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  • Russ Williams

WHERE THE FOLK can I buy Vampire Furniture from?



TO SITE


“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN TODAY, RUSS?”

“Vampire-hunting.”

“What?”

“Be?!”

“Well, hunting for Vampire Furniture, at least…”


Most people, when imagining a vampire, think of a pale-skinned dreamboat with bloody fangs, a black cape and slick hair with a receding hairline. Either that, or they think of bats and wolves and garlic and wooden stakes. Not the Welsh, though- here in Wales, vampires come in the form of antique chairs and four-poster beds. Literally.


Legends of blood-sucking vampires were popular throughout Europe, particularly in the southern and eastern nations, for hundreds of years. Then, as Europeans began migrating to colonies across the globe, myths of undead ghouls travelled with them, going viral.

Actually, throughout history, stories of vampires have tended to coincide with, or at least flourished during, epidemics or plagues. People took measures. In 2006, for example, archaeologists unearthed a 16th-century skull in Venice, Italy, that had been buried among plague victims with a brick in its mouth.


You see, many scholars believe that the legend of the vampire can be traced back to a general lack of knowledge regarding death and various medical conditions. For most of us, the thought of being buried alive is perhaps one of our worst nightmares, but we live our lives feeling relatively safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of this happening is very small. However, for our peasant ancestors, the threat was very real. People took to attaching bells and string to headstones so that, in the event of being buried alive, the poor sod could tug the string and ring the bell. There was also a bit of confusion over how human bodies decompose. As a corpse’s skin recedes, teeth and fingernails can look as though they’ve grown longer. Furthermore, as the internal organs break down, a dark ‘purge fluid’ can leak out of the nose and mouth, thus completing the ‘blood-sucking vampire look’.


It was thanks again to Victorian romanticism (‘again’ referring to Victorian romanticism’s influence on modernizing numerous folk tales discussed in this blog) that vampires made the transition from bloody, bloated corpses to the seductive charmers we know today, with the release of novels such as The Vampyre (1819), Carmilla (1871-72) and, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). In 1852, for La Dame de Pique, or The Vampire, a Phantasm Related in Three Dramas, Dion Boucicault wrote of a vampire who climbed Snowdon, with Boucicault himself taking the leading role in the Princess’s Theatre in London.


Then as time went by and science became a dominant force in our society, panic over the undead subsided, and the vampire mythos became largely restricted to the media and small groups of enthusiasts. And, of course, as a standard Halloween costume. Apart from, bizarrely, a brief period in the 1960s and 70s, when Sean Manchester, president of the British Occult Society, claimed that a vampire was causing people to hallucinate in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Newspapers had already covered reports of a tall, shadowy figure with glowing red eyes seen sulking around the area, even going as far as saying that the he was a ‘King Vampire’ and that he had studied black magic in Romania before heading to London to be nearer to his grave! In 1970, Manchester told a TV news team that he was going to exorcise the vampire on Friday the 13th- hundreds of people turned up at the cemetery that night to witness the spectacle, but he bailed. It’s important to note, however, that this media frenzy was unlikely to be a reflection of most people’s beliefs- more of a fascination with the absurd or eccentric.


But throughout all this, the legend of the vampire never really made it big here in Wales. Apart from the mountain-rambler who climbed Snowdon in 1852, the biggest stories to come out of Wales to feature vampires concern possessed furniture…


It is said that, one Friday evening in the early 1700s, a Dissenting Minister (being a minister for a non-conformist church as opposed to the main established church at the time- the Church of England) was making his way to Breconshire on a grey mare and stopped to rest for the night at an old farmhouse in Glamorgan, where he would deliver a sermon the following morning. He was greeted warmly, given a fine meal and slept well that night.


However, in his room in the morning, after admiring the fine Tudor furniture that adorned the place, he sat on a worn leather armchair reading his Bible and nodded off. When he awoke, he found that his left hand was bleeding heavily. Washing off the blood at the basin, he then discovered a strange-looking bite mark.


The minister delivered his sermon that day then decided to stay another night. However, he did not sleep well on the second night, as it felt as though “a dog was gnawing at his flesh”. Lighting a candle in the darkness, he lifted his shirt to find his ribs dripping with blood. In the morning, he was horrified to discover that his grey mare had similar bite marks on its neck. He decided to issue a complaint, telling the landlady “Madam, I believe a vampire walks in your house!”


