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vampire-chick

Revisiting the Highgate Vampire

Highgate Cemetery sits atop a tall unassuming hill in the London borough of Islington. Red, double-decker buses stop on Highgate Hill Street, pubs offer an open, friendly door, and families play in the quiet Waterlow Park that brushes against the cemetery. Clean paths split by thick grass cut only in patches lead walkers through the park to the black metal gates of the cemetery, the last resting place of author Douglas Adams, physicist Michael Faraday, political philosopher Karl Marx, and many British artists, entertainers, architects, and military heroes.

Does something dark lurk in Highgate Cemetery in the London borough of Islington?

Does something dark lurk in Highgate Cemetery in the London borough of Islington?

And maybe something dark. Highgate Cemetery is also known for a vampire.

Faces stare from every corner of Highgate Cemetery.

Faces stare from every corner of Highgate Cemetery.

The popularization of the haunting of Highgate Cemetery began in 1970 when David Farrant wrote this letter to The Hampstead and Highgate Express published 6 February 1970:

“Some nights I walk home past the gates of Highgate Cemetery.”

“On three occasions I have seen what appeared to be a ghost-like figure inside the gates at the top of Swains Lane.

“The first occasion was on Christmas Eve. I saw a grey figure for a few seconds before it disappeared into the darkness. The second sighting, a week later, was also brief.

“Last week the figure appeared, only a few yards inside the gates. This time it was there long enough for me to see it much more clearly, and now I can think of no other explanation than this apparition being supernatural.

“I have no knowledge in the field and I would be interested to hear if any other readers have seen anything of this nature.”
– David Farrant, Priestwood Mansions

Farrant apparently spent Christmas Eve 1969 in the cemetery.

After his initial report, letters began to flow into The Express:

“With reference to the letter in last week’s Ham and High, many local people have seen Mr. Farrant’s ghost in Highgate Cemetery.

“The ghost will sometimes appear nightly for about a week, and then not be seen again for perhaps a month.

“To my knowledge the ghost always takes the form of a pale figure and has been reappearing for several years.”
– K. Frewin, North Hill

“There is without a doubt a ghost. Of when and how he originated I do not know. Many tales are told, however, about a tall man in a hat who walks across Swain’s Lane and just disappears through a wall into the cemetery.

“Local superstition also has it that the bells in the old disused chapel inside the cemetery toll mysteriously whenever he walks.”
– R. Docherty, Highgate west Hill

“A frightening experience occurred on the Heath. I was passing beside the viaduct pond when a figure on the far side beckoned me.

“As I approached, the figure started wading into the water, staring at me with a horrific look. It continued into the pond, motioning me to follow.

“I knew that what I was looking at was not human, as there were no ripples in the water around it. With a terrible cry the head disappeared beneath the still water, leaving me trembling.”
-J. McKennar, Muswell Hill Road

Unfortunately some letters, such as Docherty and McKennar’s, have been labeled frauds. However, the story gained traction when another area man, Seán Manchester, claimed in The Hampsted and Highgate Express also in February 1970, that the dark figure was a medieval Romanian nobleman buried in secret in Highgate Cemetery in the 1800s, woken by modern-day Satanists, and rose from the grave as a vampire.

Many graves lay open, as if something has crawled out.

Many graves lay open,
as if something has crawled out.

The cemetery looks the part. New tombstones alongside ancient ones crowd the paved and dirt paths that weave through Highgate. Thick vines obscure the oldest stones that jut at angles from the ground deeper into the trees. Many of the stone lids to gravesites are broken, or twisted open by encroaching tree roots, giving the impression something has crawled from the grave.

However, there is no evidence of Manchester’s Romanian nobleman, and an attempt at an organized vampire hunt on 13 March 1970 proved disastrous. Crowds of people armed with garlic, crosses, holy water, and stakes pushed through a line of policemen to become part of the hunt. Nothing paranormal was found that night.

In his book “The Highgate Vampire,” Manchester, who claims to be a bishop with the Old Catholic Church, said he tracked down the vampire years later and killed it.

David Farrant, who started the reports, has written many books on the paranormal, including “Beyond the Highgate Vampire.”

During my visit to the cemetery, volunteer Eileen Brown (“Please don’t use my name. I’m just a volunteer”) told me the legend of the Highgate vampire is just that.

“That’s what it is,” she said. “A legend. A story.”

And a fun one at that.

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  • Vebjørn Hästehufvud

    Jason Offutt obviously hasn’t really bothered to do much research before writing his misleading article “Revisiting the Highgate Vampire” which neither revisits the Highgate Vampire nor reveals much about it. All he had to do was read “The Highgate Vampire” (a copy of which he appears to own) properly and refer to it.

    Had he done so he would have discovered, contrary to what he claims, that:

    1. The official vampire hunt of 13 March 1970 was not a disaster.

    2. Several people witnessed what they believed to be something paranormal, one of whom, Anthony Robinson, was quoted in the Evening News, 14 March 1970, as saying: “I heard a high-pitched noise, then I saw something grey moving across the road [Swains Lane which bisects Highgate Cemetery]. It terrified me.”

    3. Three evacuated coffins were discovered on that night in the terrace catacombs by an investigative team led by Seán Manchester. A cross was placed in each with a liberal sprinkling of holy water. (“The Highgate Vampire,” Gothic Press, page 77).

  • shuck

    Well, I hope that the volunteer that spoke with you didn’t get in trouble, since the Highgate society tends to strongly discourage any discussion of the events or the folklore. This is understandable, in light of the desecration that occurred in the cemetery due to various loonies and ghouls prowling around in search of nonexistent supernatural beings, but it’s an interesting part of the cemetery’s history nonetheless. The more the tour guides clam up and act hostile about polite inquiries rather than being matter of fact about the circumstances, the more some people will believe the tall tales had some credibility.

  • Xenomorphine

    There is a HUGE volume of material which has been made available, down the years. It’s a genuinely thought-provoking tale and surprising that nobody’s made a new documentary about it.

  • Veritas Aequitas

    It is factually incorrect to state that “nothing paranormal was found that night.” Plenty was found on the night of 13 March 1970 that was deemed paranormal. Read “The Highgate Vampire” (Gothic Press, 1991) for precise details. See: http://www.holygrail-church.fsnet.co.uk/Books.htm

    Bishop Seán Manchester does not “claim” to be an Old Catholic Bishop. He is a traditional Old Catholic Bishop as confirmed when he had a complaint upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Commission whose investigating chairman was himself a senior Anglican Bishop. See: http://www.holygrail-church.fsnet.co.uk/BSC.htm

  • Veritas Aequitas

    There have been scores of film documentaries made about the Highgate Vampire case, including this one from the Discovery Channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeXqm3ItmrU

  • anthonyhogg

    I think you need to redefine what “factually incorrect” means, Sean. And you should post under your real name, too. Oh, and regardless of your title (“Bishop”), it’s obvious you don’t take it seriously.