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Newcastle, Dean Street, No. 27, vampire rabbit or hare



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At rear of 27 Dean Street, middle of architrave above the door. The "exubererant" Cathedral buildings fronting on to Dean Street, painted pink and cream, 1901 by Oliver, Leeson and Wood, have a mass of Jacobean-style detailing. At the rear of the building on St Nicholas' churchyard above the rear door is a large circular window and the architrave surmounting this has a dark grey painted sculpture of a rabbit set into the middle. The presence of this rabbit does not seem to have any relationship to the quiet cloistered atmosphere of St. Nicholas's churchyard. The animal has oversized canine teeth and a "manic expression on his face", which have led to the beast being popularly known as The Vampire Rabbit {1}. Christopher Goulding suggests that it is in fact a hare and that it was an aesthetic joke on the part of the architects Oliver, Leeson and Wood. 'Mad' March hares were associated with the advent of Spring in pre-Christian times and were adopted as a symbol of Easter in Christian iconography and architecture. In British medieval churches there are carved hares playing bagpipes, chasing Green men and 'trinity of hares' running in circles. Where normally a gargoyle might be expected in buildings overlooking the Cathedral churchyard, the architects for the Cathedral Buildings used a grotesque hare. The hare may alternatively have been used as a reference to the work of the engraver of Thomas Bewick, who had a workshop in Cathedral Close. His work often featured hares. The cathedral's patron saint, St. Nicholas of Myra is also associated in some East European Christmas stories with woodland animals such as hares and deer {Christopher Goulding 2006}. An alternative explanation is that was placed there by the architect William H Wood as a reference to Sir George Hare Philipson, who was a physician at the Newcastle Royal Infirmary, providing the vampire association. Hare Philipson was also the founder of the University of Durham Masonic Lodge, and William H Wood was possibly a prominent freemason in the area. Hares appear in masonic symbolism {}. In 2008 the rabbit was repainted black.




P.Usherwood, J. Beach and C. Morris, 2000, Public Sculpture of North-East England, p 140; N. Pevsner and I. Richmond, second edition revised by G. McCombie, P. Ryder and H. Welfare, 1992, The Buildings of England - Northumberland, p 486; C. Goulding, 1995, Hidden Newcastle, p 40; Christoper Goulding, 2006, An architectural mystery: the 'Vampire Rabbit' in Tyneside's Finest, pp 192-3; Gordon Rutter, 2009, Paranormal Newcastle;; Gail-Nina Anderson, The Vampire Rabbit and his curious kin, lecture held in the Black Gate 26 March 2016;

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