Undoubtedly one type of creature that lurks in the shadows and seems as if it must only inhabit fiction and the imagination is the vampire. However, even though the idea of real bloodsucking immortal fiends seems as if it surely must be pure myth, there are occasionally cases brought forward as real encounters with these creatures, and one such account supposedly happened in a quaint countryside of England. It is a case that has become a curious bit of lore and a historical oddity that has been talked about to this day.
The story of what has come to be known as the Croglin Grange vampire begins in 1875, in the remote and picturesque area of Cumberland, in North West England. According to the tale, one spring two brothers named Edward and Michael Cranswell and their sister Amelia came to this serene place and temporarily rented out a single-story stone farmhouse called the Croglin Grange, which overlooked the valley and was near an ancient churchyard, and was owned by a family called the Fishers. The siblings were so enamored with the quiet rural life of this town that they decided to stay for a while, and became well-known amongst the locals. Indeed, they were so at home here that it became more and more apparent that they were to stay a lot longer than originally planned.
The trio stayed there in that old stone farmhouse all the way through winter and to the next summer, which brought with it a stifling heatwave, with temperatures higher than the region had ever seen. According to the story, one very hot and muggy evening Amelia laid down in her room but could not sleep because of the oppressive heat, instead sitting there propped up in bed gazing out into the summer night through the open shutters. It was then that she noticed what appeared to be two flickering lights meandering through the dark trees outside to gain brightness as they approached her window, much to the girl’s growing alarm.
As they did, she apparently became overwhelmed by a sense of pure, thick dread, and as the source of the light bloomed out from the dark behind that pane of glass she could see that it was a “a hideous brown face with flaming eyes” that leered in at her and began to scratch at the window, which was luckily locked, in what seemed to be an attempt to open it. As the thing’s clawed hands scabbled and scratched at the glass the terrified girl wanted to cry out, but found that her voice would not work, that she was completely paralyzed with fear, transfixed on the thing at the window and only able to stare silently and tremble as the beastly entity outside began to graduate from scratching on the glass to peeling away the lead that sealed the edges of the window pane.
When the window fell to the floor from its moorings and a skeletal clawed hand reached in to unlock it, Amelia was still unable to scream, her voice imprisoned within her by fear, and she was equally helpless as a hulking dark humanoid shape flowed across the room to take her in its arms, grab her hair, and fiercely yank her head back to expose her throat. Through all of this she was petrified and unable to move, but when the creature bent down to sink its teeth into her neck the pain freed her voice and she unleashed an epic shriek.
The scream was loud enough to wake the girl’s two brothers, and they rushed to the room, breaking down the locked door to find the strange intruder escaping through the window. One of the brothers then ran after it with a fire poker in hand, but it was described as inhumanly fast, swiftly moving along in a series of “gigantic strides,” and it finally leapt up over one of the walls of the church to disappear into the night. Amelia herself was wounded and bleeding from her neck, but she survived the attack. At the time she apparently came to the conclusion that she had been the victim of some psychotic madman escaped from an asylum, and the word vampire did not come into the picture at this point. The concerned brothers wanted to get their sister away from that place and allow her some time to recover, so they subsequently took a long vacation to Switzerland.
When they returned to Croglin Grange the following autumn, they did so fully prepared for any further trouble they might have with deranged trespassers. The brothers arranged to sleep in a room directly across from Amelia’s, and kept pistols ready at all times, with Amelia making sure to securely close her shutters every night. For some time, it seemed as if things had returned to normal, and the winter passed without incident. However, that spring whatever evil it was that lurked out there in the night came calling once again.
On this evening Amelia was woken by that same, now familiar sound of a scratching and tapping at her window, which was now properly shuttered to block the view of the horrifying visage of what she knew hovered beyond. Bracing herself for the worst but hoping it was just some animal, she climbed up to peek out of the very top portion of the pane not covered by the shutters. There hunched over at her window was that creature again, with the same shriveled, hideous countenance and those same burning embers for eyes. She was able to scream this time, and when she did her brothers immediately sprang into action, bursting out of the house with pistols loaded and ready. They allegedly managed to shoot it in the leg as it ran off, but it still managed to get to the nearby graveyard and scurry down into some sort of crypt.
The brothers at the time were too frightened about what lie down there in the murky confines of that crypt beyond the meager light they cast down into it, and decided to come back the next day. When they went around recruiting locals to join them in their crusade, they were to find that other residents had experienced similar nightly visitations, such as one local girl who had also suffered bite wounds from the phantom, and there had also been found dead cattle and sheep drained of blood in the area. Realizing they were perhaps dealing with something supernatural in nature, when the brothers returned the next day they brought along as many able bodied locals as they could, not knowing what to expect when they ventured into that ancient graveyard vault.
