English Vampires

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English Vampires

There are a surprisingly large number of English vampires recorded over the centuries. We saw in earlier posts that there were archaeological discoveries of skeletons from the Dark Ages in England that appear to have been buried with what would be considered anti-vampire precautions – if they were found in Eastern Europe.

As well as the archaeological record, there are historical records (or at least folk-historical records) of vampires that go back a fair way too. Bear  with me, these get meatier the closer we get to modern times. Here are some examples:

 

  • Vampires of the Middle Ages

Alnwick, Northumberland, Northern England

In the 12 Century there was a report that the lord of Alnwick Castle had died and become a vampire. In his life, he had been a wicked man but when he died, he flew around the town and drank the blood of the townspeople. He was so fetid that he caused a plague. Eventually the townspeople insisted that he be disinterred. When they dug him up, his body was found not to be decomposed. When he was cut with a spade fresh blood poured out.

Berwick, Northumberland, Northern England

Not far from Alnwick lies the border town of Berwick. In the Middle Ages, it is reported that a rich corrupt merchant died. After his death, he was seen around the town pursued by a pack of spectral hounds. This seriously troubled the populace and they dug him up. Once again, his body was found unrotted and when cut with a spade, fresh blood issued from him. His body was burnt and that was the end of that.

  • The Croglin Vampire, Cumbria, Northern England

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Croglin is a hamlet in remote hill country south of Carlisle and north of Penrith in Cumbria. The Croglin Vampire The vampire story dates from just after the English Civil War. The owners of Croglin Low Hall were a family called Fisher and the story was told to one Augustus Hare by a descendent of the family in 1896. For some reason of their own, the Fishers decided to go and live in the south of England and rent out the farm. The tenants they found were two brothers and a sister called Cranswell. The new family stayed in their remote farmhouse through the first winter without event. The summer came and, that year, it was stiflingly hot so they slept with the windows open. At that time the Hall was only one storey high – the upstairs has been built subsequently. Near the Hall was a chapel and a small graveyard, which once belonged to the Howard family – great landowners in these parts.

An airless summer night…

One particular airless summer night the men sat with their sister watching the moonrise. After a time they decided to go to bed. The sister lay in her bed, the bedclothes cast off because of the heat. She had closed her window, but not fastened the shutters. She gazed out of her window, propped up on her pillows as the long summer day faded out and night took its place. In Cumbria at midsummer, because it is quite far north, it does not get very dark at all between sunset and sunrise.

Miss Cranswell soon became aware of two lights in the belt of trees some distance from the house that separated the lawn from the graveyard. She watched and, after a while, she made out a dark shape moving towards the house – towards her window. A terrible horror seized her. She wanted to get up and leave the room, but to go to the door would have meant she had to go closer to the window. Besides she had locked the door from the inside and so would have to stand there and unlock it – all the while clearly visible to whatever was out there. Frozen to the spot, she stared at the shape but then it turned and instead of moving closer to her window, it started to move around the house. She jumped up and ran towards the door. Her hands were shaking so much that she found it hard to turn the key. And then her heart nearly stopped. Behind her – close to her though she didn’t dare look – she heard a scratching at the window. It was outside. Just feet away. She stood there petrified with fear still not turning her head. Then she heard the sound of it unpicking the lead that held the glass in place. She forced herself to look and saw that one pane of the mullioned glass had come away and a long bony hand stretched in and turned the window catch. Whatever it was, it came in through the window with a rush and grabbed her – its fingers in her hair, its mouth at her throat. It bit her neck and forced her onto the ground. As it bit her she screamed.

Her bothers battered at the locked door…
Her brothers heard the noise and came and battered at the locked door. The creature looked up and as the door was broken open, and then it turned and fled out of the window, leaving her lying on the floor, bleeding profusely from a wound at her neck. One brother clambered out of the window and went after it. But it was fast and before he could catch it – perhaps it was lucky for him that he didn’t – it disappeared into the inky blackness around the graveyard.

Trying to explain it afterwards, the girl rationalised that the creature must have been a dangerous lunatic. But she was still horribly shocked and her brothers took her away from Croglin to recover – over to the Continent. They stayed away for a while, but then, as autumn came, it was she who urged them to return to Croglin. They had paid for the tenancy, and besides, she joked, it would be very bad luck to come across two escaped lunatics.

They returned to Croglin and spent the winter there. She had the same room, but always closed the wooden shutters. The brothers took to carrying loaded pistols with them around the house. But nothing happened until one night in March.

