January 2016

Top Hat Capers And Rumour Chasers

Well, we’re getting close now to the completion of the July Highgate Vampire Symposium; that is, in terms of uploading the filmed sessions. Three new speakers for you will be discussing the Highgate phenomenon for you: John Fraser of The Ghost Club and who is also involved with various committees of The Society for Psychical Research; Gareth Davies American Radio host, and Andy Mercer, author and co-host of KTPF (Keeping the Paranormal Friendly) run by that dedicated couple Suzanne and Steve Taggart. And we have two more guests for you, Debbie Meredith and Martin Trent both of whom describe their experiences with a ghostly figure they witnessed – on two completely different occasions – in forlorn Swains Lane.

And in other ‘news’ now (though maybe a better term would be ‘ineffectual gossip’!), while the Symposium has proved to be a great success, it does it seems to have outraged one particular very ‘bonky’ individual. Perhaps slightly dismayed by its popularity and impact, this person has been raving on the Internet that, while there was (according only to him) most definitely a real-life ‘vampire’ in Highgate Cemetery back in the early 1970s, it no longer existed after he had ‘staked it through the heart’ in early 1974 and then incinerated it – coffin and all – with a can of petrol. Furthermore, he goes on to assert that he had also ‘staked’ one of its victims in 1982 after she had been bitten by the ‘King Vampire’ and changed into one herself. He also set fire to her in a lonely graveyard close to his home; but not before she had changed into a ‘giant spider’!

I kid you not! This same person claimed, on a programme arranged by the BBC when he was interviewed in front of an assembled audience, to have ‘staked’ scores of other vampires across the UK.  He offered no evidence to support this fantastic story, but nevertheless attempted to present this as ‘fact’ before an audience of disbelieving people.

Anyway, to leave all the vampire fantasy, let’s get onto the good bit. . .

It is a well known fact that London’s Highgate Cemetery has for a long time been reputedly haunted by a tall dark figure that appears by night before suddenly disappearing mysteriously before startled witnesses. The ghost is often described as a ‘black-clad’ or ‘cloaked’ figure – its appearance giving an impression that it seems to originate from a previous century. So much for legend. But legend, like fact, can sometimes become an established part of local history.

That’s all very well, some might conclude; yet others might query how on earth ‘a vampire’ – or ‘vampires’ – somehow crept into this somewhat new mythos surrounding Highgate.

Perhaps the answer to this is obviously simple . . . For it is a fact that in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Hammer Horror films used the unique gothic location of Highgate Cemetery to film some of its more popular ‘Dracula’ films. As has been well documented, the ivy covered gravestones and crumbling Victorian tombs added an uncanny backdrop to such films as “Taste the Blood of Dracula”, “The Body Beneath”, “Tales from the Crypt” and “Dracula AD 1972” being just a few examples of the films which Hammer and other production companies filmed or set in the vicinity.

Thus stories, inspired largely by the fevered imaginations of film-goers, began to abound about the physical existence of some ‘Dracula-like creature’ that walked in Highgate Cemetery. And only a year or so after the initial hammer films, people (well ‘some’ people’) attempted to equate the local ghost which vaguely fitted the physical description of a cinematic vampire with these movies, which served, in turn, to turn its relatively indigenous ghost into some ‘blood-sucking vampire’!

Yet not content to embellish the Hammer movie film plots (not to mention nicking wholesale a certain scene from “The Devil Rides Out”) with fiction of his own about incinerating vampires and staking ‘giant spiders’, the same bonky person I referred to at the beginning of this Blog has apparently decided that stories of the ghost that haunted Highgate Cemetery do not fit into his ‘vampire theories’ and decided that the ghost has just ‘got to go’. As part of a supposedly amusing prank, this person has now recommenced his jaded and timeworn circulation of a photograph/s of myself standing by the top gate of Highgate Cemetery dressed in a Victorian top hat and making a sweeping bow to other people present: the allegation being that these photographs serve as irrefutable proof that I faked the entire Highgate ghost story.

