Satanism, sex rituals, a vampire, a bizarre feud and the bodies of some of the most famous people on the planet – this story has it all. The Highgate Vampire is a relatively recent legend in vampire lore, and though it may exist it’s more likely to be the figment of two very vivid imaginations.
Now a new TV show, The Curse Of The Highgate Vampire, tells the tale and asks you to make up your own mind.
It all started with a letter in local paper The Hampstead & Highgate Express in February 1970 about Highgate Cemetery in north London, the gorgeously gothic final resting place of the likes of Karl Marx, artist Henry Moore and George Michael.
The letter was from a man called David Farrant who owned a local tobacconist, and he’d written to say he’d seen something strange there.
Three YouTube paranormal investigators are set to explore the legends of Highgate Cemetery in north London. Pictured: David Farrant who claimed to see something strange at the cemetery in 1970
‘On three occasions I have seen what appears to be a ghost-like figure inside the gates of Highgate Cemetery,’ he wrote, surely not realising that this letter would completely turn his life upside down.
As the show reveals, the person most cursed by this tale was Farrant himself.
The following week in the same paper there were letters from several other people who also claimed to have seen ghostly goings-on at the cemetery, and Farrant became obsessed with finding out more.
He was convinced satanic rituals had been taking place in the cemetery and that people who practised dark magic had somehow conjured up an evil entity that was now stuck in our realm. The more he investigated it, the more it consumed him.
His son Jamie was a toddler at the time, while his wife was pregnant with their second child. ‘My mum said that’s when the weirdness started,’ Jamie recalls in the show.
‘Dad saw something that frightened the hell out of him and it took over his life.’ Jamie’s mother left the family home with her son, and Jamie didn’t see his father for another 40 years.
Meanwhile, Farrant was attracting growing attention with his stories of strange things going on in Highgate – beheaded foxes, apparitions, black magic.
Sean Manchester (pictured), who claimed to be president of the British Occult Society, said he spoke to people visited by a vampire
Then a man called Sean Manchester, who claimed to be president of the British Occult Society, announced that he had talked to two local witnesses who had been awoken by a strange man in their bedrooms, a man with ‘the expression of an animal’, he said.
And he claimed a third woman had woken up with two red marks on her neck. This wasn’t just any ghoul, he announced, but a vampire. And not just any vampire either, but a ‘king’ vampire like Dracula.
His revelations spread, but Farrant never believed there was a vampire, he was convinced it was some other terrifying entity instead.
An iron stake had been plunged into the coffin
Things came to a head at midnight on Friday 13 (of course) March 1970, when ITV announced it would be at the cemetery at the ‘witching hour’ to interview both Farrant and Manchester, who with growing animosity between them had both pledged to get to the truth.
As crowds of vampire hunters started to gather, 40 police officers were drafted in to keep order. They failed as desperate crowds climbed over the railings armed with crucifixes, stakes, knives and beer bottles.
Strange occurrences at the cemetery inspired the Hammer horror film Dracula AD1972, which starred Christopher Lee as the vampire preying on young Londoners (file image)
There were screams in the darkness as vampire hunters tripped over each other. The cemetery was desecrated, several graves where uncovered, and one was even found with an iron stake plunged into the coffin.
No ghoul was found, but police started patrolling the cemetery to ensure that neither Farrant nor Manchester were lurking around. Strange things kept happening though, graves were being dislodged and there was evidence of satanism.
In August 1970 the charred and headless body of a woman, which had been removed from a grave, was found on the road outside the cemetery. Later that month Farrant was arrested in a nearby churchyard carrying a crucifix and a stake.
Determined to solve the mystery, David Farrant started taking part in black magic rituals in cemeteries and crypts.
David Farrant started taking part in black magic rituals in the hopes of learning more about the strange happenings
In recent unearthed footage revealed in the new show, he admits, ‘I was experimenting with forbidden rituals, some of which involved sex. I felt that was a key to reaching other levels of consciousness.
‘It’s said that anyone who attempts this can become possessed or rendered insane. I don’t regret this, no one was ever hurt, but it did give me a bad reputation.’
The story inspired the Hammer horror film Dracula AD1972, which starred Christopher Lee as the vampire preying on young Londoners. Meanwhile Farrant and Manchester’s war of words escalated.
Manchester published a book called The Highgate Vampire, and Farrant followed it with one called Beyond The Highgate Vampire. At one point in 1973 they were meant to have a series of duels involving ‘swords and sorcery’ and rumours swirled that the two were planning to sacrifice a cat in the presence of naked virgins.
When a local man’s pet cat failed to return home that day, Farrant became an immediate suspect.
The duels never happened, and in 1974 Farrant was again arrested near the cemetery and convicted of damaging memorials and interfering with the remains of the dead. He spent three years in prison.
Meanwhile Manchester claimed to have tracked the vampire down to a house nearby, where he had plunged a stake into its body and set it on fire. The feud only ended when Farrant died in 2019.
So what’s the truth? The new show sent three YouTube paranormal investigators into the cemetery this summer where they encountered – amid lots of screams – ghostly happenings including, they claim, an entity that said its name was David.
There’s intriguing footage of what looks like a ghost. Although these investigations have been barred at the cemetery since the 70s, don’t be surprised if this show resurrects them.
The Curse Of The Highgate Vampire is available to stream from Friday 29 October on Discovery+.