The sister was lying in bed when she heard a terribly familiar scratching at the window. She struggled to get fully awake and scrabbled for a candle and something to light it with. When she got a flame she saw that the shutters were opened. Staring in at her was a brown shrivelled face and she saw its long bony hands picking at the lead of the windows. This time she screamed immediately. Her brothers rushed in with their pistols. She pointed to the window, but the creature had gone. The brothers ran out of the front door and saw it moving across the lawn towards the graveyard. They fired and one of them hit it in the leg. It scrambled away into the darkness and they lost it.

The next day…

The next day the brothers summoned their neighbours, and with their help they went into the graveyard. The tenants of nearby Croglin High Hall had also been suffering visits from it and their young daughter had bite wounds at the throat. The father had thought that she had been bitten by a rat, but when the Cranswells said what had happened to their sister, they feared the worst and the father joined the party as it made its way to the graveyard.

One of the locals had heard rumours of a particular vault being home to some monster so they opened it up. They stood around, pistols and other weapons at the ready. The vault was full of coffins but most were smashed and the remains mangled and strewn across the floor. Only one coffin was undisturbed. They lifted the lid and there they saw the mummified and shrivelled figure that had moved as if alive the night before. To confirm what they feared they looked at the leg and found a recent wound from a pistol ball. There and then they set fire to the dry coffin and burnt the vampire in it. In his book Legends of the Lake District J. A. Brooks tells that in the early years of this century the tenants of Croglin Low Hall had to deal with a fire in the dining room chimney. When the fire died down and they were rebuilding the chimney, they found an ancient burnt corpse in there. Though the tenant wanted to rebury the corpse in a churchyard with proper Christian rites, he died before he was able to do this. It is possible that the corpse is still there in the chimney….

  • The Highgate Vampire, London

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A Gothic Necropolis

In 1969, people started reporting seeing a tall figure in black hanging around the disused and locked-up Victorian cemetary at Highgate.

Highgate was a village sitting on top of a hill overlooking London, and as London grew it was thought a healthy and ultimately fashionable place to have a retreat away from the city.  Probably for that reason it was chosen as a site for one of the large Victorian cemetaries that were planned just outside the city proper.

Highgate was a place for those with money. It was opened in 1839. An extension – the East Cemetary was opened in 1856. Amongst others, Karl Marx is buried there.

There are 53,000 graves at Highgate.

The tombs and funeral monuments were lavish and ornate, and in many cases of great artistic accomplishment.  It was during the Victorian period with its love of decoration and what we might consider now overelaboration, both in words (think of the wordy Victorian novels) and in building (think of Victorian Gothic architecture). And of course the Victorians loved the Gothic. They also loved ancient Egypt and the middle of the West cemetery there is the Egyptian.

The Cemetery grew wild and Overgrown

As the Victorian period faded, so did the fashionability of Highgate.  It was still kept in immaculate order but then during World War I,  the army of gardeners were called up to fight.   By the 1930s the cemetery was in decline and the Cemetery Company went bankrupt in 1960.  The gates were locked and the place began to get overgrown.  This was a good development for wildlife, with foxes and other animals abounding.  Roots grew into the graves. Tombs were shadowed by ivy. The pathways were overgrown and almost impassable.

First Reports of the Vampire

In 1969, 9 years after the cemetery had locked its gates,  various reports came in from people who were walking near the cemetery that a tall dark figure had been seen lurking around the tombs.  Highgate cemetery covers a big area and now that it’s overgrown, it resembles a dense wood. There are a number of gates that you can see into when you walk down Swain’s Lane and they just show paths receding into the woods.   There is a main gate of course that has been reopened for tourists, but in 1960 this was locked up too.

As you can imagine, there was a great deal of interest in this figure, who petrified those who saw him while they wandered down the lane, peering into the cemetery through the iron gates.  Most of the reports melted away, people were unwilling to come forward, or they were exaggerating.

Thornton gets Hypnotised

Inevitably also, people didn’t respect the locked gates and would climb the walls just to “look around.”   One of these was a man known only now as Thornton, who was an accountant – read for that “grounded, not given to flights of fancy”.

Thornton claimed to have been around one late afternoon and decided to leave as the light faded.  He walked towards the gate. He wasn’t a believer in ghosts but suddenly became aware of an evil presence and when he turned round saw a black thing hovering  just above the ground. This thing apparently forced him to stand still and he lost all sense of his surroundings until it vanished and he was free to leave.

