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The Highgate Vampire was a media sensation surrounding reports of supposed supernatural activity at Highgate Cemetery in London in the 1970s. The most academic account of this story is given by folklorist Bill Ellis in the journal Folklore.
A group of young people interested in the occult visited the cemetery in the late 1960s, a time when it was being vandalised by intruders. According to a report in the London Evening News of 2 November 1968:
On the night of Halloween 1968 a graveyard desecration by persons unknown occurred at Tottenham Park Cemetery in London. These persons arranged flowers taken from graves in circular patterns with arrows of blooms pointing to a new grave, which was uncovered. A coffin was opened and the body inside "disturbed". But their most macabre act was driving an iron stake in form a cross through the lid and into the breast of the corpse.
Though the identities and motivations of those responsible were never ascertained, general consensus at the time linked the desecration to events surrounding the Highgate Vampire case. Then, in a letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970, David 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, 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 media quickly latched onto Sean Manchesters claim it was a Vampire, embellishing the tale with stories of the vampire being a king of the vampires, or of practising black magic.
March 1970 mob
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 he would hold an exorcism on Friday 13 of March 1970. ITV interviewed 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.
Some months later, on 1 August 1970, 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. 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. He claims that this time he and his companions forced open the doors of a family vault (indicated by his psychic helper). He says he lifted the 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.
There was more publicity about Farrant and Manchester when rumours spread that they would meet in a "magicians' duel" on Parliament Hill on Friday 13 April 1973, which never occurred. Farrant was jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery—vandalism and desecration which he insisted had been caused by Satanists, not him.
The feud between Manchester and Farrant remains vigorous to this day; each claims to be a competent exorcist and researcher of the paranormal; each pours scorn on the other's alleged expertise. They continue to investigate supposed supernatural phenomena, and have both written and spoken repeatedly about the Highgate events, each stressing his own role to the exclusion of the other.
In her book, Blood Lust: Conversations with Real Vampires, published by HarperCollins in 1991, author Carol Page describes her lengthy interview with Seán Manchester, further questioning his credibility and describes his self-proclaimed activities as "the real evil in Highgate Cemetery."
Between 1991 and 2016 numerous sighting of the vampire (and at least one film) have been claimed.
In popular culture
- According to author Bill Ellis, the Hammer Horror film Dracula AD 1972, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, was inspired by the Highgate Vampire.
- The Highgate Vampire appears as a villain in the Dark Horse comics series Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine. The Highgate Vampire is revealed to be, not a vampire, but an insectoid demon that feeds off its victims' emotional trauma. Rupert Giles had nearly been killed by the creature in 1972. The Highgate Vampire became a minion of Drusilla when it returned in the 2010s.
- Il vampiro di Highgate (Highgate Vampire) is the title of 45th issue of Italian horror comic book series Dampyr.
- Ellis (1993), p.13-39
- R. D. Altick, To Be in England (1969), 194-95, and various press reports,cited in Ellis (1993) 19-20
- Medway, Gareth Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism, New York University Press (1 April 2001)
- Hampstead and Highgate Express, 6 February 1970, 26; 13 February 1970, 25; 20 February 1970, 1, 27; 27 February 1970, 6. Cited in Ellis (1993) 20-21; some also in Farrant (1991) 6-8.
- Hampstead and Highgate Express,6 March 1970, 1; Hampstead and Highgate Express, 27 February 1970, 1; Manchester (1991) 69-70, 75; Ellis (1993) 24
- Such behaviour exemplifies, in an extreme form, a fondness for legend tripping. Hampstead and Highgate Express, 13 March 1970, 1; The Evening News 14 March 1970, 1; Ellis (1993) 24-25.
- Ellis, Bill. Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions and the Media (University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 215-36.
- Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Detroit, Washington and London, Visible Ink Press, 1994)
- Camden, Highgate and Hampstead Record, 21 August 1970, 1; 28 August 1970, 1; 2 October 1970, 1.
- Hornsey Journal, 28 August 1970, 36
- The Sunday People, 8 April 1973; Ellis (1993) 30-31.
- Press coverage was very extensive, in both local and national papers, see Ellis (1993) 31-33 and the list of press sources in his note 81.
- Ellis, Bill. "The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Hunt". Folklore. 104.
- Dampyr issue 45, Bonelli official website.
- Barlay, Nick. (10 July 2004) The Times "Zzzzz London;Z is for...;A-Z;London Life" Section: Features; Page 31.
- Beresford, Matthew. From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth (London: Reaktion Books, 2008), 175-92.
- Campbell, Ramsey. "The Strange Case of Seán Manchester" in Ramsey Campbell, Probably (PS Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-902880-40-4). The essay is expanded in the revised edition of the book (ISBN 978-1-848639-11-9).
- Ellis, Bill. "The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Hunt", Folklore 104 (1993), 13-39. This journal can be read online via the JStor site.
- Ellis, Bill. (1993) Folklore ["The Highgate Cemetery vampire hunt: the Anglo-American connection in satanic cult lore"] Volume 104; Issue 1/2; Page 13.
- Farrant, David. Beyond the Highgate Vampire (London: British Psychic and Occult Society, 1991).
- Financial Times (27 April 1988) Observer: Missing Manchester Page 22.
- Holly, Donald H Jr; Cordy, Casey E; (Summer 2007) Journal of American Folklore "What's In a Coin? Reading the Material Culture of Legend Tripping and Other Activities" Volume 120, Number 477, pp. 335–354.
- Underwood, Peter. The Vampire's Bedside Companion (1975; revised ed., 1976).
- McKay, Sinclair. (6 May 2006) The Daily Telegraph "The loved ones of London Sinclair McKay is beguiled by an account of how the capital once dealt with its dead" Section: Books; Page 5.
- Page, Carol, "Blood Lust: Conversations with Real Vampires, (HarperCollins, 1991, Dell, 1992, Warner, ULK, 1993)
- Simpson, Jacqueline. (1 April 2003) Folklore "Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media" Volume 114; Issue 1; Page 123.