The landlady looked sheepishly at him, then told him that two other ministers had suffered a similar ordeal. Turns out, it used to be an old Dower House (being a moderately large house available for use by the widow of the previous owner of an English, Scottish or Welsh estate. The widow, often known as the "dowager", usually moves into the dower house from the larger family house on the death of her husband if the heir is married, and upon his marriage if he was single at his succession), and when it was converted into a farmhouse, several rooms were blocked off, along with the previous tenant’s library with all its dusty books and nick-nacks, though a few items of furniture were still dotted around the house, including the armchair and bed.


Apparently, the previous tenant was an old antiquarian who was not exactly pleasantly disposed towards ministers or men of the faith in general, and he had returned as a vampire. Several ministers had already attempted to exorcise the creature, but it refused to leave the library. Once, a dignitary of the Church of England gave it a go, only to be bitten on the left hand and leg.


The Dissenting Minister advised them to get rid of the furniture, probably wondered why the hell they didn’t tell him in the first place, then bid them farewell, never to visit the house again. Indeed, the vampire only left the house when the furniture was sold at auction to some poor unsuspecting sap whom, as it turned out, quickly grew wise to the demonic qualities of his new décor; in 1840, a certain Elizabethan chair was advertised by a local auction house as a ‘Vampire Chair’.


The buyer wanted to complete a set of similar chairs he was already in possession of. However, after a while, one of the chairs was placed in a corner, away from the others- guests had complained they were always scratching their hands until they bled whenever they sat in it.

Eventually, the entire set of chairs was sold for a high price to a rich merchant (unnamed). His family would complain about scratches on their hands when sitting in one of the chairs, and upon his death, the offending chair was given to a lover of antique furniture (again, unnamed), who valued the old Elizabethan article because he considered it to be a “Vampire Chair”.


And here is where the tale comes to an abrupt end, with no hints as to the current whereabouts of the cursed Vampire Furniture, of this elusive farmhouse in Glamorgan, or as to the fate of the latest owners. Furthermore, missing information and hazy directions make it very difficult to pin-point where, exactly, this took place (if, indeed, it took place at all). Is there a dusty room somewhere near Cardiff full of demonic furniture, draped in cloth and locked away for the sake of humanity? Or did they remain in the hands of the occultist antiquarian, and are now on display in some museum for the occult, behind a pane of glass next to Annabelle and Robert the Doll? Or did some desperate family manage to burn them in a dramatic showdown worthy of a Poltergeist sequel, never to speak of the incident again? Maybe they were recycled!


Or perhaps they never even existed in the first place- the story derives from Folk-lore and folk-stories of Wales by Marie Trevelyan, 1909, being a collection of Welsh oral tales. The lack of precise details may be attributed to the fact that Trevelyan composed the tale based on local knowledge and speculation. So, even at its roots, the authenticity of this story is debatable; was it some urban myth conjured up by the bored residents of Glamorgan? Or perhaps a story invented to restore interest to a crumbling old farmhouse?


Marie Trevelyan loses further credibility in her retelling when she begins delving into the world of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld, claiming that vampires were dead men doomed to an eternity of serving Arawn under the watchful eye of the Cwn Annwn, visiting the mortal world at night to drink the blood of the living, their souls forever tied to the furniture they owned in life- a far-cry from the traditional vampire legend that we are all familiar with today, and one that is not compatible with Welsh mythology and the legends surrounding Arawn and Annwn. There is no other mention of vampires in Welsh mythology and no further proposed link between vampires and the Welsh Otherworld. Furthermore, Arawn stepped down as king of Annwn in the first branch of the Mabinogi!


An interesting take, but an unfounded one.


The dates in which the events took place also vary from person to person, with one unnamed Glamorgan woman (whom wished to remain anonymous) quoted on one website saying that the minister from the Church of England who was bitten on his hand and leg visited the house in 1850, ten years after the furniture was apparently sold at auction.


“…so bed bugs?”

“Be?”

“The furniture… bites… it was obviously bed bugs, right?”


The rational mind of a 21st-century housemate. But he’s probably right- much like vampires allegedly being no more than the wild imaginings of scientifically-oblivious minds, perhaps, too, the strange bites and rashes attained from sitting on Vampire Furniture can be explained rationally.


I checked out what bed bug bites look like- large spots, nothing more- they certainly don’t match the description given in the tale. But all that got me thinking about what I had researched about vampires in the early stages- that they are often associated with plagues or epidemics.


And so, with us in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, I had a look at what was going on in Wales in that respect back in the mid-1800s. Turns out, there were several huge epidemics of numerous contagious diseases in south Wales around that period. The first, from 1831 to 1833, included two influenza epidemics as well as the first appearance of cholera. Then, from 1836 to 1842, they were hit again with cholera and influenza, but also had to deal with typhus and typhoid.


I had a quick look at the symptoms of each disease and the only one that mentioned a rash of any kind was typhoid, but again, the description doesn’t match.


St Cattwg's, Llanmaes
St Cattwg's, Llanmaes

I decided to venture into rural Glamorgan in search of the elusive Vampire Furniture, or to find the original farmhouse/old dower house from the tale, at least. As mentioned, details and locations are vague, but many believe the house to be that of ‘Llanmaes House’ in the small village of Llanmaes, a mere fourteen miles from Cardiff.


I found the roads in Cardiff strangely busy, and it wasn’t until I returned home and told my housemate and his girlfriend about my little adventure that I realized it was the day in which some ‘non-essential shops’ were re-opening their doors again after a long period of lockdown. I headed up the A4232, passing the towering blocks of flats which look out over Cardiff Bay, then travelled up along what locals refer to as the ‘Concrete Road’, turning off just before reaching the M4. From there, I had no idea where I was going, but the sights were all-too-familiar; narrow country lanes with hedges so tall you can’t see around the next corner, lonely country pubs who’s longevity leaves much to the imagination; dead foxes and rabbits adorned the ditches and there were rows of cottages outside of which sat posh 4x4s and BMWs. Along the way I passed what seemed to be the ruins of a monastery or small castle of sorts… I passed the layby too quickly to stop, so I made a vow to go on my way back- that Draconian ruin would make for perfect photos for the blog!


This is where the well-off business people of Cardiff live, or go to retire. And I don’t blame them- it took me half an hour to get there from the opposite end of Cardiff, and the bustling streets of urban life couldn’t feel any further away!


“You have reached your destination!”


St Cattwg's, with 'Llanmaes House' in the background
St Cattwg's, with 'Llanmaes House' in the background

Okay… nothing but nice houses and a maze of narrow streets with double-parked cars… a village green… a pub… (how I long for that first proper pint in a pub!) The village has won the ‘Vale of Glamorgan Best Kept Village Competition’ on many occasions, including 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2009. In 1997 it also won the ‘National Village of the Year Award’ (Community Life category). The only thing missing for me is a shop, although in early 2014, Sainsbury's proposed building a large supermarket there, which is yet to happen…


I spotted a young girl scurrying around a heap of second-hand books in a bus stop. I did a u-turn and parked up beside her- the phone box next to the bus stop was also crammed with literature, from children’s books on dinosaurs to Penguin classics.


“Alright?”

“Hey…”

“Bit random, like… but I’m in the area… writing a book,” why do I lie to strangers for no reason?! “…on Welsh folklore. Know anything about Vampire Furniture?”

“Yhm…”

“…wouldn’t think so, gauging by your reaction… is there a big house around here? I’m picturing like an old manor house kind of thing, maybe a farm…”

“Oh! That’ll be down there!” she said, pointing down a random residential street.

“…just straight down there?”

“Straight down there, yeah!” she said with a smile.


“Thanks!” I did another u-turn and headed straight down there, eventually arriving at the village church. I saw a woman walking a dog, or it was walking her, rather- dragging her down the street as she gripped the lead with both hands. She was pretty, so I decided to ask for more directions, just to be sure.

“Hi!” I called over to her.

“Oh! Hi…” she went to push back her hair, but quickly grabbed the lead again when her dog jumped up on the side of my car, frantically sniffing my ear.

“Bit random, like… but where the folk can I find some Vampire Furniture around here?”

(I didn’t say that, but I should’ve! Actually, no.)

“I’m in the area… writing a book. Know anything about Vampire Furniture?”

“’Vampire Furniture’?” she quoted me, intrigued. “No.”

“…is there a big house round here?”

“O-“ she went to gasp, then stopped and duly pointed down the street. “That’ll be the one straight down there!”

“Straight down there?”

“Just straight down there! Right opposite the church!”

“Aw, nice one! Thanks!”

“That’s alright- good luck!”


Llanmaes House
'Llanmaes House'

Just down from there, I passed a row of beautiful cottages, each with a clearly-indicated name, like the Old Church House, the Quarry House… there was one named after the pub that it once was. Then I passed one called ‘Great House’, or something along those lines. It was huge and yellow and had a gated path leading up a well-kept garden and was directly opposite the church. I hastily parked my car on the side of the road and wandered back on myself, trying to study the numerous houses without looking as though I was scouting the area for a planned burglary. The sun was shining and I could hear someone’s radio playing from an open window.