When they entered the gloomy tomb they supposedly found all of the graves within defiled, their coffins torn open, remains scattered upon the stone floor, except for one, and when it was opened it was found to contain the creature that had been spotted at the window, a fresh bullet hole in its leg but apparently in some sort of trance or torpor. Shocked and now convinced that they were dealing with a vampire, the brothers quickly had the body burned right there where it lay, thus ending the reign of terror of the Croglin Grange Vampire.
This whole rather dramatic and sensational account was first relayed by the English travel writer and author Augustus Hare, who included it in his 6-volume 1890s autobiography The Story of My Life, in a section entitled “The Beast of Croglin Grange.” It all sounds like something out of a fictional horror story, and after all Hare was known for puplishing ghost accounts and this was the era of the sensationally macabre and gothic pulp stories called “penny dreadfuls,” yet he nevertheless presented it as a completely real and factual account, with no hint that it was just a fiction. According to him, he had personally heard the story in 1874 directly from the actual owner of Croglin Grange, Captain Edward Fisher-Rowe, whose family had owned the property for centuries. Making it all the more mysterious is that Hare neglected to cite many names or details of people involved or any detailed locations or sources to verify anything, and since he never admitted that any of it was fiction and always presented it as fact the account has gone on to become a mystery, inciting endless debate as to whether any element of it is based on truth, or if it was all the product of either Hare or Fisher’s imagination.
One of the first skeptics of the reality of the tale was English author and illustrator Charles George Harper, who personally travelled out to Cumberland to check it out in 1924. He would find that none of the locals knew anything about a place called Croglin Grange, and that it seemed to have never existed at all. The closest he could find that matched the description in the book was a building called Croglin Low Hall, but not only was it over a mile from the church, but it was a two-story building and its cemetery had no hint of having ever had a crypt as described by Hare. Neither could Harper find any evidence that the Cranswell siblings had ever existed, and considering the lack of clear information in Hare’s book it would have been impossible to track them down even if they did.
This was all pretty damning evidence that the Croglin Grange Vampire was either a deliberate or unintentional hoax, but Harper’s findings would themselves be challenged in the 1930s by researcher F. Clive Ross, who also ventured to Cumberland for his own investigation. He would find that Croglin Low Hall was indeed the place that Hare had written of, and that although it had since been demolished and built over with a chapel, there indeed had once been a proper church and churchyard there, with its foundation stones even still visible. The building even had one blocked up window that was claimed to be the very one where the vampire had appeared.
It was also found that others in the area had also heard the tale of the Croglin Vampire, that it was an old, mostly forgotten local legend, and that the Fishers were indeed a real family. One of the locals who was interviewed even pointed out that Croglin Low Hall had once been referred to as Croglin Grange until 1720, meaning that although Hare may have gotten the dates mixed up, at least some elements of his tale were indeed true. This is similar to findings made by a journalist named Lionel Fanthorpe, who in more recent years concluded that there was a Croglin Grange and even a vault matching the one in the story, but that it had existed in 1600s.
None of this proves that anything in the story did or didn’t happen, and the authenticity of the tale of the Croglin Grange Vampire remains uncertain, although when dealing with supernatural creatures of the night and bloodthirsty real vampires an absence of any evidence is a pretty glaring hurdle for anyone who would like to think that a real vampire visited Cumberland in the 1800s. It is very likely that this was an account from a second hand, unreliable narrator in Fisher, who may have made it up, aped a penny dreadful story, or twisted facts, with Hare fully thinking it to be true. It could also be that this was a fiction conjured up by Hare himself utilizing certain real places, and merely presented as a true story for dramatic effect, which in later years got misunderstood as a possibly real account and took on a life of its own. Or maybe it was all him having a laugh. No one really knows.
It is indeed this hazy grasp on the truth and sense of mystery, as well as its habitat in a largely forgotten corner of local history that has allowed the tale of Croglin Grange to catapult into the legend it is today. The tale and the nature of its origins have gone on to be intensely studied and debated, and an impressive amount of time and research put into determining the veracity of a once forgotten, likely mostly fictional vampire story that appeared briefly in the pages of some 19th century book, with all sorts of theories spinning about, but no definitive answers. It remains a neat unsolved mystery, and whether this was all a tall tale, a hoax, or a real account of supernatural evil, it is at the very least an intriguing historical oddity and an interesting bit of local folklore.