I’ve never been vampire hunting before. It’s not an obvious pastime in this day and age, but back in 2008 I went to Highgate Cemetery, London, to see if the Highgate Vampire fancied a chat.
This was my second visit to Highgate (dragging my ever so patient husband with me) but I wasn’t going back because I’d overlooked the walking dead the first time round; it was because Highgate Cemetery is such an incredible place and there’s so much to see. It really is a huge ‘Victorian Valhalla’ with the added bonus that it also has a vampiric past.
Why was such a vast cemetery needed in the first place? What was wrong with the average church graveyard? In 1800 the population of London was 1 million. By 1850 it had gone up to 2.3 million and graveyards were struggling to cope with the sheer number of burials (people had a nasty habit of dying on a frighteningly regular basis back then). The inner London graveyard ethic of ‘pile ‘em high, worry about it later’ was no longer working and graveyards were becoming serious health hazards. Sometimes bodies were left to rot, unburied, or they weren’t buried deep enough (some graves were just two foot deep … if the gravedigger was feeling generous). It wasn’t unusual for graves to be emptied out for reuse before the resident had had a chance to even decompose. Things were rather grim.
Highgate was built in 1839 as part of the ‘Magnificent Seven’, a series of modern cemeteries around the outskirts of London designed to cater for the numbers of dead that London could no longer cope with.
Highgate Cemetery is an amazing place, split into two parts, the East side and the West side. The West side is the oldest site and is only accessible on a tour. The Eastern side is accessible without accompaniment.
For those interested in odd stuff, Highgate Cemetery may already be known to you because of the Highgate Vampire. In 1969, David Farrant pushed paranormal interest in the cemetery into the public arena by reporting a sighting of a grey figure which he considered to be otherworldly. It wasn’t long before other people were saying they had also seen odd things too, either down Swains Lane, the long winding road that runs down the side of the old graveyard, or in the graveyard itself. Interestingly enough though, no two stories reported were the same.
Another chap called Sean Manchester also got involved with the Highgate Vampire story. He was keen to label the paranormal entity allegedly haunting the cemetery as a vampire, whereas Farrant was a little more hesitant to do so, referring to the entity as a ghost or a spectre instead but it was the vampire label that stuck.
The two gents have both had a lot to say on the Highgate Vampire subject and both brought out books on their experiences. Having read both Farrant’s and Manchester’s accounts I found them to be so fantastical it was impossible to take them seriously. But if you want to have a look for yourself you can get the books from Amazon:
Farrant and Manchester have spent the past goodness knows how long arguing about what happened and I understand the arguments still rage even now.
In my previous article, Red Eye At Night, Devil’s Delight, I mentioned a red-eyed spectre that had been encountered drifting around Swains Lane. This spectre apparently spoke to the eyewitness, wishing them a good evening before disappearing through a cemetery wall. Other ghosts allegedly seen at Highgate Cemetery include a ghostly cyclist who was seen making his way up the hill near the cemetery and in recent years a ghost of a mad old woman with long hair has been seen among the grave stones. That last sighting was not me, before you all start pointing the finger.
If you get a chance, I would highly recommend going on one of the Highgate Cemetery Tours, even if you’re not that interested in ghosts. There are many famous people buried there and the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and have many tales to tell along the way about the cemetery inhabitants.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010