By Robert Barry Dampster

Left, Egyptian Avenue. One of the entrances to Highgate Cemetery. Photo by John Armagh.

Now, I’m sure that you were astonished as I was to discover that one of England’s most respected and best-loved Queens was a descendant of Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula as he was also known. In my second blog we looked at a tangible serial killer, the infamous Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but did you know that there were actual reports of Vampires and Vampirism in London from 1967 to 1983.

This beautiful Grade I designated Cemetery (1839) can still be visited today and is listed in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. It consists of 15 hectares or 37 acres of land and stretches over 3 London districts or boroughs, Camden, Haringey & Islington. Divided into two parts, East and West there are approximately 170,000 people buried in around 53,000 graves at Highgate Cemetery. However did you know that Highgate Cemetery, apart from its link to Vampirism and all things occult, is the final resting place of many famous people?  Buried there are those such as Karl Marx; the celebrated writer/poet Christina Rosetti (daughter of a famous Italian poet and scholar Gabrielle Rosetti); Mary Anne Evans better known as the author and poet George Eliot; the famous singer George Michael; to the mother, father, and wife of one of the greatest English authors, Charles Dickens.

Left, sourced from the local Hampstead & Highgate Express newspaper 1970.

On Friday 13th, March 1970, hundreds of vampire hunters invaded the Victorian graveyard and searched for what was to become the ‘Highgate Vampire’. Both vampire mania and hysteria were to be stimulated by a series of bizarre events that were to occur in and around the cemetery. Due to many ‘sightings’ of apparitions, particularly of a tall, dark-cloaked entity with burning red eyes, some tombs were broken into with graves and bodies being desecrated. Some vampire hunters claimed to have broken open coffins, plunged stakes into the hearts of some cadavers as well as burning them.

But did any sort of vampire really, exist?

Now enters into our story David Farrant and Sean Manchester who were to both hunt and fuel this strange phenomenon. When stories first started to circulate locally about people seeing ghostly apparitions in Highgate, Farrant, a young local man with a passion for the paranormal and Wicca claimed that the two eyewitnesses he was to speak to both said that when they were walking their dogs through part of the cemetery, they saw a tall dark figure with glaring eyes that seemed to be floating. On both occasions, the air went icy cold and there was the horrendous clanging of bells. To follow up on his investigations, in February 1970, Farrant wrote a letter to a local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express (also known as the Ham and High), asking if anyone had experienced anything similar. Many people responded, saying they had seen apparitions in Highgate Cemetery.Apart from the variety of descriptions describing these phantoms, there were always reports of voices calling and the sounds of bells ringing. Now, the ringing or clanging of bells in a cemetery, don’t you think this is a bit weird? Well, not really!

Left, one of the Victorian coffins patented in 1868.

Did you know that in the 19th century many Victorians suffered from Taphophobia or the fear of being buried alive? As strange as this might seem nowadays, due to the phenomenal death rates in the Victorian period, Doctors relied on rudimentary methods of observation such as smell and touch to work out if a person was dead or not. However, as the practice was very basic, many people were not dead and were quite literally, buried alive. One of the safety measures adopted at this time was that one end of a rope was inside the coffin with the body and the other end was connected to a bell. So if your loved one woke up or regained consciousness, they would ring the bell for help. Hence one of two possibilities connected to the historical root of the English idiom ‘saved by the bell’, which literally means to be saved or rescued from something or someone by ringing a bell.

Left, S. Manchester’s article in the local paper.

Our 2nd vampire hunter and occult aficionado was another local man, Sean Manchester. Intrigued by what he read in the local newspaper, Manchester was to publish an investigatory article ‘Does a Vampyre Walk in Highgate?’ in which he outlined a theory to explain these strange happenings. Published in Ham and High on 27th February 1970 he claimed that a ‘princely Nosferatu’ was to be buried not directly in Highgate itself( Highgate cemetery hadn’t been created yet), but the burial ground of this ‘undead or cold one’ was to become absorbed within the vast acreage that was to become the cemetery grounds when it was established in 1839. This entity claimed Manchester was previously an aristocrat and practitioner of black magic from Romania and had been transported to England in a coffin by his followers in the early 18th century. Manchester also claims that the reason for the Vampire’s reappearance was connected to the satanic or black magic rituals that had reawakened its evil presence.

Furthermore, a schoolgirl, Elizabeth Wojdyla, claimed to have seen a vampire when walking through the cemetery and she began having nightmares, in which she said something evil tried to come into her bedroom. Eventually, two puncture wounds appeared on her neck and she started to display symptoms of anaemia. Another young woman called Jacqueline said she’d woken in the night to find something cold clutching her hand.

The Ham & High Express continued to follow the ‘vampire’ story interviewing Farrant and Manchester several times over the following months. In an article published on 6th March 1970, Farrant and Manchester both said they were to find foxes that had been found drained of blood with their throats ripped open. Was this the work of our vampire? Fuelled by both Farrant and Manchester, reports of the Highgate Vampire phenomena soon reached the national and even international media. More chillingly though was that on thenight of Halloween, flowers had been taken from graves and arranged in circles with arrows pointing to a new grave, which was uncovered. A stake had been driven through the coffin lid and into the heart of the corpse.

Left, the local newspaper the Ham and High reporting the mob storming of Highgate Cemetery, Saturday 14th March 1970.

