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Highgate Cemetery - David Farrant
A damp mist seemed to envelop long-since discarded gravestones in theold part of Highgate Cemetery on a warm but dismal Jul afternoon. Birdswere strangely silent and no animals stirred in the undergrowth; eventhe voices of the small group of human beings present appearing softerthan normal, as if subdued by some undefined presence which seemedaware of their every movement. This ’hushed silence’ might havetriggered by the imaginations of those present who were overcome by themajestic melancholy of their surroundings, but subdued they were asthey moved in order along deserted pathways trying to keep pace with amuch louder human voice that seemed inclined on guiding the grouparound the graves and silent tombs.
It was July 9th, 2005 at 4pm; the venue, an Official Tour of London’sHighgate Cemetery. Not a particularly irregular Tour from the norm,perhaps, but maybe one almost unique in that one of the invitedparticipants was David Farrant, a man who had been virtually bannedfrom Highgate Cemetery back in 1973 following an investigation heconducted there into reports about a ’vampire-like’ figure that hadbeen reported inside the cemetery. This was reputedly a talldark-draped figure with hypnotic red eyes that confronted unsuspectingpeople wandering around the cemetery by day (when it was fully open tothe public) and which had also been seen through the locked gates bynight. The fact that the figure was reported as having ’hypnotic redeyes’ probably explained a widely circulated story that it could, infact, be a ’vampire’.
Sightings of this apparition were numerous and it was even said to have’attacked’ two people in Swain’s Lane outside the cemetery by pushingthem to the ground ’with tremendous force’ before suddenly disappearinginto the surrounding darkness. One of these ’attacks’ had been upon ayoung nurse back in 1970 who claimed that she had been thus ’attacked’by a tall dark figure that had thrown her powerfully to the groundcausing abrasions to her knees and elbows. Luckily, at this moment, acar came along and the figure disappeared in the glare of theheadlights. Seeing that she was badly shaken, the driver took her toHighgate Police Station who immediately made a thorough search of thearea. They found nothing although interestingly, at the place thefigure had appeared, Swains Lane was by 15-foot high walls.
Intrigued by all these accounts, I had entered Highgate Cemetery onenight with others (including a psychic medium) with the intention oftrying to witness the phenomenon but, unfortunately, this vigil wasinterpreted by the police and I ended up in Clerkenwell Magistrates’Court where police alleged that I was ’vampire hunting’. I wasacquitted of this charge (the name of the Magistrate was Mr. ChristoperLea) but the publicity which the case attracted caused interest inHighgate Cemetery to escalate, which in turn, led to a marked increasein vandalism there and gave myself an unwanted reputation as being a’vampire hunter’.
But interest in the Highgate case had continued to spread over theyears until in 1997, I founded the Highgate Vampire Society which by2000 had acquired several hundred members. Unfortunately, in 2000 theHighgate Vampire Society had to be temporarily suspended due topressure of work but it had been re-launched in July; hence my belatedreturn (some might say ’unwelcome’ return) to Highgate Cemetery…
The guide was informative from a historical point of view, but she wasvery careful to avoid the furore that had enveloped Highgate Cemeteryin the early 1970’s; indeed, one which by its intensity was totransform the cemetery’s standing and lead ultimately to the formationof The Friends of Highgate Cemetery and the development of GuidedTours.
Not that anybody seemed willing to raise the matter of the cemetery’spast connection with the occult or ’vampires’; perhaps her leadingapproach in discussing only ’historical deaths’ and architectureconveying not only that such subjects were taboo, but they were simplynot open to debate.
And yet northing could disguise the almost preternatural aura that thecemetery still chose to exude. It was there in the air, it was presentin the physical architecture and it certainly permeated the dismalvaults that were contained almost magically in the Circle of Lebanon.It was in one of these, that one small group of ’vampire hunters’ hadclaimed to have discovered the Highgate vampire asleep in its coffin in1970 with horrifically glazed eyes, its mouth still glazed with freshblood!
Their so-called leader was about to ’stake it’ but then he apparentlybecame squeamish (or so he said) and decided instead to have the vaultbricked up using garlic impregnated cement. The vault was indeedbricked up at the time, but this was in fact done entirely at theinstigation of the cemetery superintendent who had a number of vaultsbricked up in the cemetery to deter continuing vandalism. As toallegations of ’vampirism’, this same person stated to a BBC televisioncrew at the time that he thought the people making such allegationswere all ’nutcases’ and that if he had his way, he’d like to lock themup for the night in one of the vaults to see if they could really finda ’vampire’!
But so much for fiction. Highgate Cemetery has indeed changed from thedays when it used to be a ’feeding ground’ for ’weirdo’s’ and the worstkind of vandalism. It is almost tranquil now. A place that could almostbe described as having been given a ’new lease of life’. Thanks topeople like The Friends of Highgate Cemetery.
David Farrant, President, The Highgate Vampire Society © 2005