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23 September, 2007

The Highgate Vampire

London, the UK's capital, is renowned for its colourful and varied history, not to mention its numerous tourist attractions. What is less well known, is that the city has also been the scene of numerous vampire scares.

Philip Burne-Jones The Vampire 1897 (Wikipedia Commons).

The spring of 1922 heralded the first vampire flap. Incredibly, several terrified witnesses claimed they saw a massive, black, bat-like entity with a two metre wingspan, flying around West Drayton Church. It was an April night, illuminated by a full moon. The entity plunged down into the churchyard, and meandered around the tombs. Two policemen arrived and gave chase. To their horror, the creature emitted a spine-chilling shriek, just before it flapped its wings, and zoomed skywards. An old man at the scene claimed to have seen the same entity a quarter of a century prior to this incident, back in the 1890's. He insisted it was the spirit of a vampire who had killed a woman in Harmondsworth, and then drunk her blood. His tale was understandably dismissed.

At approximately 6 am on 16 April, 1922, a clerk on his way to his office in the West End, felt some unseen entity grab him as he turned into Coventry Street. Worst still, something pierced his neck and drew blood. The clerk fainted and fell to the ground. He was taken to Charing Cross Hospital, where surgeons insisted he had been stabbed with a thin tubular object. But the patient was adamant no other person had been close enough to do such a thing.

Amazingly, a second victim arrived at Charing Cross, just two and a half hours later, with serious neck wounds. He had been attacked by an unseen assailant, in exactly the same way, at the same spot as the first victim. In the evening a third victim arrived. Police confirmed that this victim had also been subjected to an identical attack, at the very same spot, as the first two. Rumours were rife of a vampire on the loose in London.

When questioned by reporters, the police admitted they had made no advancement in their investigations. They also refused to comment on suggestions that the attacker was a vampire. The rumour mill went into overdrive, when it was declared that the police had hired a professional vampire hunter, who had subsequently captured and killed the Coventry Street vampire. A policeman claimed that the dead vampire had been laid to rest in one of Highgate Cemetery's deepest, darkest vaults, with a wooden stake through its heart. Despite the outlandish and implausible nature of this tale, by coincidence, London's next vampire scare focused on Highgate Cemetery itself.

Built in 1839, the Victorians regarded Highgate Cemetery as a highly fashionable burial place. Its numerous large and elaborate tombs and monuments are a testament to this. The cemetery was initially maintained to a very high standard, looking more like a public park than a graveyard. Sadly, by the 1960's, the cemetery had deteriorated into an overgrown, decaying and ominous place.

© James Michael Hill - Creative Commons.

© Barbara Rich - Creative Commons.

Rumours began that Highgate was haunted, not by an ordinary ghost, but by the spirit of a malevolent vampire. One night in 1963, two teenage girls walked along Swain's Lane, adjacent to the cemetery. Upon passing the north gate, they claimed to have been terrified by the sight of bodies or spirits rising from graves.

© James Michael Hill - Creative Commons.

© Barbara Rich - Creative Commons

Just weeks later, also in Swain's Lane, a couple spotted a hideous phantom, with a face of unspeakable evil. It hovered just beyond the cemetery railings. They were frozen to the spot in sheer horror, as it glared back at them. Several other witnesses reported the same entity hovering along the path and amongst the gravestones, before it disappeared into the darkness. Some of these witnesses contacted the local paper. Soon afterwards, animal carcasses, drained of blood, began to appear in the cemetery itself.

© Barbara Rich - Creative Commons.

As rumours of spectres abounded, the decaying and abandoned Highgate cemetery became a magnet for vandals and occultists. Late in 1969, a group of occultists descended on the cemetery, and broke into a tomb. They performed a Voodoo ceremony, in the hope of raising the spirit of the corpse within. Local legend insists that the occultists got much more than they had hoped for, when an eight foot tall, black-clad entity emerged from the catacombs and chased them. The unlucky sorcerers escaped by scaling the railings, with one of them insisting he saw a long, bony arm reaching out from the railings, as he glanced back along Swain's Lane.

