Fifty Years Today: Celebrating the “Birth” of the Highgate Vampire

"The creeping moss and brooding tombs in Highgate Cemetery breed good reason for the rumors of a vampire lurking around."
Happy 5oth! The front page story that “birthed” the Highgate Vampire: “Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?” Hampstead & Highgate Express, Feb. 27, 1970, 1. Source: Camden Archive/Sam Perrin.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Highgate Vampire’s “birth.”

In the lead up, the Hampstead & Highgate Express had published a series of letters from correspondents discussing ghost encounters and reflections on these reports.

But the narrative took a decidedly sinister turn on February 27, 1970, when the paper asked “Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?” on its front page:

WE DON’T want to frighten you, but the ghost of Highgate Cemetery might be a . . vampire.

So says [. . .] Sean Manchester, president of the British Occult Society. He claims to have carried out “extensive research and investigation into the matter.”

Mr. Manchester, a 25-year-old photographer, said: “The phenomenon reported by Highgate people in letters to the Ham and High is not merely the apparition of an earth-bound spirit, which is relatively harmless, but much worse – that of a wampyr or, as it is more popularly known, a vampire.”

Manchester’s vampire theory captured the public’s imagination. On March 13, 1970, the cemetery was raided by almost a hundred people searching for the vampire.

Manchester went on to make a series of dubious claims about his investigation into the vampire, helping the spread of a modern-day legend.

To celebrate the vampire’s birthday, I’d like to share this excellent documentary about the Highgate Vampire from Uncovered, a YouTube channel specialising in conspiracy theory videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCPwq2a8IoQ
A genuinely good documentary about the Highgate Vampire case. Uncovered, “WE HUNTED THE HIGHGATE CEMETERY VAMPIRE! | In Plain Sight,” YouTube Video, 29:20, November 1, 2019, https://youtu.be/FCPwq2a8IoQ. Originally titled “The Vampire of Highgate Cemetery In Plain Sight.”

Fortunately, this documentary avoided the usual sensationalism associated with the genre.

My Vamped colleague, Erin Chapman, and I were quite impressed with the filmmakers’ thoroughness. They visited the right locations for the vampire’s supposed sightings and reposes, and covered the story reasonably well.

It was also great to see so many places we have written about come to life on film. It’s one thing to read about something, another to see it.

However, we weren’t so impressed by how familiar their research seemed. Although Vamped is given a verbal credit near the end of the video (29:05), it was pretty obvious their presentation rested heavily on our coverage of the case.

Adding weight to this theory is my LinkedIn correspondence on with Robin McConnell, a producer of the video who also “stars” in the film (he’s the one with the shorts).

Our primary correspondence spanned July 27–30, 2019. I contacted Robin after noticing Manchester railing against him on his Facebook groups. On July 27, I kicked off with this:

Hi Robin. I hear you’re interested in making a documentary on the Highgate Vampire? I would be happy to assist.

I co-wrote the following article with my colleague [Erin Chapman]: https://vamped.org/2015/02/27/5-reasons-why , run a blog on the case and I’ve been interviewed for it, too.

Robin replied on July 28, thanking me for messaging him adding “it’s a pleasant surprise – in fact I have been reading vamped.org while carrying out research so I am familiar with your work already.”

There was some talk of an interview with me, but, for whatever reason that never transpired.

I also recommended he speak to Redmond McWilliams, founder of the Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thcvas) and Paul Adams, author of Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire (2013). He seemed pretty keen on contacting them.

However, it does seem that Vamped was a primary source for material. Further evidence of my assertion can be found in Robin’s July 30 message: “When we (eventually) have the final cut locked down, would you mind if I named you and your colleagues at vamped.org as a source?”

“I’m certainly happy to be cited as a source,” I replied later that day.

But after the documentary was released, Erin and I felt our site deserved more than just a shout-out; we wanted a link to our article to be added to the video description. That, to us, would be a proper credit.

Erin made several requests in the video’s YouTube comment section. All went unanswered.

I emailed the Uncovered YouTube channel on December 4, 2019. No reply.

I contacted McConnell through LinkedIn on December 18, 2019:

Hi Robin, did you do the In Plain Sight video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCPwq2a8IoQ

If so, excellent work! I’m very surprised you were able to access all those areas. But I have a request: could you put a link to our Vamped article in the video description? Preferably formatted this way:

Erin Chapman, “5 Reasons Why a Wampyr Didn’t Walk in Highgate Cemetery,” Vamped, February 27, 2015, https://vamped.org/2015/02/27/5-reasons-why-a-wampyr-didnt-walk-in-highgate-cemetery/.

I can see that you guys used a significant amount of our research to retrace the steps. And that was such an honour, but we would also hugely appreciate it if your viewers could read our work, too.

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon. 🙂

Nada.

But there was something else surprised us about the video, too: how they were even able to film it on location in the first place.

The cemetery, once plagued by vandalism, tomb desecration, vampire hunters and the remnants of satanic rituals, was salvaged by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, an organisation that formed “to  promote  the  conservation  of  the  cemetery,   its  monuments  and  buildings,   flora  and  fauna,   for  the  benefit  of  the  public  as  an  environmental  amenity” in 1975.

