"We're All Mad Here…."
Its a wonderfully alluring premise: Slavic folklore’s most infamous export, a haemaphogic, undead vampire taking up residence amidst the Gothic decay of London’s best known cemetery. It is a tale reflecting its time, heavily laden with the themes of fictional horror writing and the fears of a domestic populous, one suspicious of youth, deviance and occultism. Whereas most observers ponder the question asked by the local media – ‘does a wampyr walk in Highgate? – it is more prudent to query the role deception has played in the case.
Much of what we know for certain about the case is recorded in the local media of the time. Local man David Farrant wrote into the Hampstead and Highgate Express, relaying information of his nocturnal encounter with a tall, dark figure at the cemetery gates on Swains Lane, the narrow road separating Highgate Cemetery’s eastern and western grounds. It ended with an appeal for readers with similar experiences to write in. Farrant, possessing ‘no knowledge’ of the paranormal, would be interested to read any such correspondence1. The plea was quickly answered as a string of writers shared details. One professed to having seen the ‘same type’ of figure2 as Farrant, although the others referred to seemingly different apparitions3 4 5.
Perhaps events would have ended here were it not for the actions of another local man, Sean Manchester. He visited the Hampstead and Highgate Express’s offices, offering his opinion on the figure; it was really the form of a vampire, an undead mediaeval nobleman brought to these shores from Wallachia, part of the modern day state of Romania6. It would seem the once fashionable, but increasingly neglected West Cemetery gave the parasitic creature an ideal hiding place. It was a location popular with societal fringes of the living, too. Vandals had caused significant damage to vaults and gravestones7, whilst rumours persisted of Satanic rituals occurring on the site8.
The newspaper followed up Manchester’s extraordinary suggestion by bringing him together with Farrant for interview and photographs at the cemetery. The latter brought attention to the fox corpses he had discovered in the grounds, agreeing this appeared to lend weight to the vampiric hypothesis9.
Word of the supposed vampire in Highgate Cemetery reached producers at Thames Television. With Friday 13 March approaching, they decided to run a paranormal themed feature for their news show. Reporter Sandra Harris was dispatched with a film crew to learn more from Farrant and Manchester, compiling a sensational interview that would have unforseen consequences. Approaching the end of questioning, Manchester declared Farrant would be returning to the cemetery, at night, to hunt down and destroy the vampire by decapitation10. Broadcast at 6pm on 13 March, the piece attracted a crowd of curious onlookers and would be vampire hunters to Swains Lane. As police attempted to prevent entry, individuals who managed to scale the cemetery walls quickly retreated, spooked by the darkness and what it concealed11. Sensibly, amidst such media and police attention, Farrant stayed away12. Even so, the ‘mass vampire hunt’ of 1970 marked a turning point in events.
More and more media outlets were keen to feature Farrant as a Van Helsing for the 1970s. He posed for photographs with the vampire hunter’s tools of crucifix and stake, even being accompanied by journalists on nighttime trespasses into the cemetery13. He, and other would be vampire slayers, were a concern for local residents and the cemetery’s inadequately financed operator. The Metropolitan Police began to take considerable interest in Farrant’s activities, arresting him inside Highgate Cemetery during August 197014. Briefly placed on remand in Brixton Prison pending medical reports15, Farrant’s absence was exploited by Manchester. The Hornsey Journal of 28 August, 1970, featured a report of the rival occultist performing a daytime exorcism inside a Highgate tomb – the one he suspected was occupied by the vampire16.
Although cleared of any criminal activity at his trial in September 197017, police would gather enough photographic evidence of Farrant’s nocturnal forays to successfully jail him18, in 1974, on charges of maliciously damaging a vault, and interfering with a corpse19. Farrant has explained his activities during these unauthorised visits to the cemetery as attempts to psychically communicate with the entity, one he believes was raised by satanic activity20. Indeed, Farrant’s autobiography makes reference to his role as both a psychic investigator21 and Wiccan with an equivalent rank of High Priest22. It seems he was aware of ghostly activity in Highgate Cemetery as far back as 196623. Furthermore, he was already investigating when he penned his letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express24. Today, David Farrant contents himself with collating new witness reports of supernatural activity in and around the cemetery. Although clearly happy to have posed as vampire hunter extraordinaire for the media, he states he did not and does not believe in the existence of undead bloodsucking creatures25.
