In north London, England, in the old suburb of Highgate lies the homonymous cemetery. Here are approximately 170,000 people buried in 53,000 graves across the Highgate‘s West Cemetery and the East Cemetery, a graveyard notable both for some of the people buried there as well as its status as a nature reserve. The cemetery’s grounds are full of trees, shrubbery and wildflowers, most of which have been planted and grown without human influence, including a 300 year-old Cedar of Lebanon.
However, there can’t be many people with an interest (or simply curiosities) in the paranormal who have not heard of the well-publicised case of the Highgate “vampire” which supposedly haunts the cemetery.
Even if Highgate is probably more famous for its sprawling nineteenth century cemetery that it is for its alleged vampire, its gothic beauty certainly presents a suitable place for ghost stories and rumours of supernatural activity.
The mansion-estate upon which the 1830s cemetery was built was reputed to be haunted for many years prior to the latter’s opening in 1839: according to local sources, it seems that the land “was purchased advantageously as the house, having a reputation for being haunted, had stood empty for many years.”
Highgate’s paranormal activities date back as early as 1808 and one of the cemetery’s most popular ghosts is known to sport a top hat. However, the popular press seemed hell-bent on foisting the alleged phenomenon of a “vampire” upon an awed public throughout the early 1970s. So how much veracity did this story really have, and why do people still care?
The origin of the Vampire of Highgate Cemetery start on Halloween, 1968: on the night of October 31st, a graveyard desecration was perpetrated at the cemetery under mysterious circumstances. It involved arranging flowers taken from graves as arrows of blooms pointing to a newly dug grave, and in the grave was a coffin with the body inside desecrated in various ways, all associated with Black Magic. News soon spread that the perpetrators drove an iron stake in form a cross through the lid and into the breast of the corpse inside the coffin. Prior no one in Highgate had ever claimed to have seen a vampire in the area – ghosts, yes – but not vampires.
David Farrant, a young local man with a passion for the paranormal and president of the British Psychic and Occult Society, claimed that he spoke to two people – an old lady who’d been out walking her dog and a middle-aged accountant – who told similar stories about what they’d seen in the cemetery.
The old lady had been walking down a road running through the graveyard, when she saw a tall dark figure with glaring eyes that seemed to be floating towards her. She felt the air turn icy cold. The accountant had got lost in the vast cemetery. A bell started to clang and he walked towards the sound, hoping it might guide him out of the necropolis. Instead, as the bell tolled, he became aware of something behind him and noticed the temperature plummeting. He turned round to see a tall dark figure that stared at him intensely before it vanished.
Intrigued, Farrant decided to investigate by spending a night in the graveyard. He said, that at first he suspected it might just be an animal or someone dressed up or messing about, but around midnight he caught sight of a figure, about seven feet tall, that appeared to be floating just above the ground. He saw its face and two points of intense red light. The area turned icy cold and It felt like a vivid dream, like he wanted to wake up, but couldn’t.
In a letter to a local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970, Farrant, wrote that when passing the cemetery on 24 December 1969 he had glimpsed “a grey figure”, which he considered to be supernatural, and asked if others had seen anything similar. On the 13th of February, several witnesses replied, describing a variety of ghosts said to haunt the cemetery or the adjoining Swains Lane, including the tall man wearing a hat, a ghostly cyclist, a lady dressed in white, a face grimacing through the bars of a gate, a person wading into a pond and a pale gliding entity.
Though Farrant had never claimed the dark figure he’d encountered was a vampire, Sean Manchester, another local young man with an interest in the supernatural, on 27th February 1970 published an interview, entitled “Does a Wampyre Walk in Highgate”.
Manchester claimed “a King Vampire of the undead” was buried in the graveyard. This vampire, who in life had been an aristocrat and practitioner of black magic in medieval Romania, had been transported to England in a coffin by his followers in the early 18th century. The vampire had been interred on the site that would later become Highgate Cemetery and his followers had also purchased a house for him in London’s fashionable West End.
The reason for the Highgate Vampire’s reappearance, Manchester said, was that rituals recently carried out by Satanists in the cemetery had reawakened this evil presence.
However, Manchester didn’t supply any evidence to back up his claims about the vampire coming from Eastern Europe and he would later state this part of the article was a journalistic embellishment.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a revival of interest in all aspects of mysticism and the occult, including paganism, eastern mysticism, satanism, witchcraft, as well as the emergence of a number of less conventional Christian sects.
The Hampstead and Highgate Express continued to follow the vampire story, re-interviewing Farrant and Manchester several times over the next months. In an article on 6th March 1970, Farrant said he’d found dead foxes in the cemetery but couldn’t work out how they’d died. Manchester claimed he’d also seen the foxes and suggested the vampire may have been using them as a food source. Soon it was alleged the animals had been found drained of blood with their throats ripped open.
Reports of the Highgate Vampire commotion soon reached the national and even international media. Soon articles appeared in the national press, but also television programmes were made by both ITV and the BBC, and even the international news agency Reuters spoke about the case.
In addition, a number of TV programmes and horror movies had focused on vampires: one film, titled the Hammer Horror production Taste the Blood of Dracula, had actually been shot in Highgate Cemetery just a year before the Highgate Vampire incidents began.
On the evening of Friday 13th March, a programme aired on ITV featuring Farrant, Manchester, and others claiming have seen supernatural figures around Highgate. As Friday 13th is an ominous day according to British superstition, this date is often chosen to broadcast programmes dealing with the occult. The programme even included live outside reporting from Highgate Cemetery. Within two hours of the programme being shown, hundreds of would-be vampire hunters swarmed over the locked gates and walls of the necropolis despite the efforts of police officers to stop them.
Of course, the mob caught no vampires that night though some claimed to have glimpsed the tall dark figure.
Manchester would later say the Highgate Vampire furore provoked ‘panic and fear and disbelief on a scale which one might anticipate if an alien had landed from outer space and Farrant meanwhile, still unconvinced the spooky presence was a vampire, claimed that media hysteria and local superstition had turned the Highgate entity into a vampire.
The below picture is the only evidence of the vampire’s existence to ever surface:
In 1974, Farrant was jailed after being convicted of interfering with remains and vandalising memorials in Highgate Cemetery. Farrant claimed the damage had been caused by Satanists rather than him, but Farrant’s imprisonment served to keep the Highgate Vampire in the public mind for several years.
Both Farrant and Manchester have produced books, articles and websites, and given many interviews, about the Highgate Vampire over the years. But has the Highgate Vampire – or whatever it is – really been laid to rest? Farrant thinks not and it seems that a number of sightings of tall dark figures with burning eyes have occurred from the 1990s until the present day.
And in fact, still today, it seems that sightings of vampires and ghosts in Highgate Cemetery continue to be reported…
Images from web. Source: Davidcastleton.net and local sources.