Does a vampire stalk this London cemetery? The bizarre story of the Highgate Vampire
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
The vampire is a creature that’s existed in the human imagination for thousands of years. While they were once thought to be as real as you and me, few people in modern times believe these creatures exist. But there are exceptions. Today’s case is one of the few instances of alleged vampire sightings in modern times. Let’s talk about the Highgate Vampire.
early Highgate history
Highgate Cemetery was established in 1839 to provide an additional burial place for the dead that kept piling up in London. A 20 acre extension opened in 1856, at which point the cemetery already had over 10,000 graves. Highgate is famous for its beautiful architecture and for being the burial place of well known figures like Karl Marx.
But Highgate hasn’t always had the reputation it does today. By the turn of the 20th century, it had started to decline, a decline that was only exacerbated by the World Wars. A few pieces of property were sold off in 1956 as a fundraising attempt. Still, the cemetery still struggled to stay afloat for the next decade or so before being closed and largely abandoned.
early vampire sightings
It was during this period that rumors started to spread. In the late 1960’s, sightings were reported of a strange figure in the cemetery. The figure was said to have blood red eyes and a top hat; it was unusually tall and glided above the ground, rather than walking. One witness claimed she woke up with something clinging to her hand. What this “something” was, she didn’t know — but it did allegedly leave marks.
A local newspaper called the Hampstead and Highgate Express — better known as ‘Ham & High’ — started reporting on these supposed vampire sightings. On February 6, 1970, a letter appeared in the paper from David Farrant, a Wicca enthusiast, self proclaimed magician and president of the British Psychic and Occult Society. Farrant claimed he’d seen the entity numerous times before. On the first occasion, he said it had appeared inside the gate, but it vanished after a few seconds. He’d also later claim to find foxes in the cemetery with their throats slit.
But Farrant wasn’t the only local whose attention was caught by these stories. Sean Manchester was president of the British Occult Society and a bishop of the Old Catholic Church. Not too long after Farrant’s letter was published in Ham & High, Manchester was interviewed by the paper and gave his beliefs about the vampire. Manchester said this vampire had been a practitioner of black magic in life, was buried in Highgate after death and later resurrected by satanists. According to him, the vampire looked like a corpse that was several days old, with a blue-ish tinge under its skin.
But Farrant didn’t appear to be too happy about this interview. He responded by saying the vampire stories had been completely blown out of proportion and that the entity was simply a normal ghost. This seems to be the start of a vicious feud between the two that would last for decades.
The story of the Highgate Vampire spread around London, and local TV shows started to report on a planned vampire hunt. On Friday, March 13, 1970, hundreds of people scaled the fences at Highgate, homemade stakes in hand, in an attempt to kill the vampire. Police officers tried to hold them back, but their efforts were in vain. Multiple graves were desecrated that night, but by the following morning, the vampire was reportedly still alive — or, rather, undead.
On April 13, 1973, a duel was scheduled between Farrant and Manchester but it never happened. The next day, Farrant was found next to the cemetery, crucifix and wooden stake in hand. He was later convicted of and imprisoned for damaging memorials and interfering with remains. Farrant has always denied these charges.
Also in 1973, Sean Manchester would claim to kill the vampire. According to him, it had moved to “unconsecrated ground” in the nearby village of Crouch End. He said he killed it by driving a stake through its heart.
By 1975, Highgate had fallen into even further decline. That year, the The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed. According to their website, their purpose was “to promote the conservation of the cemetery, its monuments and buildings, flora and fauna, for the benefit of the public as an environmental amenity.”
Today, the cemetery is thriving. It’s open to visitors daily, and its architecture and numerous celebrity graves make it a popular tourist destination.
Farrant and Manchester continued their bitter rivalry. Over the years, there have been numerous instances of allegations and mud slinging between the two — way too many to go into here. The feud continued until Farrant died in 2019 at the age of 73.
Today, the Highgate Vampire stories are largely thought to have been fueled by mass hysteria and media hype. Both Farrant and Manchester accused newspapers of misquoting them or taking them out of context to embellish their stories and sell more copies. Before his death, Farrant also said he though the vampire rumors were influenced by horror movies coming out during that period — especially the numerous Dracula adaptations.
But what is the Highgate Vampire, really? Is there some sort of entity in the cemetery? And is it really undead…or something else?
In life, Farrant believed the entity might be a shadow person, conjured up by satanists who used the cemetery for rituals in the late 1960’s. In a radio interview around 2012, he said he believed the entity was still active.
Manchester, on the other hand, still maintains the entity was a vampire and that he killed it back in 1973. In a YouTube video posted on his channel in 2021, a commenter asked Manchester if he’d been to Highgate in recent years. He replied:
“There is no reason for me to do so. The contagion was extirpated.”
So has a vampire ever stalked Highgate Cemetery? What you believe will likely depend on your views on religion and the supernatural in general. Regardless of what you choose to speculate, I hope you found this summary of the case interesting and informative.
sources cited and further reading
various websites and social media run (or reportedly run) by Farrant, Manchester or someone associated with one of them: