In the lead up to the big day, we will be publishing interviews with some of our fantastic speakers, to find out what interests them about Highgate’s haunted reputation, and a little more about their work in the paranormal and folkloric fields.
This week our organiser Della Farrant caught up with our compère, writer and researcher Paul Adams, who is the author of many bestselling books about the history of apparently supernatural incursions in the British Isles.
HI PAUL, THANKS FOR BEING OUR FIRST INTERVIEWEE. CAN YOU REMEMBER HOW YOU FIRST HEARD ABOUT THE CASE OF THE HIGHGATE ‘VAMPIRE’ ? AND WHY ARE YOU STILL INTERESTED IN IT TODAY?
It was 1977 and I was aged 11. Dan Farson had recently published The Beaver Book of Horror and I bought a copy through the school book club. I have it here now. There was a photograph of the West Cemetery plus a short account of a mass vampire hunt and similar happenings which had taken place there a few years before. As well as Highgate, Farson’s book was my first introduction to a number of enduring cases including Borley Rectory, Jack the Ripper, and Sawney Bean! Like Borley, Highgate seems to have a life and power all of its own. I think it continues to fascinate because it brings an element of the fantastical and, like the writings of someone like H.P. Lovecraft, transposes it into the real world where over the years it has been allowed to create its own self-perpetuating mythos.
YOU ARE A BIT OF A HORROR FILM AFFICIONADO. OF ALL THE MOVIES WHICH USE HIGHGATE CEMETERY AS A FILMING LOCATION, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE AND WHY?
I think I will say Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell which was made by Hammer in 1972. The opening scene involving a grave robber played by Patrick Troughton was filmed in the West Cemetery. Around the time that I became fascinated with horror films (through Alan Frank’s The Movie Treasury: Horror Movies) which would be early 1974, I saw a poster for Monster From Hell at Chessington North railway station. I didn’t get to see the actual film until many years later, but when I watch it now it reminds me of those times.
WHILST RESEARCHING YOUR BEST-SELLING BOOK ‘WRITTEN IN BLOOD : A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE BRITISH VAMPIRE’, DID YOU COME ACROSS ANY INCIDENTS WHICH HAVE PARALLELS WITH THE HIGHGATE CASE? AND IN WHAT WAY?
Yes, the mass hysteria angle of the Highgate Vampire was present in Scotland several years before which gave rise to what is known as the Gorbals Vampire. In 1954, police officers called to Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis situated in Caledonia Road close to the south bank of the River Clyde had been startled to find several hundred school children and infants, some as young as four, combing the graves and mausoleums armed with an assortment of sticks, sharpened staves of wood and penknives, all summoned by a city-wide playground rumor mill rife throughout the day. The children were convinced a seven foot-tall apparition with iron fangs with its lair in the cemetery had murdered two local infants. At the time the authorities blamed the influx of lurid American comics such as The Vault of Horror and Tales From the Crypt but it seems likely that the real culprit was an old Victorian poem, “Jenny wi’ the Airn Teeth”, which was well known in Glasgow schools at the time. What actually acted as the catalyst for all the excitement remains unclear.
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU WERE GIFTED THE BORLEY BELL BY THE LATE PETER UNDERWOOD? AND IF SO, HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANYTHING SPOOKY SINCE IT CAME INTO YOUR POSSESSION?
Yes, Peter Underwood gave me the old courtyard bell from Borley Rectory in 2012. It was previously owned by ghost hunter, Harry Price. It is in good condition and is currently having a makeover. It was claimed by at least one member of the Bull family to have rung by itself while at Borley but nothing spooky has taken place since I’ve had it, I’m afraid.
I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU WERE ALSO BEQUEATHED BY PETER UNDERWOOD HIS ENORMOUS COLLECTION OF LETTERS, PHOTOGRAPHS, NEWSPAPER CUTTINGS AND NOTES MADE DURING HIS MANY INVESTIGATIONS INTO ALLEGED SUPERNATURAL PHENOMENA. CAN WE EXPECT ANY REVELATIONS? AND WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE COLLECTION?
Peter Underwood left instructions that I was to be given his surviving papers and material relating to his long career in organised psychical research. At the moment I am in the early stages of cataloguing the collection so at the moment I can’t say much about it.
YOUR BOOK ‘EXTREME HAUNTINGS : BRITAIN’S MOST TERRIFYING GHOSTS’, WHICH WAS CO-AUTHORED WITH EDDIE BRAZIL, DETAILS SOME INCREDIBLY INTENSE PARANORMAL CASES. WHICH ONE DO YOU PERSONALLY FIND THE MOST FRIGHTENING, AND WHY?
I think it would have to be the haunting of Willington Mill which took place on Tyneside in the first half of the nineteenth century. The old mill house (now demolished) was the scene of many strange and disturbing paranormal happenings including the appearance of bizarre animal-like apparitions and the figure of an eyeless woman.
YOU RECENTLY DECIDED TO RESURRECT YOUR OWN PUBLISHING HOUSE, THE LIMBURY PRESS. WHAT KIND OF TITLES CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE IN THE FUTURE, AND BY WHOM?
The Limbury Press is an ongoing project to issue interesting and specialist paranormal titles when time and finances allow. Last year we published Contagion, a sequel to the case of the South Shields Poltergeist investigated and written by Darren Ritson and Michael Hallowell. Later this year will see the publication of Ed Brazil’s The Ghosts of Camberwell and Peckham, a personal exploration of some of South London’s most interesting hauntings including an account of a haunted house where Ed lived as a child. I have been working for some time on a study of British materialisation mediumship which may also be a Limbury title sometime next year.
LASTLY, DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL OPINIONS OR CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE HIGHGATE ENTITY?
I feel the case of the Highgate Vampire is a mixture of fact and fantasy. A number of people have claimed to have experienced unusual happenings in and around Swains Lane and the old West Cemetery and have been sincere in reporting what happened to them. Despite being interested in the paranormal for nearly forty years I still have no set opinions on the true nature of ghosts and similar phenomena, although I feel that this type of phenomena is the result of several factors which come together at a single point in time. Like any enduring case, I think that of the Highgate ‘Vampire’ survives because it allows people to bring to it what they want to believe.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SOME OF PAUL’S FASCINATING WRITINGS UPON THE PARANORMAL CAN BE FOUND AT HIS WEBSITE. WE LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING MORE OF PAUL’S VIEWS AT THE SYMPOSIUM.