The Highgate Vampire
When Muswell Hill resident David Farrant wrote to the letters section of the Hampstead and Highgate Express in February 1970, he had hoped to find others who’d witnessed any unusual or potentially supernatural happenings in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Instead, Farrant kicked off a moral panic over vampires, ghosts, and all manner of occult activities that featured prominently in the pages of British newspapers for years.
Farrant’s letter received a few responses from others who claimed to have had their own supernatural experiences in Highgate Cemetery, but the story would likely have ended there had it not been for Sean Manchester. A self-proclaimed occultist and vampire hunter, Manchester claimed that what Farrant had seen at Highgate was in fact a vampire, and moreover, the cemetery itself was the site of ongoing black masses, vampire gatherings, and other dark practices. Soon, a rivalry developed between Farrant and Manchester over who had the power to eradicate the supernatural threat at Highgate and just weeks after Farrant sent his letter to the newspapers, Manchester led a large mob of Londoners into Highgate Cemetery intent on driving out the evil that supposedly swelled there.
Throughout the early 1970s, the war of words between Farrant and Manchester frequently captured the public’s attention, thanks to the various news outlets that couldn’t resist the outrageous actions of the two men that ranged from benign and silly (a naked fire dance in an abandoned building) to gruesome and disrespectful (desecration of human remains). However, while the antics of the two men at the center of the story may elicit a smirk or an eyeroll, the public’s response to the supposed supernatural threat provides valuable insight into a phenomenon of moral panic that go on to fuel, among other things, the satanic panic that dominated the news throughout the 1980s and 90s.
To learn more about ways to save our graves, go to https://www.saveourcemeteries.org.
Thank you to the lovely David White, of Bring Me the Ax podcast, for research assistance
Cambridge Evening News. 1970. "Mr. Blood in hunt for vampire." Cambridge Evening News, March 14: 21.
Ellis, Bill. 1993. "The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Hunt: The Anglo-American Connection in Satanic Cult Lore." Folklore (Taylor and Francis, Ltd.) 104 (1/2): 13-39.
Evening Standard. 1970. "'Black magic' man tells of threats." Evening Standard, November 4: 17.
—. 1968. "Coffins broken open at a witches' sabbath." Evening Standard, November 1: 23.
—. 1974. "Naked witchcraft men in fire dance." Evening Standard, January 21: 5.
—. 1974. "Wife tells of 'horror photos'." Evening Standard, June 20: 5.
Farrant, David. 1970. "Letters: Ghostly walks in Highgate." Hampstead and Highgate Express, February 6: 26.
Guardian Journal. 1970. "Vampire hunter is cleared by court." Guardian Journal, September 30: 7.
—. 1968. "'Black magic' theory after coffins raid." Guiardian Journal, November 2: 1.
Hampstead and Highgate Express. 1970. "Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?" Hampstead and Highgate Express, February 27: 1.
Liverpool Daily Post. 1972. "Couple fined for churchyard ritual." Liverpool Daily Post, November 23: 18.
Manchester Evening News. 1973. "100 join hunt for cemetery 'vampire'." Manchester Evening News, March 14: 5.
Sunday Mirror. 1973. "'Sacrifice' witches in horror." Sunday Mirror, April 8: 11.