For Manchester, the case is over. In 1985 he self published the now rare first edition of The Highgate Vampire. This, and its subsequent revision, offer a narrative that appears far fetched: Sean investigates what is afflicting the mysteriously anaemic teenager Elizabeth Wojdyla26. Following prescription of assorted vampire repellents by Manchester, the vampire moves on to another victim, a beautiful, innocent blonde girl referred to only as Lusia27. Whilst sleepwalking, Lusia guides Sean to the catacombs in Highgate Cemetery’s western burial ground. He concludes this is the vampire’s lair28. On the night of the mass vampire hunt, Sean and a group of one hundred assistants evade police to make it to the catacombs. Unable to gain entry through the iron doors, Manchester uses a rope to abseil into an empty tomb. Here he further depletes his stock of vampire repellents29.
Dissatisfied at his failure to destroy the vampire, Manchester and a small team of helpers return to the cemetery for a daytime visit. Sean soothes Lusia into a trance and she leads the investigators to a vault in the cemetery’s famous Lebanon Circle. The brave party enter the tomb and find the vampire resting in its coffin. Sean’s assistants dissuade him from staking the creature, suggesting he should seek permission from the ‘correct quarter’ before committing such ‘sacrilege’. As an alternative, Manchester performs an exorcism. (This is the same exorcism as reported in the Hornsey Journal of 28 August 1970.) The tomb was subsequently sealed by the cemetery operators, apparently at Manchester’s behest, using garlic infused concrete30!
Manchester’s tale does not end here. Lusia becomes increasingly unwell and Sean learns of her death31. Clues in the local press lead him to an abandoned, eerie and unwelcoming house in Crouch End32. Suspecting the vampire has made this his new home, Sean once again assembles a hand picked team to battle the entity. On this occasion he is successful, finding the vampire once more in its coffin. Manchester drives a stake through its heart before condemning the remains to fire33.
Manchester’s version of events have attracted an unsurprising level of critique. The most obvious is the character of the sleepwalking, blonde, innocent Lusia; a description reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Lucy Westenra34. Like Lucy, Lusia becomes a vampire, although in the climax of The Highgate Vampire she mutates into a giant spider35! Similarity is noted here with a scene in Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out, a film Manchester has surely seen; it is briefly mentioned in the original edition of The Highgate Vampire36. Writer Gareth Medway goes further, drawing attention to possible instances of plagiarism within the text37.
Manchester’s version of the Highgate drama is clearly an entertaining mix of fact, embellishment, exaggeration and outright fantasy. Intriguingly, the accusation of utilising fictional licence is one Sean has levelled at his rival vampire hunter, David Farrant. He observes inconsistencies in Farrant’s recall of the number of occasions he sighted the apparition38. Possibly more damaging is the role played by Anthony Hill, a mutual friend of both Sean and David. Manchester alleges Farrant and Hill concocted a plan to hoax sightings of an apparition at Highgate Cemetery39. To support his argument, Manchester has produced photographs of Farrant – wearing make up and a top hat – larking around in the cemetery40. He also claims to have audio recordings of Farrant and Hill planning their hoax, although these have not been made available to the public41.
It is also suspicious that some of the correspondents who answered Farrant’s letter in the Hampstead and Highgate Express were known to him. For example, Arieli Nava and Kenny Frewin42. Could it be that Farrant was drumming up false witness statements to lend credence to his own sighting? It appears so. In the course of Farrant’s 1974 trial, his assistant Victoria Jervis was called as a witness. Under oath she confessed to writing ‘false letters… to a local paper to stimulate publicity for the accused’43.
There are other dubious elements to Farrant’s version of events. One is the identity of ‘Thornton’, an apparition witness whose testimony predates Farrant’s44. The vampire hunter used this otherwise unidentified individual’s sighting to support the validity of his own encounter. In March 2014, Farrant associate John Pope stated Thornton was an alias of none other than Anthony Hill45. Pope went on to add that it was Manchester who told him this, although he personally believed Thornton never actually existed46. Farrant is also yet to state the identity of his other historic witness, identified only as an old woman47.
Since 1974 Farrant has repeatedly claimed there are sources that confirm the existence of an apparition at the cemetery during the Victorian era48. Yet he has never named them. Forty years on, he admitted these sources were oral and he had not located anything in writing49. One must question the veracity of these historical reports when all there is to account for them is Farrant’s word.
To conclude, the Highgate Vampire is a bizarre fusion of fantasy fused with reality and Hammer horror. It may be no coincidence the movie Taste the Blood of Dracula, partly filmed in Highgate Cemetery, was released in the same year50. Armed with this knowledge and the dubious recollections of both Farrant and Manchester, it is little wonder this most baffling piece of 20th century London lore is best viewed as legend. To both protagonists, though, it is more than that. The publicity they have received continues to feed both men’s status as minor esoteric celebrities. They continue to engage in a bitter feud fought through fibre optic cables. But do not be too harsh against either man; just consider how many similar events involving supernatural phenomena are constructed on shifting or swampy ground – the paranormal relies upon human mouths and hands to forge its greatest episodes.
