Over the past 37 years, many popular books on ghosts have mentioned a vampire which purportedly haunted Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s. The growth of its reputation is a fascinating example of urban-legend-building, which can be traced through contemporary media reports and subsequent books by two participants, Sean Manchester and David Farrant.
The Highgate Cemetery is an old Victorian-style cemetery located on the beautiful North London hill site where 165,000 people are spread over 37 acres. It is rumoured to have been the source of inspiration for the famous scene of the cemetery in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.
Sean Manchester,self-proclaimed vampire hunter and then President of The British Occult Society, relates in his autobiographical ‘The Highgate Vampire‘ . The whole affair started when a pair of female teenage students from La Sainte Union Convent saw what they described as graves opening and bodies rising in the north gate section.
On 21 December 1969 another student, David Farrant, decided to spend the night there, according to his account written in 1991. In a letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970, he 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 Swains Lane besides.
The description of these ghosts included 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 common feature in genuine folk traditions about eerie places.
A second local man, Sean Manchester, was just as fired as Farrant to identify and eliminate what he and Farrant believed was a paranormal creature 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 and later leased the home of Sir William Ashurst (Lord Mayor of London in 1694) on the site that later became Highgate Cemetery.
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 regrettably this would nowadays be illegal. The paper headlined this: ‘Does a Wampyr walk in Highgate?’