Feature

A DAYLIGHT VAMPIRE

The Grade II-listed Anglican parish church of St Mary’s in West Derby was the unusual backdrop to a number of very strange daylight manifestations of the supernatural from the 1940s to the 1990s.

In 1946, a 10-year-old child named Len Archer reached his home off West Derby’s Meadow Lane in a terrible state. The boy claimed that he had been chased by a vampire disguised as the local reverend of St Mary’s Church.

Len’s parents and older sisters put the lad’s seemingly far-fetched story down to an overactive imagination, but Len’s best friend Georgie Rowntree assured the Archer family that Len was telling the truth.

Georgie said that he and Len had been playing cricket in the front garden of his house on Almond’s Green when a gang of children had run past the house screaming.

Georgie and Len went to see what all the excitement was about and one of the gang said a man in black with long sharp teeth had chased them outside of St Mary’s Church, and at one point he had jumped clean over a six-foot-high wall.

Georgie and Len went to the church to see if this bogeyman existed and saw a man in a white collar who shouted ‘Come here you two!’

The boys walked towards him, thinking he was the reverend of the church, but when they got within six feet of the man his face turned into something horrible, his eyes seemed to glow, and then he opened his mouth to reveal long sharp teeth.

The boys ran off in terror and the thing pretending to be a man of the cloth gave chase and almost caught up with them until he vanished half way up Meadow Lane.

Not much was known about vampires in the 1940s and most people thought such freakish beings were like Bella Lugosi’s depiction of the eponymous bloodsucker in the film Dracula (1931).

Len’s father said to his son, “If you tell the truth, I’ll give you a banana.” Banana’s were a luxury hard to come by during the post-war years, and yet Len still maintained that he was telling the truth, and this made his parents realise that he and Georgie had encountered someone very strange.

A few more people – adults and children – claimed to have seen the West Derby vampire, but the alleged sightings and encounters of the fiend dressed as a clergyman died down and he was not reported until 10 years later in 1956.

By then, Georgie and Len were 20-year-old Teddy Boys but they went cold when they heard the strange rumours of a vampire knocking about near St Mary’s Church. Within days though, the reports dwindled and ceased.

Then, in 1996, at the age of sixty, Len Archer (who now lived in Chester) attended a meet-up with his old friends in the Sefton Arms, and they talked about the old days in the “Village” and eventually the subject of the supernatural came up and a few at the reunion talked of the so-called local vampire, but treated it as a mere urban legend that had spiralled out of control.

A few hours later, Len had to leave the group at the pub to catch the train back to Chester, but before he left West Derby he walked over to St Mary’s Church to reminisce on his younger days – and there, standing inside the gates of the church, was a man Len took to be the reverend, as he was wearing a white collar, but he had his back to Len.

Len said: “Excuse me Reverend,” and the man slowly turned – and Len saw it was him – the thing that had chased him when he was 10.

He wore glasses on this occasion, and the look of evil on the entity’s face chilled Len to his marrow. He backed away in terror as the thing masquerading as a holy man bore its fangs – then charged at him.

Len tried to run but he’d only covered about thirty feet when he felt agonizing pains in his chest and a sense of pressure not unlike a bloated stomach. Len felt his legs give way under him and he collapsed and lost consciousness. He had suffered a mild heart attack.

He awoke in Broadgreen Hospital, and the first thing he asked a nurse was: “Did he get me? Did he bite me?”   

The nurse was baffled by the questions and told Len to relax, but he looked about the ward, convinced that the vampiric being was about.

A doctor was summoned by the nurse and he believed that Len was in what is medically termed ‘an acute confusional state’ because he was suffering from a delirium as he recovered from the heart attack and he had him sedated.

Eventually the nurse convinced Len he was safe in the ward and she assured him there were no vampires about.   

Till the day Len died in 2001, he never returned to West Derby again.

I gave a brief mention of this case on BBC Radio Merseyside and received some amazing feedback from listeners – many of whom recalled the vampire scare. Some thought the West Derby vampire was nothing more than the product of weird rumours and embellishments of accounts of an eccentric local, but I also received accounts from people from all walks of life who said they had actually encountered the vampire.

One woman in her seventies named Joan Williams said that on one sunny Sunday afternoon in September 1953, when she was twenty, she was being escorted home to her house on Muirhead Avenue East by her boyfriend David Rimmer after a visit to Joan’s Aunt Margaret in Kensington.

It was a warm and pleasant late-summer’s day, and as the couple walked up Meadow Lane holding hands, an old man coming from the opposite direction warned Joan and David that there was a ‘nutcase’ further up the lane dressed all in black, and he was jumping over garden hedges and acting very strange.

Joan and David smiled and dismissed the warning, thinking that the old man was just describing someone engaged in a bit of alcohol-fuelled high-jinks, but a few minutes later, the couple was confronted by a 6ft-tall man in a black suit, white shirt and maroon tie who had a ghastly pale face with red bloodshot eyes. His hair was black, slicked back, almost shoulder length (unusual for the 1950s) and he had a striking widow’s peak.

This sinister figure lunged at David Rimmer with lightning agility, grabbed his neck with both hands and started to shake him violently.

As the stranger throttled David, Joan’s piercing screams brought some of the residents of Meadow Lane to their windows, and two men who saw what was happening ran out to David’s aid.

By then, David had lost consciousness and the assailant with the sickly pallid face said something unintelligible to Joan before running south down Meadow Lane at an incredible speed.

When the weird strangler reached the junction where Parkside Drive exists today, he jumped clean over a 5-foot-high stone wall, landing on a grassy area which is now part of Croxteth County Park.

David recovered consciousness but the throttling left him unable to speak for about twenty minutes. He later said that the man’s hands felt ice cold as they gripped his throat.

Around this time, a neighbour of Joan Williams, a man named Robert Jones, said that he had almost run over a man in black who had jumped into the path of his car as he drove down Meadow Lane one morning at eight.

Seconds before the car would have hit him, the man had made an incredible leap from the middle of the road onto the sandstone wall which runs along half the length of the lane.

I received many more similar accounts from the denizens of West Derby telling me how a man in black had approached them disguised as a policeman and a priest, only to give chase once he was rumbled.

A myth has endured for years regarding vampires – namely that they cannot tolerate sunlight or even the feeblest daylight – yet there is no evidence to support this belief in the original descriptions of vampires.

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