In fact, these photographs prove nothing of the sort; except the extraordinary lengths that this disturbed person will go to, to ‘protect’ his invented vampire story. One look at any of this set of black and white photographs (never shown in its entirety under one name, on one blog / Facebook group) will show immediately that I was smiling in these photographs and posing for the other people present.

In fact, what had happened was (and as I have already explained elsewhere before), a group of us, after meeting in the Prince of Wales pub nearby, were on our way to a fancy dress party in a rambling old house not far from Hampstead Heath. Our direct route took us down Swains Lane and past the top gate of Highgate Cemetery. OK – some of us climbed over the gate for a look around. This much is obvious from the subsequent photos, and I have never denied it (in fact, I have admitted it before online).

On this occasion (the hosts of this party were ‘regulars’ at the Prince of Wales pub and we had often visited this house before), we were accompanied by this bonky individual himself (in fact, he was known by other nicknames, but I won’t repeat these here!) and a ‘chum’. These two people apparently had no interest in attending the party (nor were they invited) but when the group stopped briefly at the top gate the bonky person proceeded to begin taking photographs of us through the bars of the North Gate.

In the latest propaganda now doing its rounds on the Internet, this bonky person is now attributing his mate ‘Eggmanne’ to have been the sole photographer of this set of photographs; but wait just a minute, to ‘back this up’, he publishes one of these photographs of the ‘Eggmanne’ bowing (taking his turn) with the top hat. Whoops! The ‘Eggmanne’s’ hands are in full view and he is clearly not holding a camera.

This ‘mystery’ actually appears to have been solved some decades back when another of these photographs of myself was sent to the esoteric magazine L’Innconnu in early 1981 accompanied by a page of text to the effect that the photograph portrayed the ‘mentally deranged’ David Farrant. It was signed by the bonky one himself. [Numero 68 ISSN 03338-8190].

Interestingly enough, no suggestion was made of myself ‘hoaxing’ any ghost story.   In fact, I remain perplexed as to why anyone would, could or should interpret the photographs in such a fashion.   I have gone to great lengths to explain elsewhere the background to the photos in question, including reference to the party I was en route to (it was a house near the bottom of West Hill, and the owners kept a small pony indoors which caused great amusement, if any one actually cares). But should I really have to? Do any of you, my loyal readers, have to ‘explain’ photographs of you taken at or on the way to private parties, some 45 years ago, as if you were in the dock? Do you have to wade through drivel about whether or not it was snowing on the night you attended such party/ies? Of course you don’t.   And neither do I, technically. But such is life in the land of Farrant, it seems.

My over-arching point, and one which certain ‘bandwagoneers’ to coin a bonky phrase seem to miss is this:

I NEVER CLAIMED IN MY LETTER TO THE HAM AND HIGH IN JANUARY 1970 THAT THE ENTITY I HAD ENCOUNTERED WORE A TOP HAT.

The verifiable top hat sightings, save for a letter from a Mr Docherty also published in the spring of 1970, were collated by myself (and continue to flood in) at a MUCH later date. Decades later, in fact.

Sometimes the truth is so obvious it can be missed. To any critics reading this – don’t blame yourselves. Obsession can do strange things to people. The burning question remains – just how could I be ‘hoaxing’ a ghost by posing in fancy dress on the way to a party, which differed in every visual component possible from the entity which I described in my letter? Why, if my intention as currently claimed by Mr. Manchester was to frighten members of the public into thinking a top hatted spectre haunted Swains Lane and/or Highgate Cemetery, did I not mention a hat – or a human appearance – in my letter? Why did I not publish early witness reports of a top-hatted figure? Why were top hats not in any way mentioned by me at all?

Simple. Because I was telling the truth, as I knew it at the time.