An investigator called David Farrant took up the case. He interviewed several more people and then a woman who had been walking her dog who’d seen a tall black man, hovering once again, just inside the cemetery gates.

When Farrant went into the cemetery to investigate himself, he found a lot of vandalism of the tombs.  Vaults had been broken open and coffins even set alight.  In some cases, skeletons had been wrenched from the coffins.  He found a dead fox, newly killed lying on one of the paths.

Farrant decided to return on 21 December 1969, the Winter Solstice at 11pm. It was a bitterly cold night he says.  He climbed the wall and got the impression that he wasn’t alone.  Looking around, he saw a dark shape some 5 yards inside the gate.  It was not fully human and he saw two red eyes boring into him with evil intent.  Then it vanished.

An Occult Temple

When Farrant did his research in January 1970, he discovered that there were tales of odd things and potential vampiric presences going way back into the Victorian period.  One of these tales was of a tall man dressed in black who could pass through the cemetary walls.   He also discovered that during the period the cemetery had been locked up, since 1960, satanic rituals had taken place there,  from the signs he found.  One of the tombs in the middle of the cemetery had been converted into an occult temple.

Farrant put a letter in the local paper which resulted in a flood of responses, reporting sightings of the figure in the cemetary.

A TV documentary was made with live filming on 13 March 1970 and the cameraman mysteriously passed out.   There was a mass vampire hunt led by a man called Alan Blood. This is apparently the same man who generally calls himself Sean Manchester.  It can be imagined that the authorities charged with looking after the cemetery were not pleased by these developments and the increase in trespass and vandalism that followed them. In August 1970, the corpse of a woman buried at Highgate was dragged out, staked through the heart and left in the middle of a path.

There is a lot more detail in Farrant’s account here.

There was a famous fall out among occultists and the other chap,  Bishop Sean Manchester, also did his own investigation and provided further details.  Bishop Manchester, is bishop in a relatively small, independent church and apparently a descendent of Lord Byron.

Manchester’s book is “The Highgate Vampire” while Farrant’s is Beyond the Highgate Vampire.   They are both really fascinating and I own copies, though they are becoming quite valuable now.

Manchester found a young woman who claimed to have become a victim of the vampire who continued to prey on her in her flat in Highgate.  Apparently after the “attack” is Swain’s lane it was investigated by the police but no progress was made.  Well what do you expect? We’ve seen the movies. No point involving the police in this kind of caper.

Manchester believed that a King Vampire had come to London from Wallachia in Romania by his servants. He’d come in a coffin and had been set up in a house in London.  Sounds a bit like Dracula…

An interesting comment is that David Farrant apparently claimed that ley lines meet in the cemetery, thus allowing the vampire to materialise in the Circle of Lebanon- which is the heart of the cemetery. As noted above, it looks more Egyptian than Assyrian/Hebrew to me.

My Own Experiences at Highgate

There’s lots to say about Highgate. It’s well worth an (accompanied) visit. I’ve been many times.  I went in 2003 with a group of American tourists.  It was a really hot summer’s day.  Our guide was a volunteer who happened to be an albino chap so white eyelashes and red eyes.  He was very knowledgeable and quickly sussed that we were a group of wanna-be vampire hunters. We dissociated ourselves from the vandalism and disrespect that had occurred of course.

He watched the group and was very anxious to round up stragglers. I kid you not.  Some of our group were a tad eccentric and wanted to collect grave dirt. He didn’t like that but when they wandered off, he quickly went to fetch them.  At one point we stood above the catacombs, where Manchester claims to have staked the vampire, from memory.  There were glass bricks in the ground to give light below.  One of our group asked if we would be allowed to go down there.  He laughed and said he wasn’t even allowed down there. Only select members of the society were allowed entry. Then he wanted to get us the hell out of there before the daylight faded.  This is true.  I am sure there are reasonable explanations to his behaviour

It’s Not a Place I’d Want to Be Alone in

I went again in 2009 with my daughters. Once again it was a bright summer day. Our guide was pretty normal and told us about the architecture and sculpture and the interesting history of those buried there.  She didn’t mention anything about no vampires, and I didn’t bring it up apart from nudging the kids and pointing at places I remembered reading about.

We came to the Circle of Lebanon.  It was there that Farrant found the tomb converted to an occult temple. I noticed that one of the tombs was actually bricked up and wondered whether this was it.  It was at that point, as we stood in the sunshine, with the guide explaining about the fashions and architecture that I began to feel quite unwell and had a sense of terrible malevolence.  That faded as we moved onto different parts of the cemetery and certainly had faded by the time we went for an Italian meal later.  But Highgate Cemetery is  not a place I’d want to be alone in. Especially at night.