On the evening of Friday 13th March 1970, a program aired on ITV featuring Farrant, Manchester, and others claiming to have seen supernatural figures in and around Highgate Cemetery and the program within two hours of being televised, hundreds of Londoners began arriving in Highgate, climbing over the locked gates and walls of the necropolis despite the efforts of 40 police officers to stop them. Well televised, about 100 armed amateur vampire hunters, frantically searched among the Victorian tombs. Those interviewed at the scene, genuinely believed in the vampire, saying they were determined to find it and kill it. Although no vampires were to be caught that evening, many vampire-hunters had glimpsed the tall dark figure.

Left, Farrant featured in the local newspaper conducting various exorcisms throughout Highgate during the 1970s.

A few months later the charred, decapitated remains of a woman were found near the catacomb. The police suspected the mutilated corpse had been used in a black magic ritual and Farrant was apprehended by the police in the churchyard next to the cemetery, clutching a crucifix and wooden stake. Although Farrant was arrested, the case against him collapsed when it came to court. His recent brush with the law did not deter him as Farrant and his followers decided to try to communicate with the apparition and discover its purpose. Farrant said that he witnessed first-hand the entity clasping the medium/psychic by the throat, trying to strangle her. The area also went icy cold. Farrant was now convinced the entity was malignant and started an array of exorcisms throughout Highgate.

Left, the Circle of Lebanon, in Highgate Cemetery.

Alternatively, S. Manchester said that he was hoping the recent exorcisms by both him and Farrant would have quelled the disturbances but this was not to be. It seems to have had an adverse effect and fuelled this vampiric phenomenon for several more years to come.

About three years later, Manchester claims, he and his associates discovered a black casket in the cellars of an abandoned, gothic-type mansion on the borders of Highgate and Crouch End. Manchester claims that not only had the coffin been moved to avoid all the attention from the media and other wannabe vampire hunters but he and his followers dragged the coffin out of the basement and into the grounds of the old mansion. Manchester claimed that as dawn broke the lid was removed and we beheld the same thing we’d seen in August 1970 but this was now the early part of 1974. “With a mighty blow, I impaled the creature’s heart with a sharpened stake thus killing the entity.” It was even more distorted and its burning fierce eyes were yellow at the edges with blood-red centres.

Had Manchester finally killed the Highgate Vampire?

We witnessed the body shell cave in and quickly turn filthy brown and that itself soon became a sluggish flow of inhuman slime and viscera in the bottom of the casket. ‘As Manchester believed that ‘cremation or burning is recommended as the ultimate deterrent and preventative to the vampire’s nightly wanderings’, he and his followers then burned the coffin and what was left of the body. ‘Following this exhaustive process, Manchester pronounced that ‘Highgate Cemetery’ was finally purged.

However, fate was not without a sense of irony as they were more inexplicable events and sightings. Fast forward about 5-6 years and in 1980 police received reports that dead animals found drained of blood began to appear in Highgate once more, exactly as it was to start back in the early 1970s. Drawing his attention once more, S. Manchester believed this new threat came from an entity known as Luisa who he believed had been bitten by the original entity known as the Highgate vampire some years before. In 1982, Manchester entered Highgate cemetery and was approached by a huge spider-like creature about the size of a cat. He drove a stake through it and it metamorphosed into Lusia. He said he was to return her remains to the grave, thus ending the reign of the so-called Highgate vampire.

Is there any evidence to back up the Vampire of Highgate?

As incredible as my blog may seem there does appear to be more solid evidence concerning the occult/dark or black magic ceremonies that happened in Highgate. Police had numerous reports & findings from the cemetery which ranged from ‘discarded remains of Satanist rituals or stubs of black candles to satanic markings on the floors of tombs.

Left, the inverted pentagram found on the floor of a chapel-like-tomb within the cemetery.

In one small chapel-like tomb with a marble floor and stained- glass windows, an inverted pentagram had been drawn on the floor.’ Historically correct was the fact that during the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a revival of interest in all aspects of mysticism and the occult, including paganism, Eastern mysticism, Satanism, witchcraft, and the teachings of Aleister Crowley.

Connected to the death of Luisa, Manchester wrote an account of his perspective on the Highgate Vampire (1985, revised 1991) and the Vampire’s handbook (1997). The VampireResearch Society has recordings of that particular incident. Meanwhile, David Farrant founded The Highgate Vampire Society (http://www.davidfarrant.org) and has continued to p resent his side of the story in a series of booklets, the most recent appearing in 2002. Alternatively, such was the hysteria and the ongoing interest in vampires during the 1970s that the police were forced to set up a “ghost squad” and regularly patrol Highgate cemetery at night. Finally, fact or fiction but at its height, the Vampire of Highgate attracted both the national and international press with television programs being made by ITV, the BBC, and even the international news agency Reuters. Apart from several movies and TV series being filmed in Highgate cemetery featuring vampires, ghosts/apparitions, and strange phenomena, the police officially recognised that black magic rituals were commonplace within the cemetery.

In memory of D. Farrant 1946 – 2019. Left, Farrant carrying out exorcisms and searching for the vampire within Highgate during the 1970s.

Where are they now?

D. Farrant, after the Highgate incident, presided over The British Psychic and Occult Society until his death in April 2019 aged 73. As well as investigating paranormal phenomena he also produced books, articles, and websites and gave many interviews about the Highgate Vampire. S. Manchester, on the other hand, founded the British Occult Society and still works as an exorcist and bishop in the British Old Catholic Church, a conservative sect that broke away from Roman Catholicism. Manchester maintains that after slaying the Highgate Vampire, he has killed dozens of the undead.