In January 1970, a motorist drove along Swain's Lane, close to the cemetery gate. His car engine started to sputter, so he stopped, got out, and lifted the hood up. To his horror, he noticed he was being spied on through the cemetery gates, by an unnaturally tall, spectral figure. The motorist was so terrified, he ran off and abandoned his car, leaving it with the hood still up.

The railings of Highgate Cemetery, as seen from Swain's Lane.
© BBodien - Creative Commons

In 1971 a young girl claimed the vampire attacked her in the lane alongside the cemetery, in the early hours of the morning. She said she was hurled to the ground by a "tall black figure with a deathly white face". Luckily for her, a passing motorist stopped to help her, and the vampire simply vanished into thin air when the car's headlights hit it. The good Samaritan took her to the police station, where officers noted her genuinely shocked state of mind, as well as some abrasions on her arms and legs. The police combed the area but found nothing. They were, however, somewhat puzzled by the fact that both witnesses had reported the assailant's sudden disappearance. The spot where the entity vanished, was lined on both sides, by four metre high walls.

In another account of the vampire's appearance, a man claimed to he was hypnotized by the entity in the cemetery. He had ventured in there one evening out of curiosity. Dusk descended quickly, so the man decided it was time to leave, but unfortunately got lost in the unfamiliar environment. He was in no way unnerved or superstitious, and simply set about seeking an exit. When he turned around, he found himself suddenly confronted by a horrendous sight - a tall, dark, spectral figure. He later described himself as having been "hypnotised with fear" and rooted to the spot for several minutes after the spectre's disappearance, in a strange state of paralysis.

© Jaywaykay - Creative Commons.

© Jaywaykay - Creative Commons

Swain's Lane continued to be the scene of some very strange events. A dog walker returned to his car, parked in the lane, in 1974. To his horror and disgust, he discovered a newly disinterred corpse inside his car, even though the doors were locked, just as he had left them. This incident may well have been the work of Satanists, though, as many of them used the cemetery for their rituals at that particular time.

However, it seems the spectre of the Highgate Vampire has not yet been laid to rest. Even in recent years and months, people have reported a strange entity in and around the cemetery. The most recent reports tell once again of a 'tall black figure' lurking in Swain's Lane, just outside the cemetery. Earlier in 2007, a female motorist spotted a dark spectral figure about 7 feet tall, in the lane. She described it as having luminous eyes, and that it suddenly vanished through the cemetery wall.

Days later, and less than a mile away, a dog walker reported an encounter with the alleged vampire near an old Roman Settlement in Highgate Woods. He said the entity suddenly vanished into the ether, and he saw no further sign of it.

So what lies behind the tale of the Highgate Vampire? Is it an elaborate hoax? Are there pranksters at work? Could it be mass hysteria? Or is there really a supernatural entity of some sorts on the prowl? Whatever the answer, it's certainly an interesting story.

Please note: comments have been disabled for this post.


Anonymous,  23 September 2007 at 16:09  

Great new site - will add it to my blogs - nice design too

Siani 23 September 2007 at 17:11  

Thanks, Chris - I appreciate that. I'm afraid I can't take any credit for the design - it's a ready made template I found at I think it's very appropriate for the site, though.

Gledwood 24 September 2007 at 20:26  

Oooo what atmospheric photos!
I've been to Highgate Cemetary but they wanted money and for some reason we were being stingy or didn't have it and so never saw Karl Marx's grave or that necropolis you pictured...

This is a wonderful blog though I will give you a shout tonight on mine!

Siani 28 September 2007 at 02:48  

Thanks, Gledwood. I appreciate your support, especially as this blog only came into being on September 23rd.

Anonymous,  1 October 2007 at 20:21  

...And last but not least, Siani presents The Highgate Vampire posted at Strange Days. This post focuses on spectral vampire tales, which have been circulating around London and its Highgate Cemetery area for several decades. Siani also includes some amazing Gothic photographs depicting locations in and around the cemetery. The tales and images in this post really have an autumn and Halloween feel to them!

Season of Shadows October '07 Paranormal Blog Carnival

Siani 3 October 2007 at 03:57  

Thanks for including my article in the carnival!

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