1. Farrant, D. Letter. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 6 February 1970: 26
2. Arieli, N. Letter. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 13 February 1970: 25
3. Various writers. Letters. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 13 February 1970: p.25
4. Various writers. Letters. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 20 February 1970: p.1, 27
5. Various writers. Letters. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 27 February 1970: p.6
6. Uncredited (1970, 27 February), “Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?” Hampstead and Highgate Express, p.1
7. Bickersteth, J. (undated) “History”, Highgate Cemetery, retrieved from: http://highgatecemetery.org/about/history, cited 20 March 2014
8. Demant, K. (2003), “Plan 9 From Highgate Cemetery”, London: Mutiny! Press
9. Uncredited (1970, 6 March), “Why do the Foxes Die?” Hampstead and Highgate Express, p.1
10. Farrant, D. (2009), “David Farrant: In the Shadow of the Highgate Vampire – An Autobiography, volume 1”, London: British Psychic and Occult Society, p.188
11. Manchester, S. (1985), “The Highgate Vampire”, London: British Occult Society, p.51
12. Demant, K. (2003)
13. Simmons, B. “Midnight Vigil for the Highgate Vampire”, Evening News, 16 October 1970
14. Farrant, D. (2009), p.193-194
15. Demant, K. (2003)
16. Manchester, S. (1985), p.58
17. Farrant, D. (2009) p.196
18. Fielder, M. “King of Black Magic Guilty”, The Sun, 28 June 1974
19. Farrant, D. (2011), “David Farrant: Out of the Shadows – An Autobiography, volume 2”, London: British Psychic and Occult Society, pp.5-7
20. Farrant, D. (2009), p.201
21. Farrant, D. (2009), p.166-167
22. Farrant, D. (2009), p.61
23. Demant, K. (2003)
25. Farrant, D. (interviewee). (28 September, 2009), Righteous Indignation (no.18) [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://ipadio.s3.amazonaws.com/mp3/4377_20091106184155.mp3
26. Manchester, S. (1985), pp.34-40
27. Manchester, S. (1985), p.45, 46
28. Manchester, S. (1985), p.46, 47
29. Manchester, S. (1985), pp.50-52
30. Manchester, S. (1985), pp.53-58
31. Manchester, S. (1985), p.120
32. Manchester, S. (1985), p.91, 92
33. Manchester, S. (1985), pp. 93-113
34. McWilliams, R. (2013), “Elizabeth Siddal – The First ‘Vampire’ of Highgate?’, The Vampire Exhumed, retrieved from http://thehighgatevampireexhumed.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/elizabeth-siddal-true-vampire-of.html, cited March 2014
35. Manchester, S. (1991) “The Highgate Vampire”, revised edn. London: Gothic Press, p.182
36. Manchester, S. (1985), p.140
37. Medway, G. (2002), “That Sounds Familiar”, Kevin Chesham, retrieved from http://kevchesham.blogspot.co.uk/p/that-sounds-familar.html, cited March 2004
38. Manchester, S. (2009) “One, Two or Three Vampire Sightings?”, Did A Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, retrieved from http://highgatevampire.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/one-two-or-three-vampire-sightings.html, cited March 2014
39. Manchester, S. (2010) “Tony Hill”, Friends of Bishop Sean Manchester, retrieved from http://friendsofbishopseanmanchester.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/tony-hill.html, cited March 2014
40. Manchester, S. (2011) “Farrant Facts”, The Vampirologist, retrieved from http://vampirologist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/farrant-facts.html, cited March 2014
41. Manchester, S. (2010)
43. Hogg, A. (2011), “Tomb aux Folles”, Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, retrieved from http://dawwih.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/tomb-aux-folles.html, cited March 2014
44. Farrant, D. (2009), p.174
45. Pope, J. (2014), The Highgate Vampire Chronicles. Facebook. 21/03. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/groups/502796539750958/?fref=ts, cited March 2014
47. Farrant, D. (2009), p.175
48. Hogg, A. (2011), “Victorian Era Vampire or Modern Day Sham?”, Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, retrieved from http://dawwih.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/victorian-era-vampire-or-modern-day.html, cited March 2014
49. Farrant, D. (2014), The Highgate Vampire Chronicles. Facebook. 13/03. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/groups/502796539750958/?fref=ts, cited March 2014
50. Coniam, M. (2010), “Highgate Cemetery is Officially a Vampire Free Zone”, Carfax Abbey, retrieved from http://carfaxabbey.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/highgate-cemetery-is-officially-hammer.html, cited March 2014