Airn Jenny was a real bolt from the blue as a storyline. I had been intending to work on one where Shona Stewart gets pregnant by Darius the vampire. But I was idly looking at the BBC news website one morning and found a link about a radio programme focussing on the Gorbals Vampire story of the 1950s. It was a gift for a storyline. Torchwood Glasgow HAD to get involved.

The real story is a fascinating one its own right. In the mid-1950s there was a huge moral panic when the local children in the working class Gorbals area became convinced a vampire stalked the local cemetery called the Southern Necropolis and many of them tried to hunt it down. Parents, teachers and community leaders eventually put the blame on the imported graphic novels about vampires that were readily available, and parliament eventually made it illegal to sell them to minors. BUT everyone conveniently forgot that Glasgow parents regularly told their children to watch out for Airn Jenny and the same teachers who railed against the penny dreadfuls TAUGHT Alexander Anderson’s creepy little poem in literature lessons. The radio show showed up the hypocrisy and the insanity of that sort of moral panic, but couldn’t say if there was even the slightest truth in the Gorbals Vampire story.

I deviated from it a little bit. All along, the idea of a vampire was debunked. I introduced the idea of a Romany camp and the Mullo to explain what had happened in the 1950s, and to give some body to a slower bit of the story.


But in researching the story I found a lot of material about the Blazes Dixon ironworks. Google Earth, in fact, provided the first clue since the modern industrial estate is named after the works. There was plenty more to be found, though. And the idea of Airn Jenny being a robot invented by an industrious employee of the ironworks, with possibly a bit of alien intervention, took hold. The word ‘robot’, of course, only dates from 1920 when it was coined by Karel Kapek. Airn Jenny, built in the Victorian age, wouldn’t have been called that.

Semaphore, is the one form of non-verbal communication that dates back as far as Jenny. It was developed particularly by Napoleon for communications across the distance in his wars against the British. I originally had in mind British Sign Language, but I couldn’t find any definite date when it was invented. And in any case, Jenny’s iron hands might not have been up to it. Semaphore made a perfect way to communicate with the robot.

Jenny being an innocent bystander in the story was intentional from the start. She didn’t kill the security guard. It was a complete coincidence. He was squashed by a visiting alien ship! But it was enough to start up the Airn Jenny moral panic in a modern take.


WHAT a plague is this o' mine,
Winna steek his e'e,
Though I hap him ow'r the head
As cosie as can be.
Sleep! an' let me to my wark,
A' thae claes to airn;
Jenny wi' the airn teeth,
Come an' tak' the bairn:

Tak' him to your ain den,
Where the bowgie bides,
But first put baith your big teeth
In his wee plump sides;
Gie your auld grey pow a shake,
Rive him frae my grup—
Tak' him where nae kiss is gaun
When he waukens up.

Whatna noise is that I hear
Comin' doon the street?
Weel I ken the dump-dump
O' her beetle feet.
Mercy me, she's at the door,
Hear her lift the sneck;
Whisht! an' cuddle mammy noo
Closer roun' the neck.

Jenny wi' the airn teeth,
The bairn has aff his claes,
Sleepin' safe an' soun', I think—
Dinna touch his taes;
Sleepin' weans are no for you;
Ye may turn about
An' tak' awa' wee Tam next door—
I hear him screichin' oot.

Dump, dump, awa' she gangs
Back the road she cam';
I hear her at the ither door,
Speirin' after Tam.
He's a crabbit, greetin' thing,
The warst in a' the toon;
Little like my ain wee wean—
Losh, he's sleepin' soun'.

Mithers hae an awfu' wark
Wi' their bairns at nicht—
Chappin' on the chair wi' tangs
To gi'e the rogues a fricht.
Aulder weans are fley'd wi' less,
Weel aneuch we ken—
Bigger bowgies, bigger Jennies,
Frichten muckle men.