Within the context of these preservation efforts, it’s no surprise talking about the vampire there is generally frowned on. Sue Bailey mentions this in her 2002 London Cemeteries blog post:

Each volunteer guide will take you on a slightly different tour, depending on their own preferences and which parts of the cemetery are currently accessible. More is visible beneath the trees in the autumn, but the ground underfoot is more treacherous. It is a journey to be planned like a military campaign. And don’t mention the vampire. They get very upset if you mention the vampire.

Cemetery hostility to the vampire story is still evident years later, as detailed in Della Farrant’s 2013 article about visiting the cemetery:

It is only fair to warn readers that unlike many other working cemeteries, Highgate Cemetery considers ‘ghost’ to be as dirty a word as ‘vampire’ as you can see during this [“this” hyperlinks to Guest Writer, “Secrets of a Highgate Tour Guide,” Spooky Isles, January 28, 2012, https://www.spookyisles.com/highgate-tour-guide-secrets] to  rather vicious condemnation of a former tour guide by a current one for daring to publicly acknowledge the possibility that the cemetery might be haunted – in this instance by a harmless little dog!  So if you are planning to visit the cemetery do yourself a favour and don’t mention the undead!!! Apparently the guides are slowly getting more relaxed with the subject of the supernatural, but one takes pot luck and you probably won’t get a refund if you get kicked out.  However also bear in mind that not everyone who visits the cemetery is on a tour – some are visiting the graves of relatives and might not appreciate overhearing conversations about the paranormal in such a context. And imagine the frustration of a volunteer who has spent years studying the biographies of notables buried in the cemetery, only to be asked where Dracula is buried.  It’s a tricky one, folks!

That’s why we were surprised to see the extensive location shoots in the documentary. After all, that leaves us with some intriguing possibilities.

Have the cemetery keepers finally loosened up on the Highgate Vampire? Are tour guides now able to discuss the vampire freely? Can you now film vampire documentaries there?

There’s one way to find out. Earlier today, I emailed the cemetery for comment…


Notes

  1. “WE DON’T want to frighten you”: “Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?,” Hampstead & Highgate Express, Feburary 27, 1970, 1. This headline inspired the name of an MSN Groups forum I created in 2006, later becoming a blog of the same name: Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? (http://dawwih.blogspot.com).
  2. the cemetery was raided by almost one hundred people: “Satan Riddle of Open Tomb,” Evening News (London), March 14, 1970, 1.
  3. a series of dubious claims about his investigation: For comprehensive analyses of these claims, see Erin Chapman, “5 Reasons Why a Wampyr Didn’t Walk in Highgate Cemetery,” Vamped, February 27, 2015, https://vamped.org/2015/02/27/5-reasons-why-a-wampyr-didnt-walk-in-highgate-cemetery/; and Anthony Hogg, “An Interesting Find,” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? (blog), January 21, 2012, http://dawwih.blogspot.com/2012/01/interesting-find.html.
  4. “I co-wrote the following article”: My byline does not appear on “5 Reasons Why a Wampyr Didn’t Walk in Highgate Cemetery” because the website’s theme did not have this functionality, so it was left as Erin’s as the initial article was hers, before the rewrite, and she did the field research.
  5. He seemed pretty keen on contacting them: McWilliams told me he had not been contacted by McConnell or anyone involved in the documentary (Facebook message to the author, February 27, 2020). Adams confirmed he had been contacted by McConnell “but nothing came of it and I was not involved in the video or spoke to him about HV [sic; the Highgate Vampire]” (email message to the author, February 27, 2020).
  6. “to  promote  the  conservation  of  the  cemetery”: Quoted in Justin Bickersteth, “History,” Highgate Cemetery, accessed February 27, 2020, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history.
  7. “Each volunteer guide will take you on a slightly different tour”: [Bailey], “Highgate Cemetery, West Side,” London Cemeteries (blog), March 12, 2002, http://londoncemeteries.co.uk/2002/03/12/highgate-cemetery-west-side.
  8. “It is only fair to warn readers”: Farrant, “Highgate Cemetery West,” Hidden Highgate, October 23, 2013, https://hidden-highgate.org/highgate-cemetery-west.

Featured Image

“The creeping moss and brooding tombs in Highgate Cemetery breed good reason for the rumors of a vampire lurking around.” Photo from JEBradstreet, “Something About a Cemetery….,” Angels of Light Paranormal Society (blog), July 13, 2019, http://alpsyubasutter.blogspot.com/2019/07/something-about-cemetery.html.


We are still interested in hearing from people who experienced attacks from the Highgate Vampire, particularly Elizabeth Wojdyla and Jacqueline Cooper.

If you wish our correspondence to be off the record, we will accept those terms.

For further information, see Anthony Hogg, “If You Were Bitten by the Highgate Vampire, We Want to Hear from You,” Vamped, February 27, 2016, https://vamped.org/2016/02/27/if-you-were-bitten-by-the-highgate-vampire-we-want-to-hear-from-you.

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