While I’m not a fan of vampire stories or of Bram Stoker, whose Dracula was first published in London on this day in 1897, I’m happy to find any excuse to post about vampire furniture. The astute observer will note the absence of sleeping-coffins filled with Transylvanian soil in these stories from Wales.
Vampires were said to be dead men doomed to join Arawn and his Cwn Annwn. They visited the earth to suck blood from people and corpses. An old dower-house, long since turned into a farmstead in Glamorgan, had a vampire story attached to it. The house was evidently enlarged in Tudor times, and had some additions made in the reign of Queen Anne. In the reign of George I. it ceased to be a dower-house, and became a farmstead. Part of the premises were shut off at first, but when the next tenant came all the rooms were in occupation. Some of the old furniture that was bought by the ingoing tenant when the place ceased to be a dower-house remained. This furniture was distributed in various rooms, but one apartment, used as a guest-chamber, was wholly filled with it.
A very pious Dissenting minister visited the farm in the eighteenth century, and as an honoured guest he was given the best bedroom. He was to stay there three or four days on his way to Breconshire. In those times people travelled on horseback everywhere, and the minister arrived on a Friday night, riding a grey mare. A service was to be held in the house on Saturday evening, and two were to be held on Sunday. On Friday night the minister went early to bed, and on Saturday was up “with the lark.” Not wishing to intrude upon the early domestic arrangements, he sat in an old armchair of quaint design beside one of the windows which commanded a fine view of the surrounding country. There he remained for some time, reading the Bible and musing over his sermons for Sunday.
When he got up from the chair to go downstairs, he observed that the back of his hand was bleeding freely. He immediately dipped it in his washing-basin, but it was quite a few minutes before he could stanch the blood, and the scar resembled teeth-marks more than anything else. The marks were on his left hand. This he bound with his handkerchief, and when he reached the breakfast-room the hostess kindly asked how he had slept.
“Very excellently, I thank you,” was the minister’s reply. “The room is handsomely furnished, and the furniture is valuable, but I fear me there is a nail in the old armchair by the window ;” and he held forth his hand.
“I quite forgot to have it overhauled,” said the hostess,” for more than one visitor has complained of having scratches in that chair.” She examined the hand, and then exclaimed: ” But this is in the back, and not on the palm. The other persons had scratches on the palm.”
Nothing more was thought of the affair until Monday morning, when the minister was disturbed in his sleep long before dawn by a gnawing sensation in his left side. He described it “as though a dog was gnawing my flesh.” There was much pain in his side, and he had some difficulty in striking a light. When he got up and examined his side, all across his ribs he discovered marks similar to those upon his hand, and they had been bleeding freely. It took some time to stanch the blood, and then the minister dressed himself, and, reading the Bible, awaited the dawn. After breakfast he went to see his grey mare, and when he stroked its fine head he was surprised to find marks on the left side of the neck similar to those on his own hand and side. These he quickly bathed, and went indoors.
Before leaving the house he mentioned these occurrences to his hostess, adding: “Madam, you may not know it, but I believe a vampire frequents this house. The dead man who owned the furniture comes to suck the blood from intruders, even to the grey mare in your stable. And probably he is not pleasantly disposed toward ministers of the Gospel.” “It has happened to two ministers before,” said the goodman of the house, “but not to the ministers’ nags.” The descendant of this minister who related the story said that long after her great-grandfather died, other ministers who slept in the same room had suffered alike. “It was supposed that a Christian minister had effectually laid the vampire,” said the narrator, “but in the year 1850 a dignitary of the Church of England had the same unpleasant experience so far as his left hand and left leg were concerned. Science failed to account for these occurrences, and it was not until a year later the old vampire story was remembered. The house is still occupied by a farmer, but the outgoing tenant had a sale of all the antique furniture and effects, and nothing more was heard about the vampire. [A Glamorgan lady who desires anonymity.]
A handsome Elizabethan chair of genuine sixteenth-century workmanship was bought in a sale in South Wales, in the year 1840. The purchaser wanted to complete a set of similar chairs. After it had been in use for some time one of the chairs was set in a corner apart from the others, because people complained they were always scratching their hands until they bled whenever they sat in it. This could not be accounted for, because the chair was absolutely free from nails. In the course of time the set of chairs was sold for a high price to a rich merchant. His family, in turn, complained about scratches received when sitting in one of the chairs. At his death the offending chair was separated from the others, and given to a lover of antique furniture, who valued the old Elizabethan article because he considered it to be a “vampire chair.” [C. D ]
A Cardiff family possessed an old four-posted bedstead of the reign of James I. It was bought at a bankruptcy sale, and has been described as a ” handsome but heavy piece of furniture.” The man who bought it for the proverbial “song” set it in his best bedroom, and was proud to exhibit it to his friends. After it had been in his possession for some months, it was found necessary to take up a portion of the flooring of the room usually occupied by the man and wife, and the latter, as her husband was away, decided to sleep in the best bedroom.
The young people had one child, an infant of four months old. The first night when the mother and child slept in the best bedroom the infant was restless. The second night the child cried out violently, and the mother could not pacify it for some time. In the morning she sent for the doctor, and he prescribed for the infant. That night the babe was more restful, but still uneasy. The fourth night the child screamed, and the mother immediately got up and took the infant in her arms. A few moments later it was dead. The mother saw at the throat of her babe a large mark with a red spot in the centre, through which blood was oozing. When the doctor came he examined the affected part carefully, but could not account for the extraordinary mark. He said: “It is just as though something had caught at the child’s throat and sucked the blood, as one would suck an egg.”
Time passed, and the mother gave birth to another child. On this occasion the husband occupied the best bedroom. The first night he was awakened by feeling something clutching at his throat, and he believed himself to be a victim of nightmare. The second night he had the same experience, and was troubled in mind about it, but said nothing. The third night he was almost suffocated. He sprang out of bed, and went to the looking-glass. There he saw reflected a large space of skin as if it had been sucked, and from the centre blood was oozing. He mentioned these occurrences to a friend, who asked to sleep in that bed. He did so, and his experiences were exactly like those of the babe and its father. A person who was acquainted with folk-lore told him it was a “vampire bed.”
The bedstead still stands, but is never used, and is regarded as an “uncanny piece of furniture.” In many parts of Wales people believed that vampires came to suck corpses.
Folk-lore and folk-stories of Wales, Marie Trevelyan, 1909
The initials are of the informant, not otherwise identified in my edition.
While the annals and TV shows of modern parapsychology are full of haunted dolls, cursed paintings, and other possessed possessions, deadly furniture is a rarer category. There are popular stories of a few “death-chairs.” I have previously written about Victoria Claflin Woodhull burning what she described as “cursed furniture” and Mrs Daffodil has noted a haunted dressing-table, which came to a bad end. I’ve written about jinxed objects, including a lethal mirror in The Ghost Wore Black (the chapter titled “The Hoodoo Hat and Other Horrors.”) and a hoodoo rocking chair in The Headless Horror (the chapter titled “The Malice of Inanimate Objects.) Yet none of them were blood-suckers. Something unique to the cabinet-makers of Wales? Other stories of sanguinary sofas? Stake your claim at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.