Swains Lane, a steep track which bisects Highgate’s West and East Cemeteries, has become known as one of the most haunted locations in the UK. Since at least the early 1800s the lane and the area around it have been generated witness accounts of a variety of supernatural apparitions and other unexplained phenomena.
These reports increased dramatically during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when many people began describing sightings of a tall, darkly-clad man, sometimes dressed in period clothing and sometimes manifesting as an amorphous form of towering proportions, with hypnotic eyes.
Sightings of this entity (or entities) have continued to the present day, with experiencers describing being pushed to the ground by an unseen force, interference with electrical equipment such as cameras and mobile phones, and even hearing the entity speak to them directly.
Will we ever know just what this mysterious stranger wants or who – or what – he is? Join us as we examine the theories to date, and hear first hand accounts from witnesses of unexpected encounters with this so–far unidentified spectre.
In February 1970 a letter was published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, from a Highgate resident named David Farrant. That innocuous letter, which detailed David’s sighting of a tall dark figure hovering inside the North Gate of Highgate Cemetery, became the catalyst for an extraordinary series of events, which included tomb desecration, allegations of necromantic rituals, jail terms and claims that an actual vampire was stalking N6.
Then aged 24, David Farrant was no ordinary resident, but a founder member of a paranormal research group, now known as the British Psychic & Occult Society. Indeed, it was in this capacity that a Ham & High reporter suggested he write his reader’s letter, having been in contact with him previously over other supernatural reports. Today David is best known for his research into what many 1970s Highgate locals already accepted as a strange anomaly in their otherwise tranquil suburb. Non-fiction witness accounts of the Highgate entity invariably describe it as menacing in nature, of tall stature, and dressed in anachronistic or amorphous clothing. But none mention Hammer Horror-style assaults.
So how did a local ghost get turned into a blood-sucking vampire? It is hard today to imagine a local newspaper informing its readers that they have become the target of a predatory (and deceased) Wallachian nobleman, but that is exactly what happened when the Ham and High decided in the words of then editor Gerald Isaaman to “run the story for laughs”, after a resident of nearby Holloway visited his offices to relay this extraordinary claim. A few weeks after David’s letter the headline Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? was seen all over North London, and before long chaos descended upon Highgate Cemetery. Reckless vandals, inspired by stories they had read in newspapers (and seen on TV, as the story spread) began ripping open coffin lids and staking corpses, on one occasion even propping up a headless skeleton in a local architect’s car.
No vampire was ever found – but 45 years later the vampire association remains, and often overshadows or precludes progressive debate about the true nature of the tall dark figure which David Farrant saw so long ago, and which many people claim to have seen before and since that pivotal encounter.
Although The Highgate Vampire Symposium 2015 will address the vampire claims, and the bizarre behaviour of people who took them seriously, it also addresses the overlooked issue of just what people have been seeing in and around the cemetery, perhaps for centuries. The carefully selected panels of speakers will be debating this incredibly well documented and (verbally) evidenced phenomena from a variety of perspectives. By applying different theoretical paradigms, and considering the evidence of witnesses and environmental factors, they will attempt to progress understanding of just what really happens in Highgate – and why.
Paul Adams willingly accepted the unenviable role of compère of The Highgate Vampire Symposium, and for that we are very grateful. Why ‘unenviable’ you might ask? Well, as many of you may know, the Highgate ‘vampire’ is a bit of a hot potato in the Fortean sphere, which provokes heated debate wherever it heaves into view. Even within polite circles, such as the one we have managed to convene for this event, there are inevitable differences of opinion as to whether the entity exists as at all, as a component of the experiencer’s psyche, or as a playback from the past or a sentient (albeit incorporeal) being. And that’s without even mentioning vampires!
Paul experienced his own trial by fire whilst researching his book Written in Blood : A Cultural History of the British Vampire (History Press, 2014), which features a lengthy chapter on the Highgate ‘vampire’ saga, as well as many other notable cases and interesting asides about the enduring fascination which the British public holds with the undead.
With several decades of experience in researching multitudinous explanations for the paranormal, and in some cases finding none applicable, we are confident that Paul will help this intellectually stimulating day keep on track – and offer his own insights along the way. So please wish Paul good luck, as he endeavours to ensure that everyone’s opinion is heard, and considered.
Good luck Paul!
The Symposium will be taking place in the 130 seat capacity theatre ‘Upstairs at the Gatehouse’. Four of the five main sessions will be followed by questions and answers, wherein the audience are more than welcome to ask speakers to clarify points, and to raise queries or share ideas of their own.
Titles penned by several of our speakers will be available for purchase (signed if you wish!), with some special discounts.
There will be opportunities for socialising and soft networking in the bar downstairs during the lunch break and after the event, providing a rare chance to meet others with an interest in this and other Fortean cases.
And it gets better! Details of a friendly guided walk of Highgate’s most haunted locations will be available shortly. The walk will commence at approximately 8.30pm. Please note that the walk is not included in the ticket price but will be reasonably priced.
Please note that the Symposium is not affiliated with Highgate Cemetery, but attendees who also wish to visit the cemetery in the morning are advised to visit their website.
Photo of Upstairs at the Gatehouse (c) Ian Grundy
The Highgate Vampire Symposium 2015 is the brainchild of Della Farrant, author of Haunted Highgate (History Press 2014). Della’s book is the product of many years of painstaking research into accounts of paranormal phenomena in the Highgate area, and is the first book to be published in the 21st century which solely addresses this heated topic.
Frustrated with the lack of public debate about the nature of the Highgate Cemetery / Swains Lane entity (or entities), but inspired by private conversations with witnesses, local people, fellow historians and paranormal enthusiasts, Della decided that something must be done. So she did it!
Della is married to David Farrant, who himself witnessed the entity in 1969. She is an active member of the British Psychic & Occult Society, as well as a Highgate-based alternative local history group, and runs the website hidden-highgate.org.