 

  • The Kirklees Vampire, Yorkshire.

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This is another modern vampire story from England.  Kirklees Hall  is in Calderdale in Yorkshire and is surrounded by thick woodlands. You may not know, but Yorkshire claims to be the home of Robin Hood (dismissing Nottinghamshire’s better known claim.)  The Yorkshire version of the story says that Robin Hood went to Kirklees Priory to be bled for illness.  The Prioress of Kirklees was Robin’s cousin, but she planned to allow him to bleed to death  instead of removing only a few pints.

When Robin realised he was dying he shot an arrow with his last strength. It was where the arrow landed that he wanted Little John to bury him. The tomb is still there, though a little dilapidated because local folk thought a fragment of it under your pillow would cure toothache.

The White Nun

Stories of some kind of evil presence at Kirklees go way back.  In 1926, a local farmer coming back from a pub, named appropriately The Three Nuns,  was knocked to the ground as he went by. He thought it was Robin Hood’s ghost.

In 1963, guitarist Roger Williams claimed to have seen the ghost of a woman with staring eyes on near the grave.  She was supposed to be a white clad woman with staring “dark, mad” eyes. She glided over the ground, not appearing to touch it.  Then in 1972 at 2:30pm, he was again at Kirklees. It was broad daylight and he saw the woman.  Her reported feelings of anger and evil. This time he described her as wearing a white robe which sounded like the garb of a Cistercian nun.  The Cistercians wore a white hooded robe over their habits.  Kirklees was a Cistercian foundation.  Roger apparently swore never to go to Kirklees again, but strange bangings and noises were heard in his house for a while after the second apparition.

In 1992, Bishop Sean Manchester visited Kirklees, allegedly to perform an exorcism.  This was apparently without the permission of the owners. It is reported that Bishop Manchester found the corpse of a goat, drained of blood at the site. There is also a report that he saw a woman with red eyes.  There is a full report here.  It’s worth reading the comments to see a back and forth debate between Barbara Green and a correspondent who may be, or who speaks for Sean Manchester.

(You can find similar exchanges between David Farrant and Sean Manchester on the internet. They are most interesting.)

In 1998 a member of a society called Gravewatch visited and saw a white apparition, again with a strong feeling of evil

Also in 1998, two members of the press from the Dewsbury Reporter  visited Kirklees with permission of the owners.  The journalist Judith Broadbent heard heavy footsteps before being pulled to the ground, just like the farmer in 1926. She shouted out and her photographer,  Sue Ellis, came to help her up. Sue’s camera mysteriously jammed while she tried to photograph the grave. When she went home, she was mysteriously paralysed from her neck down after her visit there for two weeks.

Spirit of the Greenwood

In the 1990s, Barbara Green, president of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society was holding a vigil at Robin Hood’s grave when “evil poured out of the trees” and she saw a horrible undead creature – hovering like a bat, but with red eyes and sharp teeth and wearing black nun’s robes.

Barbara wrote a book called Spirit of the Greenwood.  I haven’t yet read it, but I plan to.  As far as I understand, Barbara believes that someone, possibly the State, do not want Robin Hood’s grave at Kirklees to be accessible by the public and they actively keep it in a state of dilapidation.

The Vampirology Society

Such things always attract ghost and vampire hunters. In 1990, a member of the International Society for the Advancement of Irrefutable Vampirological and Lycanthropic Research visited the site and found occult symbols scrawled on the gatehouse and a dismembered goat. He also claimed to have found tiny holes around the grave that he thought the vampire used when leaving to materialise in the surrounding area.  One of the investigating team saw a dark clad woman who became a red eyed figure. They placed holy water and planted garlic around the grave.

There were rumours of the blood drained bodies of animals being found nearby. There were stories from 2004 that locals shunned the area and that at least one person had the frightening experience of being followed by a dark figure.

Apparently there was an attempt to film at the grave in 2005, also done without permission.

The grounds are closed to the public and you can’t gain access without contacting the owners.  But why would you want to after reading this?

And these are just some of the reports of vampires in England!

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “English Vampires

  1. The Reverend Matt Cook

    I must admit I’m not terribly clued up on vampire lore so I found this a really interesting read. Of course I have heard of Highgate but I think the others are new to me. A great article, thanks for posting.

    Like

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