A couple of weeks ago I found myself in London along with my girlfriend Tillie and Scubbins (of NGI forum fame). Being strange goth types we couldn’t let such a visit go without a trip to the (in)famous Highgate Cemetery.
You may recall that Highgate Cemetery was the focus of a certain Vampire escapade during the late 60s/early70s. In a nutshell the story goes that in the late 60s there had been sightings of a tall grey ghost-like figure around the North gate of the cemetery on Swains Lane.
The first controversial figure in the whole affair was David Farrant, who 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, 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”
The second controversial figure in the Highgate Vampire affair was Seán Manchester. He was just as keen as Farrant to discover and eradicate what he and Farrant believed was a supernatural being that resided 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, 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. Manchester said the correct to do would be to stake the vampire’s body, and then behead it with a gravediggers shovel. The paper headlined this: ‘Does a Vampyr walk in Highgate?‘ (Manchester has 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.)
Manchester apparently tracked the ‘vampire’ to it’s lair in one of the mausoleums in the ‘Circle of Lebanon’ area of the cemetery (pssst…. the second mausoleum on the left in the photo), where his attempt to deal with the creature ‘in the ancient and approved manner‘ was aborted. He later tracked the beast down to a neo-gothic mansion in Highgate where he claims to have eventually ended it’s reign of terror.
The thing I love about the Highgate Vampire story are the two principle players involved, namely Sean Manchester and David Farrant. They hate each other with a passion! The accounts of the case differ in the fact that Manchester’s tale reads like a cross betweenDracula and The Devil Rides Out, with his vampire being of the classic fangs, garlic and stake through the heart variety, while Farrants is more of a dark energy with red eyes, a kind of psychic vampire if you will. Whichever tale is the closest to the truth(?) is still a matter of much debate, but what I find interesting is that even though they disagree on almost everything, they do seem to agree that ‘something’ did indeed happen at Highgate, which was also witnessed by many independent people too. Both men have written books on the subject and I urge anyone with an interest in this case to track them down and experience both sides of the story.
After posing for photographs at the (in)famous North Gate of the cemetery Tillie, Scubbins and myself went and checked in at the main gates of the West Cemetery, having booked places on the 2 o’clock tour. I can’t say that I was that overly impressed by the lady at the gates who seemed not to have the best public relation skills in the world, and at times it felt like you really weren’t welcome at the cemetery. After saying that, our guide for the hour long tour was quite nice. She came across as a sort of ‘dotty aunt’, albeit a very knowledgeable one. We were lead round and regaled with many stories of the history of the cemetery, it’s occupants and facts about victorian funerary rights. Both amusing, informative and well worth the £7 entry fee. Just don’t mention Vampires!
Since the trouble/vamdalism that resulted from the whole Highgate Vampire affair, the Cemetery has been looked after by the charity ‘The Friends of Highgate Cemetery’. This well meaning organisation has done wonders for restoring/caring for the vandalised cemetery, but it has implemented so many stupid rules and regulations to ‘safeguard’ the cemetery against similar things happening again. Anything paranormal is strictly taboo on their guided tours and God forbid anyone mention anything about vampires. Any talk of things things will meet with a best, a brush off, and at worst, downright rudeness. Apparently on a tour not so long ago, someone enquired about the ‘vampire’ story and they were bluntly told that ‘that was something that only gullible Americans believe in‘. The tour guide not realising that a 3rd of the tour group was made up of our friends from across the pond.
Other stupid rules have been enforced such a dress codes. Now I’m not saying that people should necessarily be allowed in bare chested, but I think that insisting that a ‘women’s shoulders should be covered at all times’ (even on a hot day when there are no funerals being carried out in the cemetery) is taking things too far. Also gothic types have also been made to feel unwelcome by the cemeteries suspicious staff.
I can understand that professional photographers need to seek out permits to take shots on the cemetery. After all, the charity is always needing more money and this would provide some extra revenue, but to tell visitors that if they take photos they must in no way be put on the net is bonkers. I’m not even sure how they can enforce this either. As you can see I’ve popped a few of my pics up anyway to see if the fascist regime does anything about it.
I’ve just read in the new issue of ‘Fortean Times’ that the head of the ‘Friends of Highgate Cemetery’ has stepped down and has been replaced by an American gentlemen so hopefully things may start to look up. Highgate Cemetery is an important place in UK paranormal history and this should be respected. Some specific ‘paranormal tours’ should be conducted from time to time that would allow people with an interest in this kind of thing to ask questions without being made to feel like fools. It would also generate a lot more money for the charity which would enable their great restoration work to continue.
If you’re ever at a loose end in London I would really recommend checking this place out.