The Highgate Cemetery, north London, is a mystery, one of the most intriguing places of London. Many of the great historic figures have been buried there such as Karl Marx, Malcolm McLaren, the Dickens family and more recently George Michale amongst others.
Said to be one of the seven ‘magnificent seven’ burial places of England, the resting haven for the dead, the Highgate Cemetery is now filled with tourist groups admiring tombs and alleys. But behind the bucolic ambiance, the brilliant green trees and the massive ancient tombstones, lies secrets and a somber history.
Established in 1839 during the Victorian period, the place soon became the place to be buried at that time – as were all the Magnificent Seven, which were no more than the modern cemeteries of that time. Gothic tombstones, vaults and mausoleums were soon erected from the ground. The strange harmony of its singular architecture and abundant nature leads today groups of visitors in exploring the mysterious place in more depths.
But years ago, no visitors wanted to lose themselves out of the marked paths. From the 1960s to 1980s, Highgate Cemetery was known for being the theatre of occultism. For twenty years the burial place was said to be haunted and inhabited by vampires and ghost. In the 1960s, because of the fear inspired by the cemetery, it was regularly vandalized and subject to many night intrusions. The cemetery soon fell in neglect and decay.
Yet, in the 1960s, Highgate Cemetery rose from the dead. It all started in 1963 when covent girls ventured on one of the Highgate alleys to walk home late at night. It is said that when locals found them hours later, the girls were in terrible shock, terrified and speaking about bloodthirsty creatures haunting the graveyard. On the night of the 21 December 1969 with David Farrant, a young man part of the British Occult Society, when he decided to spend the night alone in the cemetery.
In his letter written to the Hampstead and Highgate Express four years later, Farrant explains that he saw something that night, ‘a grey figure’ passing through the cemetery and turning the air icy-cold, something he was sure to be supernatural. Farrant asked several people their own experience in the cemetery. They all described a variety of ghosts, voice callings, woman in white blood stained clothes or again a tall man in a hat.
Local media seized the story and soon the Highgate Cemetery was known as the Highgate Vampire Case in the newspapers. In 1970, the Hampstead and Highgate Express titled its headline ‘Does a Vampyr walk in Highgate?’, amplifying the myth and doubts in local minds. Faced with such an enigma that seem to come from ancient ages, Seán Manchester, another local man, manifested too a strong desire to unveil the mystery around Highgate Cemetery.
Manchester’s theory is not without recalling the Dracula tale. In his book, Manchester ventures that in the late XVIIIth century, the ‘King Vampire of the Undead’ coffin had been brought to England by supporters who then buried him where Highgate Cemetery was built years later. The King Vampire of the Undead as called by Manchester, is described as a medieval nobleman who used to practice black magic in Romania who would have risen from the dead and was feeding from human blood, although the man had no evidence to support his theory.
Yet people all over North London believed the story of a monstrous creature terrorizing locals, heavily supported by the newspapers. With a vampire on the loose, a wave of panic shot through the city. People were fearing for their safety and cleaned out the shops of garlic, providing each home with holy water and christian cross.
As Farrant and Manchester each went on their own theories, their feud was soon notorious across the city and the media saw an immediate pay dirt. On Friday the 13th, March 1970, both ‘experts’ were interviewed by ITV News. There, Manchester announced he would personally march upon Highgate Cemetery to lead a vampire hunt and put an end to the mystery once and for all on that very night.
Later that night, Highgate Cemetery was entered by a mob of civilians armed with torches, crucifixes, holy water, wooden stakes and garlic cloves, a scene that could have been taken out of a horror movie itself. People had climbed the graveyard’s fences to watch the hunt from behind. Although the hunt resulted in a fail, no vampire being killed or at the least, found, some hunters later told that they had seen the mysterious tall and dark figure wondering around the tombs during the hunt.
Although North London and newspapers grew tired of the Highgate Vampire story, Farrant and Manchester published numerous books and essays on the topic along the years. In 1985, in his self-published book ‘The Highgate Vampire’ Manchester claims to have hunted the vampire for 13 years on after the Hunt to finally kill him and burn him, sending him back to where he must have originally came from.
Since then, Highgate Cemetery has been cleared of all suspicious activities at night and became one of the most attractive and intriguing places of London. But maybe, if you ever wonder on the graveyard’s lanes late at a nocturnal time, might you encounter a devilish creature?