Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Vampire Hunt at Highgate Cemetery

It began like most days when the cold winter won't go away. The bitterness of former weeks not only intensified as the unseasonal snow refused to melt away, but somehow seemed to be growing worse.

Today is the forty-eighth anniversary of a Friday the 13th that would go down in the annals of history as the largest vampire hunt of the twentieth century. How did it arise? What led up to it happening?

Gerald Isaaman, editor of the Hampstead & Highgate Express in those far off distant days, recently recounted his meeting with Seán Manchester in February 1970: "Manchester arrived at the office wearing a black cloak lined with scarlet silk and carrying a cane." Isaaman forgot to mention the top hat and tails that were included with the opera cloak and cane. There was also an accompanying young lady, also not mentioned, who was equally formally-attired. It was late in the afternoon and Seán Manchester had no idea how long the interview that had been requested of him would take. 

He and his lady friend were dressed ready to go on to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from the Hampstead offices of the Hampstead & Highgate Express. He frequently attended the opera in those days and continued to do so whilst in London, always preferring the correct dress code. 

The elderly and now ex-editor reminisced in Jauary 2009:

"The story of the Highgate Vampire [in a recently published book about London's folklore] is attributed to 1970 reports in the Ham & High, where I was then the editor. It recalled the fantastic events of a few months that year and the following one, which culminated in a TV programme inviting people to decide for themselves what was going on. That resulted in three hundred people, allegedly armed with home-made stakes and Christian crosses, storming the cemetery that night to kill the demon vampire lurking among the decaying tombs."

In fact, there was considerably more than three hundred people on the hunt that night for Highgate's vampire. They were there because of a broadcast earlier that evening which brought the case to a much wider audience. There was no announcement by the team officially investigating the mysterious happenings at the cemetery that they would be embarking upon a vampire hunt that night even though that was the case. The official hunt had been planned in private for some time.

The night of Friday 13 March 1970 witnessed in England the largest vampire hunt of the twentieth century by members of the public. It bordered on hysteria and led to local police having their leave cancelled to contain it. Just how many were involved would be difficult to estimate, but certainly hundreds. In the preceding weeks, the Hampstead & Highgate Express (a local newspaper) told of unearthly goings-on at Highgate Cemetery. Its February 27th issue ran the headline "Does A Wampyr Walk in Highgate?" The front-page headline of the following fateful week's edition told of the matter being discussed on television that very evening by Seán Manchester who recounts the event in his bestselling book The Highgate Vampire.

"... attempts to shoot the interview by the north gate were abandoned and the actual filming took place outside the main gate further down Swains Lane. Some independent witnessed, including several children who had seen a ghostly manifestation, were also interviewed for the programme. One person said: ' Yes, I did feel it was evil because the last time I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time.' Another witness commented: 'It seemed to float along the ground.' One of those interviewed who claimed to have seen the vampire was a certain David Farrant, a pathetic figure whose infatuation with the Highgate haunting was to earn him an undeserved notoriety and send him on a helter-skelter into the abyss of the dark occult. The programme was transmitted at 6.00pm on Friday 13 March 1970: the eve of the proposed vampire hunt. Eamonn Andrews introduced the viewing audience to a report on the Highgate Vampire. Within two hours Highgate was the scene of utter pandemonium as crowds of onlookers flocked to Swains Lane. The number multiplied as the evening progressed. Police on foot and in cars were unable to control the swarming mass of those who had arrived to witness the discovery of a modern-day vampire infestation in their midst. And its eradication! While chaos and frenzy continued to erupt in Swains Lane, a group of hand-picked researchers led by myself, constituting the official vampire hunt, made their way to the catacombs in the inky darkness of the cemetery." ― Seán Manchester (The Highgate Vampire, pages 76-77). 

