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

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