In anycase, some of you may be interested in reading my published response to Mr. Manchester’s article in L’Inconnu. I rather feel that it puts things in context.

And please, dear readers, don’t for a minute think that climbing over a cemetery gate at midnight in your youth makes you ‘dérangé mental’. I do not condone or advise this behaviour, but there are worse indicators of being a bit bonky – claiming to believe in vampires for a start.

Enjoy!

David

L'Inconnu 001

To Be Or Not To Be? – We’ll See!

Hi Everybody,

You remember that forthcoming film I told you about due for release soon? Well, I’ve just had some news, so now its apparently OK to release a little more about the project . . .

Well, after the Symposium last year, I’m really just a little fed up with ‘vampires’!   But apparently people in good old Italy don’t feel the same way. They love them, and anything to do with them! I’ve learnt this from personal experience in the past, but it was really brought home to me recently after two aspiring Italian film students approached me personally after attending July’s Symposium. They were absolutely intrigued by tales of the Highgate Vampire and found it difficult to believe that there really was not some fact behind all the sensationalised fiction. They even suggested that maybe I could be persuaded to feature symbolically at the outset of the film portraying a ‘real vampire’ about to visit an innocent young damsel in her bedroom at night … But I had to decline this at the onset, notwithstanding they had already prepared some pre-promotional shots for a film mag to advertise their project!

So the two students, Sophia and Bethany, decided to contact me personally to see if I might be able to help with their film project. I am not really at liberty to disclose the plot in full; (and in any event I do not know it) but essentially it involves a young Italian girl who, after qualifying for a film career in Naples at University, had a frightening experience whilst visiting London in the 1960s to investigate a black magic Cult practising there. Perhaps not surprisingly the location chosen was a rambling old house was Highgate, North London, where several unsuspecting young people had fallen under the influence of this ‘Satanic Cult’ that was operating in Highgate Cemetery at the time.

Now, the fact that this had actually happened in reality, and the two young film makers were acquainted with the true facts underlying this case (facts which they had heard exposed by several witnesses attending the Symposium) did not appear to have dimmed their enthusiasm: indeed, they thought this would make an excellent film project for their own highly Catholicised country. The ‘shock value’, I suppose, being ‘diabolical practices’ that are seen to be openly displayed publicly (albeit by means of commitment to celluloid) , and are blatantly opposed to the traditional standards of the Catholic faith.

Whatever, I had to agree that the whole subject provided potential for using actual facts as the basis for creating a non-fiction film. The rest is really up to them!

All this happened last week – at least our provisional meeting did. Can only really wait and see what happens now . . . but I will keep you all up to date on this new venture.

I’m just as interested as you all are!

David (Farrant).

David Farrant sequenza di apertura vampiro all'attenzione - Copy

YET ANOTHER HIGHGATE CEMETERY GHOST SIGHTING

When Della’s Farrant’s popular book on ghosts and hauntings, Haunted Highgate, first hit the shelves of national and local bookshops in October 2014, it caused not least a bit of surprise amongst the residents of this quaint old London village. Highgate – or rather its bordering Highgate Cemetery – had already been entrenched within the public persona as being the haunt of a blood-thirsty vampire: a story that owed its roots most probably to the activities of Hammer Horror films who chose the cemetery as a popular location in the late 1960s/early 1970s to make some of its most favourited Dracula movies. Stories of a ‘vampire’ abounded (most likely due to the success of these movies), but these also conflicted with many other stories of different ghosts and haunted locations that seemed to abound in the Highgate area. As a result, Highgate became associated with a mass of volatile ‘vampire’ stories which inevitably became entangled with much older stories of ghosts and legends, that originally took precedence in Highgate’s history.

It seemed Della was faced with the formidable job of trying to unravel an absurd mix of fact and fiction (or rather, what constituted fiction as opposed to genuine stories and legend) when undertaking research for her book, and still accounts come to light from people who, having read her book, are reminded of experiences of a ghostly encounters they may have had themselves, that have persuaded them to make contact.

The account below from former Highgate resident Declan Walsh is just one of these. In fact, Declan’s account was mentioned in a much shortened version in the book, but he subsequently made contact again with Della via her website hidden-highgate.org and was asked for more details about his sighting in Swains Lane – the eerie lane that skirts Highgate Cemetery – back in November 1991 . . .

Thank you to Declan for sharing his memories, and to Della for helping to collate stories such as Declan’s for posterity.

David Farrant

 

Having found your website and read some of the stories I felt I had to tell you of my experience on Swain’s Lane.

I used to work at a community NHS unit near Parliament Hill Fields and I often walked to work from my flat just off the Archway Road. A lovely walk in the summer but on a cold, damp autumnal morning…I would walk briskly. There were a number of ways to get to work but the quickest one was via Swain’s Lane. It was steep and quite narrow in parts and as you near the halfway point to your left is the East section of Highgate Cemetery. I have visited the cemetery many times as a legitimate visitor and as a kid during the 60’s / 70’s who climbed over at night with his mates. It is fair to say that I had a pretty good knowledge of the cemetery.

This particular morning (6.30 a.m.) in November 1991 I was walking towards the cemetery gates when I spotted him. He was walking directly towards the gates and about 200 yards away from me. I don’t know how I knew it, but I instinctively knew something was wrong. He was extremely tall, well over six feet in height and he was very thin. He wore a long black cape-like coat and a top hat. His dress looked Victorian in style and he appeared all black. He also carried a small package. However, he walked directly towards the gates which I and every other local knew was locked to prevent intruders gaining entry. I watched as he walked straight at and through the gates, not once altering his stride or reaching out to open the gates. I stood frozen to the spot and stared at the gates. I kept thinking “Those gates are locked. I know they are locked”.

I walked towards the gates whilst keeping to the right hand side of the road, keeping some distance between myself and the figure who had disappeared once he had entered the cemetery. The gates were securely chained and padlocked. To get in one would need the key or would have to climb over. I stared at the gates and I realised that I had seen someone not human. It’s funny what details stick in your mind because as well as his extreme height, thinness, the clothing and the blackness of the figure, he also appeared to glide and there was no sound. The ground was littered with leaves yet I heard no sound from him nor did he take any notice of me.

I have to confess I made it into work in record time and one of my colleagues stated “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost”. When I told them what I had seen I was met with laughter and ridicule.

However, I know what I saw that morning and I remember it distinctly to this day.
As I saw the figure my instincts / feelings were of dread. It sounds very corny but I felt cold and full of dread. I recognised as I watched that something was wrong and immediately afterwards my instinct was to run. In the weeks and months afterwards I avoided that spot and to be honest I used other routes to get to work. I also reran it all through my mind and questioned whether I had really seen this apparition. I don’t recall having ever dreamed about the event or the apparition. When I think about it now I realise how lucky I was to have had this experience although at the time I certainly did not think so.

As to whether it was a vampire…I have absolutely no idea as to the existence of vampires although I do believe I saw an apparition.

Declan Walsh (2015)

Swains Lane at night
Swains Lane at night

 

New Highgate Vampire Symposium video uploaded

As promised everyone,

Just an update on the latest uploaded session of the Symposium, which was released today.

This session – “Why Highgate? Liminal Space and Environmental Influences” – ‘stars’ Carrie Kirkpatrick, High Priestess of Hecate and founder of Oracle Television, and former Highgate Cemetery tour guide and historical blogger Sam Perrin.

It is always a pleasure for me to hear new accounts of unexplained phenomena in the Highgate area, and indeed about the experiences of other magical practitioners.

I am sure you will all agree with me that this filmed footage is both enlightening and engaging.  Well done Sam and Carrie!

And do keep an eye out, my dear readers, for the next uploaded session – many more witness accounts to come!

For now,

David