Seán Manchester appeared on the Today programme (Thames Television) at 6.00pm on Friday 13 March 1970:

The night of 13 March 1970 witnessed scenes of utter pandemonium as people gathered in large numbers along the steep lane running alongside London’s Highgate Cemetery. At 6.00pm a television programme had confirmed that a vampire contagion was evident in the graveyard, and that a vampire hunt was imminent. The crowds multiplied in hopeful anticipation of locating the resting-place of the undead entity. Police were present to control those arriving, but it was an almost impossible task. By 10.00pm an assortment of independent amateur vampire hunters had joined the onlookers. Principal among the freelance brigade was a schoolteacher, fortuitously named Alan Blood, whom Matthew Bunson, as recorded in his The Vampire Encyclopedia (1993), deemed to be an important player in the unravelling case. Bunson, an American who had no contact with Blood, or indeed anyone else contemporaneous to the events at Highgate in the 1970s, relied on yet another American, Jeanne Keyes Youngson of the New York Count Dracula Fan Club aka Vampire Empire who, in turn, depended on second-hand reports amounting to personal speculation from people who were not present and played no part in the investigation.

Youngson’s influence on Bunson initiated the error in his and thereby subsequent accounts. The primary source, however, is the London Evening News, 14 March 1970, front page report “Mr Blood Hunts Cemetery Vampire.” The brief quotes attributed to Blood in this sensationalist report are notably rebutted by Blood himself in a longer interview given to the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 20 March 1970. This latter interview, reproduced in Seán Manchester’s account about the case, has been totally ignored by commentators such as Bunson who seem to have scant regard for the facts in public archives.

An authentic account of Alan Blood’s part, such as it was, in the affair is given in Seán Manchester’s The Highgate Vampire (pages 77-79) from which the following is revealed: “By 10.00pm [on the night of 13 March 1970] the hundreds of onlookers were to include several freelance vampire hunters, including a history teacher, Alan Blood, who had journeyed from Billericay to seek out the undead being.” Blood had seen a report on television some hours earlier that evening and immediately set off for Highgate. On his arrival in Highgate Village, he entered the Prince of Wales pub on the High Street, where he remained until joining the crowd outside the north gate. However, Seán Manchester, featured earlier on the Today programme as the principal investigator, was nowhere to be seen because he was already inside the cemetery with his research team.

Alan Blood in Swains Lane on 13 March 1970. 

Blood eventually left the pub and joined a steadily growing crowd of several hundred people in Swains Lane. It was while in Swains Lane that Blood, wearing a Russian-style hat with his beard, was noticed by an Evening News photographer and a reporter. They spoke to Blood, and also to a 27-year-old Hampstead resident, Anthony Robinson, who had ventured to the cemetery gate “after hearing of the torchlight hunt.” Robinson is alleged to have told the reporter: “I walked past the place and heard a high-pitched noise, then I saw something grey moving slowly across the road. It terrified me. First time I couldn’t make it out, it looked eerie. I’ve never believed in anything like this, but now I’m sure there is something evil lurking in Highgate.” Yet it was Blood, who saw and did nothing, whose photograph was to appear on the front page of next day’s Evening News. He is described at the head of the report as “a vampire expert named Mr Blood who journeyed forty miles to investigate the legend of an ‘undead Satan-like being’ said to lurk in the area.” Alan Blood had not claimed to be a “vampire expert,” and would readily confirm in a more soberly conducted interview with the Hampstead & Highgate Express, that he was “by no means an expert on vampires.”

None of which would stop American author Matthew Bunson publishing some twenty-three years later: “The focus of the media attention turned to … Allan [sic] Blood, vampire expert who led the search. [He was] convinced that a vampire was sleeping in one of the vaults and were determined to find it and kill it. … As is typical of such incidents, stories based on rumour and on unconfirmed sightings soon spread, and the tabloids and newspapers ran exploitative reports. No vampire was ever publicly discovered.” (The Vampire Encyclopedia, page 121).

Apart from his reference to press exploitation, not a single statement in Bunson’s entry for the Highgate Vampire case is accurate. The focus of the media did not turn to Alan Blood. After 13 March 1970, he completely disappeared off the scene. Blood never stated that he was “determined to find and kill” the vampire. Seán Manchester would add in The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook (pages 66-67): “Interestingly, Jeanne Youngson’s name crops up in Bunson’s acknowledgements as having assisted with this book [The Vampire Encyclopedia]. Why does that come as no surprise? Peter Hough follows in Bunson’s errant footsteps in Supernatural Britain (1995) and repeats the misinformation … whilst ignoring the actual investigation. When contacted through their respective publishers, neither deigned to reply. Their publishers also refused to answer any correspondence on the matter.” This refusal to address significant error placed on record is a matter of concern.

