My Creepy Search History: The Highgate Vampire

I can’t recall exactly the first time I heard about the Highgate Vampire, but I do remember getting lost in the lore fairly quickly. It might’ve been the mention that the disinterment of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s muse, Lizzie Siddal, to retrieve a book of poetry, that inspired Bram Stoker to immortalize her as Lucy Westenra; it might have been Neil Gaiman’s treatment of the cemetery in The Graveyard Book as a quiet place of magic and wonder. It might’ve been Gaiman’s nod to the fabled vampire as a character.

I don’t believe in vampires. I don’t believe in hauntings. But Highgate West has always made me want to.

If there was ever a place that deserved a haunting to add to its magic, it would be this quiet, Victorian garden cemetery.

It is still, to this day, my favourite cemetery on earth.

A Horror Writer’s research in the obscure and questionable

The top-tier material I consistently google to inform my writing practice (i.e. research) tends to be regarded as being a bit… odd: Cemeteries. Hauntings. Paranormal phenomena. Folklore. Urban legends. Various beasties ranging from arachnids to zombies. I investigate these topics to inform my craft, but also because they fascinate me. I’ve never been partial to gore-driven horror, but when it comes to hauntings, possessions, and malevolent entities, I’m all for lending as much believability to the fiction. Sometimes, however, my search queries veer towards the practical: for example, when writing stories that are period-specific — how has the folklore and legend surrounding a place shaped its history and personality?

The result is a pretty bizarre collection of things saved to my bookmarks. I figured, why not share this stuff?

My Creepy Search History: The Highgate Vampire

Highgate Cemetery's Egyptian Avenue, photograph by Stephen Hammock

The Highgate Vampire: Horror of the Dead from The Unredacted

“In the early 1970s, a wave of panic spread around the north London suburb of Highgate. There was a vampire on the loose.”

London’s Highgate Cemetery And The Curse Of The Highgate Vampire from The Occult Museum

“By the 1970s, trespassers regularly slipped into Highgate Cemetery at night. It wasn’t long before rumors of Satanism and occult activities circulated.”

The Highgate Vampire – How It All Began – by David Farrant from Mysterious Britain

“LONDON 1969, AND WIDE REPORTS WERE COMING INTO the British Psychic and Occult Society concerning a tall black apparition that had been seen lurking among the tombs of London’s Highgate Cemetery. Most of these reports were from people who claimed to have been confronted by this apparition which invariably took the form of a tall dark figure and petrified people both in, or passing, the cemetery. Where possible, most of these reports were followed up but unfortunately (as is frequently the case in psychic investigations) many turned out to be vague repetition of local gossip or the result of unqualified rumour.”

The True Story of the Highgate Vampire By Charles Christian from Paraphilia Magazine

“A few days ago I received an invitation to join The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society on Facebook. This is an online forum for discussing one of the best-known cases of modern vampirism – or at least alleged vampirism – in the UK. Why did I get the invite? Because I’ve written about it before – and I was there. Here’s the inside skinny…”

Revisiting the Highgate Vampire from Mysterious Universe

“Highgate Cemetery sits atop a tall unassuming hill in the London borough of Islington. Red, double-decker buses stop on Highgate Hill Street, pubs offer an open, friendly door, and families play in the quiet Waterlow Park that brushes against the cemetery. Clean paths split by thick grass cut only in patches lead walkers through the park to the black metal gates of the cemetery, the last resting place of author Douglas Adams, physicist Michael Faraday, political philosopher Karl Marx, and many British artists, entertainers, architects, and military heroes.”

Highgate Cemetery and the Tale of the Highgate Vampire from Kentish Towner

“Most readers will have, at some time, visited Highgate Cemetery, the world class high-Gothic nature reserve on our doorstep. Dating back to 1839, it contains 170,000 corpses – that’s nearly as many people as the current population of the whole borough of Camden. Most thrilling is the western side, only accessible by guided tour, such is the frailty and beauty of its steep hillside location. Those Egyptian Catacombs! The Cedar of Lebanon! And here you’ll find a roll call of ‘names’, from George Eliot to Beryl Bainbridge and Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed with polonium in 2006 and is entombed in a lead coffin to prevent radiation from leaking out.”

A Restless Wind is Blowing through Highgate from Dark Echo

“No one agrees where this story started — or rather, there are as many beginnings as there are storytellers. In the early days, Hampstead Heath was the only thing sinister about the area. Highwaymen had flourished there, like Dick Turpin, whose ghost still loiters ’round the pub. The village of Highgate stood on a tall hill overlooking the city of London sprawled across on the river plain below. Highgate’s name describes its function: it served as point of entry for farm goods coming from the countryside to feed and clothe the metropolis.”

Swains Lane by Hidden Highgate

“This steep and unforgiving lane, practically vertical in places, separates the East and West cemeteries at Highgate. It takes its name from the pig herders who from at least the 1300s used it to drive swine from the higher ground above Highgate down to Smithfields Market.”

Highgate Vampire at Wikipedia

“Many popular books on ghosts, like the book called The Highgate Vampire, mention a vampire which reportedly haunted Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s. The growth of its reputation, which can be traced through contemporary media reports and subsequent books by two participants, Seán Manchester and David Farrant, is an example of modern legend-building. The most academic account is given by a folklore scholar, Professor Bill Ellis, in the journal Folklore.[1] He writes from the viewpoint of sociological legend study; this concerns public perceptions of a real or purported event, and how these are shaped into a narrative by processes of rumour, selection, exaggeration and stereotyping. Other narratives which treat these purported happenings as fact are available in the books and websites of Seán Manchester and David Farrant.”

The Highgate Vampire at Gothic Press

“Ever since I became aware that Highgate Cemetery was the reputed haunt of a vampire, the investigations and activities of Seán Manchester commanded my attention. I became convinced that, more than anyone else, the president of the Vampire Research Society knew the full story of the Highgate Vampire which is probably the most remarkable contemporary account of vampiric activity and infestation ~ and cure. Can such things as vampires really exist? The evidence seems to be overwhelming and the author [of The Highgate Vampire] is to be congratulated on his knowledgeable and lucid account of the case which is likely to become one of the classic works on this interesting and mystifying subject.”

The Highgate Vampire from The Dark World of Lily Verlaine

“Highgate Cemetery was constructed in 1839, but by the 1960’s it had fallen into neglect and decay. Stories started circulating that the cemetery was haunted and newspapers started reporting England’s first Vampire in over a hundred years. In 1963 two 16 year old convent girls were walking home at night after having visited friends in Highgate Village. Their return journey took them down Swain’s Lane past the cemetery. They could not believe their eyes as they passed the graveyard’s north gate at the top of the lane, for in front of them, bodies appeared to be emerging from their tombs.”

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  • […] Cemetery West in later years. You can read about some of that here, if you rifle through the Highgate Vampire archives. Highgate West, being a central location in the story I’ve been toiling over for […]

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