I reached the big house- not ‘Llanmaes House’, anyway… I saw an elderly man in full walking gear emerging from a nearby hedge. “Alright? I’m… writing a book on Welsh folklore- know anything about Vampire Furniture?”


“’Vampire Furniture’?” he echoed back to me, intrigued. “No!”

“Hmm… doesn’t seem to be that well-known around here… what about ‘Llanmaes House’?” I said slowly.

“Llan-maes-House?” he repeated back even slower. “No… no, I’m afraid not… I saw a house called ‘The Grange’, or something like that…? Just straight down there…”

“Just straight down there, yeah? Nah, not the one I’m after… that’s alright, cheers!”


I wandered around some more, eventually coming across an old, faded map of the village pinned up on a notice board outside the church grounds. Squinting, I just about made out a ‘Llanmaes House’ and, according to the map, would place it where ‘Grand House’ now stands, or whatever it was. I roamed the cemetery for a bit, feeling guilty as I took photos- again, as though I was there under false pretences! I could feel the locals watching me from behind closed blinds, thumbs hovering over the ‘call’ button…


On the north wall of the church (St Cattwg's) is a faded painting depicting what looks like St George and the dragon. Others claim that the medieval painting depicts a Biblical scene from the Book of Revelation. I didn’t know it at the time, but St Cattwg’s is also where they filmed Gavin and Stacey’s wedding.


Llantrithyd Place
Llantrithyd Place

Looking up at ‘Llanmaes House’, I could immediately imagine it once being home to Vampire Furniture- it’s an impressive, large, lime-washed building and is of much historical interest, being a Grade II listed building dating back to circa 1600. I considered for a moment going up there and knocking the door, but decided against it- might be a bit strange, having a total stranger knock your door and ask if you know anything about Vampire Furniture that you and some guy on the internet believe can be traced back to their home… I decided to head back to Dracula’s Castle, instead.


Parking up in the layby, I realized the ruins were actually situated at the far end of a cemetery, with a pretty standard-looking church at the other end. Ignoring the church, I took a few snaps of the ruins then went back to my car then back to Cardiff.


Llantrithyd Place
Llantrithyd Place

Turns out, the ruins were those of Llantrithyd Place, an old, sixteenth-century manor house. The Aubrey Baronets were lords of the manor and of the nearby village of Llantrithyd for centuries, but the family died out in the 1850s, around the time of the Vampire Furniture’s reign of terror. Victims to the numerous plagues affecting south Wales at the time, perhaps? Many believe the house to have been built in 1546 on the ruins of an earlier house.


The “standard-looking” church that I had pretty much ignored? St Illtyd’s Church- one of the most famous church complexes in Wales and the site of Cor Tewdws, a Celtic monastery and the oldest college in all of the United Kingdom! The college was originally founded in 395 AD in honour of the Roman emperor Theodosius I, then was re-founded in 508 AD by Saint Illtyd. The church building is one of the oldest in Wales and is a Grade I listed building and has often been referred to as the “Westminster of Wales” due to its architectural beauty.


Llantrithyd Place
Llantrithyd Place

I clearly have no eye for architect. Funnily enough, the candlesticks in the church are dedicated to the one-and-only Marie Trevelyan (1853-1922), who actually hailed from the area.


There has only been one other account of Vampire Furniture in Wales, and it took place here, in Cardiff:


Apparently, during the reign of James I (1603-1625), a family in Cardiff owned a four-poster bed bought at a bankruptcy sale. It was described by the seller/owner as a “handsome but heavy piece of furniture” and something he liked to show off to his guests. Proud of their new purchase, the couple placed it in the master bedroom. Then, when her husband went away, the lady of the house decided to break tradition and slept in the master bedroom while her husband was away.


The couple had an infant- four months old, and on the child’s first night in the bed, the woman found it to be restless. On the second night, the child suddenly let out a violent cry and would not stop crying for the remainder of the night. In the morning, she sent for a doctor, who prescribed the infant with something which ensured it rested more easily that night (God knows what that was!), although it was still ‘uneasy’…


On the forth night, the child let out another painful scream and the mother rushed in to cradle it in her arms. A few moments later, it was dead. On its throat was a large mark with a red spot in the centre, which was oozing blood. When the doctor examined the body, he could not account for the strange mark. He reportedly said “…it is just as though something had caught at the child’s throat and sucked out the blood, as one would suck an egg.”


Time passed and the couple had another child. This time around, the husband took the master bedroom. On the first night (I assume this means he moved into the master bedroom after the birth of their second child, leaving her with the baby) he was woken up by the sensation of something clutching at his throat. He put it off as a nightmare, but then the following night, it happened again. On the third night, he was almost suffocated… jumping out of bed, he looked in the mirror and saw a large space of skin hanging off his throat as if it had been sucked clean off, and at the centre, a bleeding red spot.


St Illtyd's
St Illtyd's

He told his mate about it, who asked if he could have a go. He did, and the same thing happened to him. Seeking further advice, the man approached a local folklorist, who told him that he had bought himself a ‘Vampire Bed’. Standard.


It is said that the family never got rid of the bed, and that it stood unused for generations, described by the family as “an uncanny piece of furniture”. Which suggests that, somewhere in Cardiff, Vampire Furniture may still be at large…


Again, the tale leaves us hanging. Numerous Google searches into vampires in Wales/vampires beds in Cardiff/vampire furniture Wales and so on spawned nothing but a handful of articles on the above two accounts, none of which had anything really to add, and a bizarre moment when I was shown a link that said “buy vampire beds today at E-bay”. I just had to click on it. I was presented with an assortment of Twilight bed sheets and Buffy the Vampire Slayer scatter-cushions. Link below, if you’re interested.


I checked out the websites of several local antique dealers and second-hand furniture stores- no mention of Vampire Furniture anywhere. It seems that all accounts of Vampire Furniture in Wales are restricted to a twenty-mile radius in Glamorgan, and are not well-known by locals today.


The only other account of a vampire in Wales comes from Carmarthen, some sixty-seven miles west of Cardiff. Although, this little anecdote does sounds much more like a carefully-constructed folktale:


It is said that a Scrooge-like old miser once lived in the town whom was quite literally able to suck blood from a stone (good start). An excellent haggler, he would never pay a fair price for anything, and refrained from paying his employees a fair wage, also.


When he died, his body was laid out in his parlour. In the morning, the funeral guests were astonished to find scratch marks all over him. They immediately concluded that it must have been a vampire whom had unsuccessfully attempted to get blood out of the tight-fisted old git.


Unfortunately, I was unable to find a date of origin for this tale, but the customs and descriptions given to resonate with the world of the time when Vampire Furniture were at large…


Indeed, having taken a step back and looked at all the evidence, it may not be a coincidence that all four references to Welsh vampires that I have come across so far hail from the 1800s, a time when Dracula himself first made an appearance. Victorian romanticism truly popularised the vampire mythos- remember that the Rambling Vampire of Snowdon was a work of fiction that was quickly adopted to the stage.


The phrase “like getting blood out of a stone” had already existed for decades before the appearance of Vampire Furniture in Wales, emerging as an English metaphor in the late 1770s, so Count Scrooge from Carmarthen can’t hold claim to that one.


I did find reference to another Welsh vampire- 'Gwrach y Rhibyn', but she was far more witch-like than vampiric. In fact, 'gwrach' is the Welsh translation of 'witch' (Vampire: fampir). The only connection she had with vampirism is that she used to drink her victim's blood, but even this characteristic was dropped over time. She's definitely one for a future post, though!


Indeed, one does speculate whether Marie Trevelyan was just jumping on the bandwagon when she wrote about Vampire Furniture, and by attributing them to Welsh mythology, she was able to create an entire mythos of her own.


Not that it had much of an impact on Welsh mythology or folklore, really… vampires do not spring to mind for most Welsh people when considering the Mabinogion or Arawn or Annwn and so on, and from what I can see, not many of the people of Trevelyan’s native Glamorgan have held the legend dear, either. Nor did the idea of there being vampires in this world really take off anywhere else in Wales, for that matter.


And then there was the assortment of epidemics active in south Wales at the time- between those and what was happening in the media, the conditions were ripe for vampire tales!


Either that, or somewhere out there, perhaps here in Cardiff, Vampire Furniture exists; perhaps as an idle leather armchair in one of the forgotten rooms above Castle Street, or as a four-poster bed in an old guest house in rural Glamorgan…


-VERY VOLKAL-

Thanks for reading.


I really was fascinated with this one- although I’m a sceptic, I find the idea that the furniture itself, at least, may actually be in existence truly exciting!

Is there anyone out there with any information as to the current whereabouts of the furniture that went for sale on auction in Glamorgan around that period, or perhaps even knows the families who were once, or still are, in possession of Vampire Furniture?


Diolch!





REFERENCES

Côr Tewdws - Wikipedia

vampire beds | eBay

Folk-lore and folk-stories of Wales, Marie Trevelyan, 1909

La Dame de Pique, or The Vampire, a Phantasm Related in Three Dramas, Dion Boucicault, 1852

Land of Legends (en-GB)

Llanmaes - Wikipedia