Bunson and Hough are followed by the journalist Tom Slemen whose latter-day paperback Strange But True (1998) claimed that “Alan Blood organized a mass vampire hunt that would take place on Friday 13 March, 1970. Mr Blood was interviewed on television. … The schoolteacher’s plan was to wait until dawn, when the first rays of the rising sun would force the vampire to return to his subterranean den in the catacombs, then he would kill the Satanic creature in the time-honoured tradition; by driving a wooden stake through its heart. … In an orgy of desecration [the crowd] had exhumed the remains of a woman from a tomb, stolen lead from coffins, and defaced sepulchres with mindless graffiti.”

None of which is true. Blood did not “organize a mass vampire hunt.” Indeed, Blood organised nothing. He was an interested onlooker. It was not the “schoolteacher’s plan to wait until dawn.” There was no “orgy of desecration” etc. No damage whatsoever occurred on the night of 13 March 1970. What Slemen is probably alluding to is an entirely different incident that took place five months later, as recorded on the front page of the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 7 August 1970, where the discovery of the headless body of a female and signs of a satanic ceremony were made by two fifteen-year-old schoolgirls as they walked through the graveyard on a sunny August afternoon. Police viewed it to be the work of Satanists and investigated it as such. Some weeks later a man was arrested prowling around the graveyard at night.

These misleading accounts by Bunson, Hough and Slemen contaminated some others that have found their way onto the internet. Sadly, some sites are simply too lazy to do anything more than copy extant error from elsewhere with scant regard for accuracy. Others have an entirely different agenda, which is to distort what really happened. Bunson’s claim that no vampire was found is patently untrue, as originally recorded in Peter Underwood’s The Vampire’s Bedside Companion (Frewin Books, 1975) and The Highgate Vampire (British Occult Society, 1985; Gothic Press, 1991).

Author and exorcist, Seán Manchester, president of the Vampire Research Society.

The tomb of the Highgate Vampire was located by the Vampire Research Society in 1970, as revealed by Seán Manchester in the 24 Hours programme, a  BBC television film documentary, transmitted on 15 October 1970, and later confirmed in Peter Underwood's anthology The Vampire's Bedside Companion (1975) and Exorcism! (1990), plus J Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead (1994), and Seán Manchester's The Highgate Vampire (1975, 1976, 1985, 1991). Three years and three months after the BBC 24 Hours television documentary, the Highgate Vampire itself was properly exorcised by Seán Manchester with an assistant named Arthur. Several 35mm photographs, some of which are reproduced in The Highgate Vampire book, were taken of the vampire in its final moments of dissolution. These pictures were later transmitted and discussed on various television programmes in the UK.

These are the known and recorded facts about the then 25-year-old schoolteacher Alan Blood who, on 13 March 1970 travelled from Billericay to Highgate in London, having seen a report on television earlier that evening, to satisfy his curiosity. He was not a vampirologist, nor did he ever claim to be. He was one of hundreds who had turned up to see what was happening. After talking to the press he was not heard of again in this or any related context. Yet his name, perhaps understandably given the subject matter and the overwhelming interest it generated, entered a legend all of its own.

The full story of the case can be read in Seán Manchester’s bestselling book, a reliable account by a first-hand witness, participant and investigative researcher with expertise in both vampirology and exorcism. For ordering information, click on the book’s cover:

Tuesday, 6 March 2018


The period between March and October 1970 marked when David Farrant abandoned his "ghost" to board what was perceived to be a bandwagon that had captured the public's attention. By mid-March it had become a world phenomenon. But on March 6th the Hampstead & Highgate Express featured on its front page, beneath the headline "Why do the foxes die?" a meeting between Seán Manchester and David Farrant where the latter's alleged sightings of a tall dark figure gliding along a cemetery path, the discovery of exsanguinated foxes, and intention to pursue the predator fuelled the situation.

