The Highgate Vampire …
The Strange Case of the Highgate Vampire
The Hammer Horror film Dracula AD 1972, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, was, according to author Bill Ellis, inspired by the high profile media (vampire!) circus that was the case of the Highgate Vampire. In the late 60s, Highgate Cemetery in North London was little more than a forgotten overgrown wasteland of derelict tombs and crumbling graves which provided an irresistable attraction for the various oddbod occult groups sprinkled about the area. At that time Highgate Cemetary and it’s environs were rife with occult groups, especially of the satanic variety, and the area was used by these groups for their nefarious and diabolical activities. Many of these were the harmless to eccentric variety of middle-aged prurients enjoying their weekly nude romps around the circle in the Gardnerian tradition or the newer brand of witchcraft promoted by Alex Sanders, self-styled ‘King of the Witches’, ably assisted by his wife Maxine. However, the area also proved to be a magnet for the younger generation of satanic sensation seekers fuelled by psychedelics and from the midst of these nefarious occult goings on emerged the shadowy figure of the Highgate Vampire. Whether this creature of the night was a genuine supernatural entity or urban myth we will probably never really know but the ensuing struggle became less of one between the forces of good and the evil undead than a much publicised and vaguely comical battle of words and reputations between the crackpot weirdos involved.
Enter stage left Vampire hunter, ‘Bishop’ Sean Manchester and occultist/ psychic investigator David Farrant.
Unfortunately I am old enough, just(!), to remember the whole sordid case being reported with great gusto in the tabloid press. The ensuing battle – not between ‘Bishop’ Manchester and the ‘vampire’ but between Manchester and David Farrant, a feud which continues to this day. Sean Manchester is a self-styled bishop who describes himself as a “modern day vampire hunter” and claims to have exorcised the “vampire” (in the traditional “Bram Stoker” kind of sense) that plagued Highgate in the early 1970s by driving a wooden stake through the creature’s heart. To my knowledge there is no record of Manchester having any theological training, ordination or higher clerical status (viz bishop) within the RC church. He claims he is a bishop in the ‘Old Catholic Church’ whatever that may be. Before becoming a self-appointed bishop in the said Old Catholic Church, I remember him courting publicity for his vampire hunting activities and his status was at that time a ‘self-appointed vampire hunter and exorcist’. The title of Bishop came some time later.
On 21 December 1969 a member of one of the local occult groups, David Farrant, spent the night in Highgate and, according to his account written in 1991, he wrote a letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970 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, several people replied, describing a variety of ghosts said to haunt the cemetery or the adjoining Swains Lane. These ghosts were described as a tall man in a hat, a spectral cyclist, a woman in white, a face glaring through the bars of a gate, a figure wading into a pond, a pale gliding form, bells ringing, and voices calling. Hardly two correspondents gave the same story.
A second local man, Seán Manchester, was just as keen as Farrant to identify and eliminate what he and Farrant believed was a supernatural entity in the cemetery. The Hampstead and Highgate Express reported him on 27 February 1970 as saying that he believed that ‘a King Vampire of the Undead’, a medieval nobleman who had practised black magic in medieval Wallachia (Romania), had been brought to England in a coffin in the early eighteenth century, by followers who bought a house for him in the West End. He was buried on the site that later became Highgate Cemetery, and Manchester claimed that modern Satanists had roused him. He said the right thing to do would be to stake the vampire’s body, and then behead and burn it, but this would nowadays be illegal. The paper headlined this: ‘Does a Vampyr walk in Highgate?’
Manchester later claimed, however, that the reference to ‘a King Vampire from Wallachia’ was a journalistic embellishment. Nevertheless, the 1985 edition of his book also speaks of an unnamed nobleman’s body brought to Highgate in a coffin from somewhere in Europe.
In his interview of 27 February, Manchester offered no evidence in support of his theory. The following week, on 6 March, the same paper reported David Farrant as saying he had seen dead foxes in the cemetery, ‘and the odd thing was there was no outward sign of how they died.’ When told of this, Manchester said it seemed to complement his theory. In later writings, both men reported seeing other dead foxes with throat wounds and drained of blood.
Farrant was more hesitant in identifying the phenomenon he had seen. In some interviews he called it simply a ghost or spectre, sometimes he agreed that it might be vampiric. It is the ‘vampire’ label which has stuck.
Friday 13th March 1970 was witness to a mass vampire hunt and the ensuing publicity was enhanced by a growing rivalry between Farrant and Manchester, each claiming that he could and would expel or destroy the spectre. Manchester declared to his associates that he would hold an ‘official’ vampire hunt on Friday 13 March. ITV then set up interviews with both Manchester, Farrant, and others who claimed to have seen supernatural figures in the cemetery. These were broadcast on ITV early on the evening of the 13th; within two hours a mob of ‘hunters’ from all over London and beyond swarmed over gates and walls into the locked cemetery, despite police efforts to control them.
In later years, Manchester own account of his doings that night (The Highgate Vampire 1985; 2nd rev. ed. 1991)are that he and some companions entered the cemetery, unobserved by the police, via the damaged railings of an adjoining churchyard, and tried to open the door of one particular catacomb to which a psychic sleepwalking girl had previously led him; but try as they might, it would not budge an inch. Failing in this, they climbed down on a rope through an existing hole in its roof, finding empty coffins into which they put garlic, and sprinkling holy water around.
Some months later, on 1 August 1970 (Lammas Day), the charred and headless remains of a woman’s body were found not far from the catacomb. The police suspected that it had been used in black magic. Soon after this incident, there was a noticeable surge in both Farrant’s and Manchester’s activities. Farrant was found by police in the churchyard beside Highgate Cemetery one night in August, carrying a crucifix and a wooden stake. He was arrested, but when the case came to court it was dismissed
A few days later Manchester returned to Highgate Cemetery, but in the daytime, when visits are allowed. Again, we must depend on his own published book for an account of his actions, since neither press nor police were present. He claims that this time he and his companions did succeed in forcing open, inch by inch, the heavy and rusty iron doors of a family vault (indicated by his female psychic helper). He lifted the massive lid off one coffin, believing it to have been mysteriously transferred there from the previous catacomb. He was about to drive a stake through the body it contained when a companion persuaded him to desist. Reluctantly, he shut the coffin, put garlic and incense in the vault, and came out from it.
A later chapter of Manchester’s book claims that three years afterwards he discovered a vampiric corpse (he implies that it was the same one) in the cellar of an empty house in the Highgate/Hornsey area, and staked and burned it.
Regarding the case of the Highgate creature (and similar), Manchester has always claimed his prey to be the ‘supernatural beings of folklore’ so I would presume his knowledge of and experience with real vampires is minimal to non-existent.
Serious occultists and paranormal researchers have, as I understand the hoo ha, always been sceptical of there ever being a Vampire lurking among the remains.
In 2006 Manchester and other Highgate Vampire hunters lodged a complaint with Ofcom for being referred to in a Channel 4 programme as ‘1970s weirdos’. The complaint was rejected.
Steven Dark host of Dark Arts Horror Radio – broadcasting From Beyond the Grave 24/7/365