Well finally the big day has come and gone – leaving, it seems, many energised and happy people in its wake!
The Highgate Vampire Symposium 2015 was a mammoth undertaking, involving 14 speakers, five crew members, one very dedicated compere, and a committee who worked around the clock to pull the event off. And, of, course the owners of Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Katie and John Plews, who allowed us the use of their wonderful (and haunted) theatre for the day.
The event had an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere, and the dominant vibe, as exemplified and indeed brought to life by the speakers and attendees, was one of respectful fascination with each other’s beliefs and / or experiences.
Feedback from those who were able to attend on the day (the theatre was packed out!) suggests that there was much to glean about which aspects of ‘haunted Highgate’ people would like to learn more about.
Despite the heat of what may well become known as an infamous Sunday in July 2015, spanning over 8 hours, many people conveyed that there was just not enough time available within which to debate what really intrigues them about the case of the Highgate ‘vampire’. Indeed, the overall consensus (as will be evident when video footage of the event is soon uploaded) was that the vampire theory was politely given due airing but was not considered to come remotely close to explaining the nature of the Swains Lane / Highgate Cemetery entity.
The ostension-based urges of fantasy inclined people to create “monsters” and hunt them down was given fair exposure by Dr. Jacqueline Simpson who was (quite rightly) treated very much as a venerated guest. But accurate as her assessments were in many regards, they did not allay the nagging doubts – and convictions – of many of our audience that something very real, albeit fangless, still lurks in N6.
Although it did not afford us any more answers than we guessed it might, the session devoted to Highgate and The Occult ironically helped break down many barriers. It was unprecedented to hear publicly in David Farrant’s hometown of Highgate from both the former and Charles Walker, regarding their experiences of being threatened by occult groups of a negative persuasion. Necromancer Fox the Rebel’s academic contextualisation of the markings in the Corey Wright vault, which some Highgate residents still attribute to David Farrant, was deeply refreshing. We did touch upon the possibility that the entity is or was a thought form, created as a kind of ‘psychic security guard’ by a group of black magicians using the cemetery at night, a concept which was revisited throughout the day. But we were also privy to the extraordinary experience of seeing David Farrant sit before a large screen upon which was projected various sequences depicting the kind of tomb desecration which he himself had been accused of in 1974. Not so extraordinary until one considers the contingent of people associated with Highgate Cemetery who were present in the audience – and who by their very presence were offered the opportunity to view him in a different light than they may have been encouraged to do so previously. Brave? Well, a clear conscience can work wonders when it comes to public appearances!
When Sam Perrin, former Highgate Cemetery tour guide, addressed the audience many old and useless boundaries broke down beyond all repair. Sam reminded us, naturally, that the cemetery is still a working burial ground, but helped address some of the rumours regarding Highgate Cemetery’s attitude to the supernatural which many audience members were aware and suspicious of. Earlier, Paul Adams had described Highgate Cemetery as a “gothic landscape with no rules”, and at the Symposium the Jean Pateman era rules were well and truly dismantled. With the explicit permission of witnesses Sam was finally able to share with us some truly chilling and thought-provoking encounters and experiences which have taken place within the cemetery walls over the years.
Sam also invited audience members to question the significance of environmental factors which may explain – or magnify – the peculiar sensations which many people claim to have experienced in Swains Lane and in the cemetery itself. A whole conference in the making!
The general feedback from the day was – less vampires, more of the ghost. And from some “cemetery people” that if there had been less vampire in the first place we would not need to be forging unofficial peace treaties in 2015. This open-minded attitude to the entity’s reality was enhanced towards the end of the day when we heard some very disturbing accounts relayed by witnesses in person. Although we were able to carry on until around 8.15pm, the final session alone could have lasted half a day, as we got more and more into just who or what the entity is – or was.
But the Symposium did not end there! I feel very honoured to have been able to facilitate so much networking among people who were interested and motivated enough to attend the Symposium. What kind of event for example brings together the octogenarian Secretary of the Folklore Society (forgive me Jacquie!) and a practising necromancer? Or “evil” David Farrant and tour guides from Highgate Cemetery? The party went on until long after midnight, and included people from as far away as Los Angeles, Wales, Sussex and Aberdeen. So many people have forged new friendships as a result of Sunday, as well as having the opportunity to meet heroes, heroines and cyber-friends who make rare public appearances or live on the other side of the world (or Watford!).
What a great atmosphere, everyone was so buzzing and happy! We were all feeling the love, man! Fortean community at its best – inclusive, friendly and respectful.
In some way the Highgate ‘vampire’ did us all a great service on Sunday, although the organic petition to change his name seems pretty much universally accepted.The Haunted Highgate Symposium it is …if we are doing it again? People are saying they want more. Maybe Highgate-based moots or thinktanks are the way to go, where time is not the enemy. This could be achieved!
But for now, I would like to thank everyone who helped make the day a success, in no particular order: Dave Milner for his excellent camerawork and Dee Monique his glamorous assistant; Drew Hartley not only for his camerawork but for his ingenuity with regard to the custom-made mics and mixers; sweet Ed from the Gatehouse who whispered some of its secrets to me as we skulked on the balcony; John and Katie Plews for their commitment to this event from day one; my dear friend Sam Perrin for going out on a limb for me; all the speakers for their professionalism and their engaging and inspiring attitudes (and in some cases long journeys from L.A via Wales or ‘simply’ from Wales); Jamie Farrant and Jo N-B for their 5* chauffeur service from Southampton via Worthing to convey Charles and Jacqueline safely to and from Highgate; Le Comte de Milano and his own glamorous assistant for keeping the ne’er do wells away from our lovely day; in a similar vein Kenny Frewin and “The Firm” for their support and encouragement …. And so it goes on!!!! 😉
Oh – and I nearly forgot – Paul Adams. The hero of the day. A compere extraordinaire who never let the side down. Well done Paul, who never got his own clap on the day, but deserves one MAJORLLY. (I didn’t really forget you, Paul!)
Anyone up for it again next year??!!!
In the meantime please do check out and add to the lovely positive comments we have been receiving, on our feedback page. And don’t forget to add any suggestions for future events. I sense there may well be a few coming up soon …
Della Farrant, 22/07/2015