Farrant stated in the newspaper that, based on what he had learnt, he now believed it all "points to the vampire theory being the most likely answer." Whether he did or not, he told both newspaper and Seán Manchester that he was "prepared to pursue it, taking whatever means might be necessary." He was already acquainted with what those means were, having read the same newspaper's front page on February 27th where Seán Manchester explained the traditional methodology by which vampires are dispatched. However, he was quick to point out in the same article that it would be illegal in these circumstances to do so. Hence Seán Manchester felt obliged to warn against Farrant's plan, which he did in the following week's newspaper, and on an ITV television programme on 13 March 1970. This did not deter David Farrant, however, who five months later entered Highgate Cemetery armed with a wooden stake and crucifix, and wearing a Catholic rosary.

Farrant was arrested by police during his nocturnal graveyard antics, and held on remand at Brixton Prison. Whilst there he wrote to Seán Manchester, asking for him and the British Occult Society to speak on his behalf at the court hearing. Yet Seán Manchester months earlier had warned against Farrant's behaviour, which he could not possibly countenance. He nonetheless visited Farrant in prison to explain why he was not willing to grant him what he wanted by endorsing what had occurred on the night of August 17th. Farrant became belligerent from this point, falsely making claims that he was a member of the British Occult Society. During which time he lost interest in pursuing vampires and concentrated on adopting a career in what ostensibly appeared to be the dark occult and theatrical Satanism. No longer would he be seen with the trappings of Catholic accoutrements. Now he wore pentagrams, burned black candles and claimed to sacrifice animals in sinister ceremonies.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Shadows of the Night

In his book The Highgate Vampire, Seán Manchester states that the vampiric source of the Highgate infestation first showed up shortly after the infamous vampire plague of the early 1700's, the same era as Arnold Paole and Peter Plogojowitz. He further states that an Eastern European nobleman occupied Ashurst House in the early 18th century. This all seems to make sense, and it suggests that Tamás Orszag of Hungary is the most likely candidate for the identity of the Highgate Vampire.

A composite of the Highgate Vampire's appearance can be gleaned from various statements in the Vampire Research Society's archive and, of course, on public record in Seán Manchester's The Highgate Vampire.*

Accounts provided by witnesses in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 13 February 1970 & 20 February 1970, describe "a most unusual form [that] just seemed to glide across the path ... a pale figure ...""Many tales are told about a tall man who walks across Swains Lane and just disappears through a wall into the cemetery ..."" ... a 'form' moving behind some gravestones ... the thing made no sound and seemed to disappear into nowhere ..." *

Jacqueline Beckwith, a teenager living in North Hill, awoke one night with something icy cold clutching her hand which soon went numb. The next morning revealed "deep tears in the flesh where she had forced [her hand] free." *

A ghost hunter by the name of Thomas told of "a dark shape [which] moved across the path directly in front of us." On an earlier occasion he had started to walk home with his fiancee down the lane running alongside and eventually between Highgate Cemetery. "Something was standing behind the iron railings of the gate ... upon its face was an expression of basilisk horror." *

Once again, "the thing behind the gate appeared to dissolve into the shadows of the night." 

* (The Highgate Vampire, pages 49, 54, 65, 66, 67, 68, 85, 86 & 142, Gothic Press edition)

A Wampyr in Highgate

The banner headline "Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?" appeared across the front page of Hampstead and Highgate's most prestigious newspaper in February 1970. The editor himself had written the piece after meeting privately with the president of the British Occult Society and founder of the then fledgling Vampire Research Society. He allowed himself to get slightly carried away by introducing the journalistic embellishment "King Vampire of the Undead" - a term that Seán Manchester did not employ, as stated by him on page 72 of The Vampire Hunter's Handbook, but what else did the editor get wrong that day? Apparently more than you might imagine!

After warning that a vampire might be active in Highgate Cemetery, the article goes on to correctly describe Seán Manchester as a photographer (he had run his own photographic studio throughout the previous decade) and the president of the British Occult Society (a position he held from 21 June 1967 to 8 August 1988 when the BOS was dissolved). He is then quoted accurately enough before reference is made to a King Vampire of the Undead which is not attributed to him in actual quotes but attributed nonetheless.

A very important residence in Highgate somehow manages to transform into a different house in London's West End. For house "in the West End" one should actually substitute Ashurst House, which once stood at the western end of the site now occupied by Highgate Cemetery, as would have been explained by Seán Manchester who told the editor at the time that Ashurst House was sold and leased to a succession of tenants of whom one was a mysterious gentleman from the Continent who arrived in the wake of the vampire epidemic that had its origins in south-east Europe. This is not quite the same as what was reported and, of course, does not have anything like the same sensationalist impact as "King Vampire from Wallachia" which Draculesque adornment the newspaper clearly preferred.

There then follows reference to a group of Satanists attempting to "resurrect the King Vampire." This time the reference to a King Vampire is included in quotes even though the term was not uttered.

Next we are misinformed that the British Occult Society had "no formal membership" but instead corresponded with "50 to 100 interested people." Completely untrue. The BOS had a formal membership of over three hundred people with at least one hundred actively involved in ongoing research and investigation.

Then we learn that the British Occult Society "believes in countering magic by magic" when all that was said is that the supernatural will not submit to scientific methods to measure and prove its existence.

The newspaper correctly states that some BOS members had "spent nights in Highgate Cemetery" which was obviously for the purpose of observing the strange nocturnal goings-on in the place as had been reported by people in the previous decade and was still being reported up to the time of the article.

Readers are then offered in quotes "the traditional and approved manner" by which folk must rid themselves of this hideous pestilence without it being properly clarified that this is how clergy dealt with the problem in centuries past and was not on the agenda as far as the British Occult Society/Vampire Research Society was concerned with regard to Highgate Cemetery.

That Montague Summers' books bore some influence on Seán Manchester's understanding of vampirism is mentioned in tandem with the suggestion that Bram Stoker's novel is based on fact. That Stoker was influenced by genuine cases and read about real vampires before writing Dracula is not in doubt, but the clumsy journalism of the Hampstead and Highgate Express clouds what is trying to be conveyed by the man they are interviewing in the pursuit (presumably) of economising on words for the sake of space.

Finally, we come to a quote attributed to "one of Britain's busiest exorcists, the Rev John Neil-Smith" (they couldn't even get his name right - it was actually Christopher Neil-Smith) by attributing to him the following: "I believe the whole idea of vampires is probably a novelistic embellishment." He said nothing of the sort.

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith (1920-1995) was an Anglican priest, originally from Hampstead, most celebrated for his practice of exorcism and his paranormal interests.[1] Like Seán Manchester, whom he knew, Reverend Neil-Smith believed that evil is an external reality and should be treated as such rather than as an abstract concept.

A vicar at St Saviour's Anglican Church at Eton Road in Hampstead, London, he performed more than three thousand exorcisms in Britain since 1949. In 1972, the Bishop of London authorised him to exorcise demons according to his own judgement.[2] Two years earlier, he was misquoted in the Hampstead and Highgate Express, 27 February 1970, saying that vampires are "probably a novelistic embellishment," but, as Seán Manchester subsequently pointed out, Reverend Neil-Smith claimed to have actually exorcised vampires, as confirmed in a book written by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall which records:

"Yet not far from Highgate Cemetery lives a man who takes reports of vampirism seriously. The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith is a leading British exorcist and writer on exorcism. He can cite several examples of people who have come to him for help in connection with vampirism. 'The one that particularly strikes me is that of a woman who showed me the marks on her wrists which appeared at night, where blood had definitely been taken. And there was no apparent reason why this should have occurred. They were marks like those of an animal. Something like scratching.' He denies this might have been done by the woman herself. She came to him when she felt her blood was being sucked away, and after he performed an exorcism the marks disappeared. Another person who came from South America 'had a similar phenomenon, as if an animal had sucked away his blood and attacked him at night.' Again, the Reverend Neil-Smith could find no obvious explanation. There is a third case of a man who, after his brother died, had the strange feeling that his lifeblood was being slowly sucked away from him. 'There seems to be evidence this was so,' says Neil-Smith. 'He was a perfectly normal person before, but after the brother's death he felt his life was being sucked away from him as if the spirit of his brother was feeding on him. When the exorcism was performed he felt a release and new life, as if new blood ran in his veins.' Neil-Smith rules out the possibility of a simple psychological explanation for this, such as a feeling of guilt by the survivor toward his brother. 'There was no disharmony between them. In fact he wasn't clear for some time that it (the vampire) was his brother.' The clergyman describes a vampire as 'half animal, half human,' and firmly refutes the suggestion that such things are all in the mind. 'I think that's a very naive interpretation,' he says. 'All the evidence points to the contrary'." [6]

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith, contrary to editor Gerald Isaaman's false attribution of 27 February 1970 in a local Hampstead newspaper, concluded that there really are such a things as vampires.


1. a b Beeson, Trevor (2006). "The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith". Priests And Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826481000.

2. Sands, Kathleen R. Demon possession in Elizabethan England. Praeger Publishers. "At around the same time, Father Christopher Neil-Smith, an Anglican priest, received a standing license from the Bishop of London authorizing him to exorcise freely according to his own judgment." 

3. Neil-Smith, Christopher. Praying for daylight: God through modern eyes. P. Smith.

4. Cramer, Marc. The devil within. W.H. Allen. "with the noted exorcist, the Rev. Christopher Neil-Smith, author of an anecdotal book entitled The Exorcist and the Possessed."

5. Spence, Lewis. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology.Kessinger Publishing.

6. Mysterious Monsters (Aldus Books, 1978) by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall. 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

About †Seán Manchester

Seán Manchester was born at a time when the world was at war and the obscure figure who preceded him in the field of operative vampirology, Montague Summers, was still alive and soon to hand a vampire protection medallion to the author and paranormal researcher Peter Underwood. He, in turn, would later bequeath the medallion to Seán Manchester who treats it as a curiosity worthy of display, but nothing more than that. His own armoury of accoutrements is rather more sophisticated and certainly rooted in known and proven objects intended to repel demons of the predatory kind.

He nevertheless studied the works of Montague Summers while still a teenager, and has always shown his appreciation to the Edwardian vampirologist for this introduction to the subject matter. He would later dedicate the expanded and revised hardback edition of his bestselling book The Highgate Vampire (1985 & 1991) to Montague Summers whose ecclesiastical career was not so very dissimilar to the man who would become the last authentic vampire hunter. He was not baptised until he chose to become so himself, and, while still at school, joined an Anglican choir, eventually being made head choirboy. During this time he was increasingly disillusioned with the vagaries of the Church of England whom, he felt, seemed uncertain about almost everything. He studied Catholicism and was received into the Roman Catholic Church, but it was at a time when Liberalism and Modernism were being ushered in by Vatican II. Everything was changing. He became a borderline Sedevacantist, and would eventually take Holy Orders in the traditional wing of an independent Old Catholic jurisdiction. This enabled him to lead an autocephalous jurisdiction that is known within the United Kingdom as Ecclesia Vetusta Catholica. As a Bishop (he was consecrated on 4 October 1991) he is able to carry out exorcisms unfettered, and also appoint others to do so. During his life, as his faith grew stronger, many people were becoming less inclined to believe in anything, much less the supernatural. He sees himself, therefore, as an antidote to this non-belief, and has remained steadfast in that resolve.  

Seán Manchester no longer gives interviews. His books, however, remain available from his publisher Gothic Press. His last broadcast interview was given in February 2011 when he announced his retirement from television and radio. He nevertheless remains open to a dramatised film treatment of his book The Highgate Vampire for television or cinema on the proviso that he would have a consultative rôle. On 13 December 2013 he declared himself to be a private person and no longer a public figure. His sacerdotal ministry as an exorcist and other pursuits in the arts remain unaffected. 

(Click on the image above to order a copy of The Highgate Vampire)

Seán Manchester's spiritual odyssey and the history of his church can be found in The Grail Church.

(Click on the image above to order a copy of The Grail Church)