Thursday, 7 February 2013

Elizabeth Siddal – The First 'Vampire' of Highgate?

Some notable literary scholars have theorised that the fictional character of Lucy Westenra; one of Count Dracula’s disciples, was largely based on 
Elizabeth Siddal: the late wife (and muse) of pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti [1]. In October 1869, some seven years after her suicide from an overdose of Laudanum, Rossetti had her body exhumed from her grave so he could retrieve the handwritten volume of poems he had buried with her. Rossetti's fortunes had been faltering since her death, and he was persuaded by his rather unscrupulous literary agent Charles Augustus Howell that this situation could be reversed, and his reputation further cemented, if he reclaimed and then published the poems [2].

It was Howell, who had elected to attend the exhumation in order to collect the volume that reported back to Rossetti that open viewing Elizabeth's body it was noted that her hair still retained its original colour and lustre, and that her body had remained uncorrupted. However it is believed that Howell had only said this at the time to reassure his rather distraught friend. Certainly the retrieved volume had some worm holes in it which suggests that Howell's account was very far from the actual truth. It was this very report of Elizabeth's umblemished apperance that was alleged to have inspired Stoker to conceive the character of Lucy for his most famous novel [3]. It has also been suggested that Lucy's tomb at the fictional Kingstead Cemetery was largely based on Highgate Cemetery where Elizabeth was laid to rest; though this has since been hotly disputed [4]. 

So did Elizabeth’s body defy natural law after death, or did Howell lie to save the sanity of his friend, and so perhaps unwittingly create a legend?

It might be also interesting to note that Rossetti was the nephew of none other than John William Polidori - the creator of the modern literary vampire. In 1819 he had penned a short story not surprisingly titled 'The Vampyre' [5]. Furthermore author David J. Skal has stated in his book 'V is for Vampire' that Stoker was once a neighbour of Rossetti's [6]. A fine example of life imitating art if ever there was!

It would appear that Lucy Westenra was in turn to prove to be an inspiration for Sean Manchester's Lusia [7]. Though going by the following synopsis, a blatant example of shameless plagiarism would probably be a more apt assessment: 

Lucy/Lusia suffers from severe anaemia. She has, in fact, become the victim of Count Dracula/The Highgate Vampire, who is slowly draining her of blood. Despite the best efforts of Van Helsing/Manchester, Lucy's/Lusia's condition worsens and she eventually dies. Not long after her burial, reports of children/a child being attacked are heard, with each child/the child claiming it was the "Bloofer Lady"/"white lady" that was responsible. The children/child also have/has bite marks on their/his throat(s), though none of their blood has been seriously drained. Van Helsing/Manchester realizes that Lucy/Lusia has now risen as a vampire. Helsing/Manchester explains to his friends/Lusia's sister Anne  that the Lucy/Lusia they know is indeed dead, and the figure they see now is a monster/demon in her form, the result of vampirism if a victim is fully drained. He warns that unless she is stopped, she will continue her nightly feeding to the point of fully draining her victims, who likewise will become undead and continue the cycle, so building up Dracula's/Lusia's army of the undead. Van Helsing/Manchester feels it best that the men who loved Lucy in life/as the man who loved Lusia in life were the ones/was the one to free her soul. They/he must therefore stake Lucy/Lusia, destroying the vampire part of her so Lucy/Lusia is finally able to rest in peace.*

*Adapted and truncated from the synopsis provided by Wikipedia:

Well as one wag had rather wryly put it: “His account of the Highgate Vampire has so many parallels to Dracula that Bram Stoker's estate could probably sue if it wasn't in public domain!”


Miller, E. (2006). Dracula: Sense & Nonsense. 2nd ed. Westcliff-on-Sea: Desert Island Books.

2. Topham, I. 2010. Elizabeth Siddal’s Grave’, Mysterious Britain and Ireland, weblog post, 18 March, accessed 6 February 2013, <>.

3. Fanthorpe, L., and Fanthorpe, P. (2010). The Big Book of Mysteries. Canada: Dundurn Group.

4.’Spamosphere.’ 2010. ‘Bram Stoker vs Highgate’, Spamosphere, weblog post, 21 November, accessed 6 February 2013, <>.

5. DeWinter, A. 2009, ‘Dracula Was a Man of the Theatre’, Occult View, weblog post, 31 March, accessed 6 February 2013, <>.

6. Rhoads, L. 2012, ‘A Restless Wind is Blowing through Highgate’, Dark Echo, weblog post date unknown, accessed 6 February 2013, <>.

7. Manchester, S. The Highgate Vampire (London: British Occult Society, 1985; revised ed., London: Gothic Press, 1991).

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Vampire and the Satanists.

Both David Farrant and Sean Manchester have made allusions to secret black magic ceremonies at Highgate Cemetery (West), and that it had played a large part in the alleged spectral phenomenon that had occurred there. Both men have claimed that they had found evidence of diabolical and necromantic activity such as chalk circles with occult symbols and burnt black candles. Add to that there was ample evidence of staked corpses and desecrated tombs during this rather turbulent period in the cemetery's history. For example, on the 1st of August, 1970 a decapitated and burnt corpse of a woman (who had believed died in the late Nineteenth century) was found not far from one of the tombs. The police had suspected that the corpse had been used in a black magic ritual [1].

In Manchester's narrative he suggested that it was Satanists that helped bring a 'King Vampire' to our shores, and had provided him with accommodation in a fine house; only then to move him at some point to the cemetery that was erected in the house's grounds following it's demolition. All this supposedly happened in the early nineteenth century and in the wake of a vampire epidemic that had engulfed much of continental Europe. Now considering that the cemetery had opened in 1839 that leaves us with some 130 years of relative inactivity before the events of the now infamous vampire flap. Just what was his vampire supposedly doing during this time? Where did he go after his home (Ashurst House) was demolished? Did he find other lodgings? Or had he been abandoned by his secret coven, with his remains later discovered and interred into one of the new cemetery's vaults; only to be 'awoken' by another group of more contemporary occultists sometime in the mid to late sixties?

Farrant however contends that the spectre was not a vampire at all, but was either an earth bound spirit or some sort of malevolent psychic entity that had either been manipulated or conjured via occult means by a local coven of black magicians. With such magic being further enhanced by the tapping the energies from an ancient ley line that passes through the cemetery and much of Highgate village.

So what are we to make of all this? Was there a genuine occult element to this case or was most of  the desecration that had taken place merely the work of mindless thugs and vandals? If on the other hand it was a genuine supernatural phenomenon, was the vampire/spectre/entity either awoken or summoned by human hands? And if so were these shadowy individuals amateur or expert occultists? Did they employ white or black magic in their rituals? And to what end?

Or was it all just the inevitable (and collective) result of the public's appetite for media stories on black magic and the occult, the rising popularity of the hammer horror movies and a renewed interest in alternative religions? A media incited public hysteria or flap? Alternatively, were they all the right ingredients with which to a perpetrate a well orchestrated hoax?

The occult and supernatural aspects of this case will incidentally form the basis for my two prospective book projects. One will be a non-fictional, layman-friendly examination and appraisal of all the issues and questions that I have raised in this very blog entry. Whilst the other, a Dennis Wheatley- inspired horror novel, will provide an 'alternative', fictionalised account of what really happened in Highgate during the period of the so called 'vampire' flap.

However I must stress at this point that both books are in their very early stages of preparation and I do not yet have any firm idea yet about where and how they will be published. All in all this is a five year plan, but I will of course keep you all updated on any further developments, and as and when they happen. I will certainly be devoting more time to this blog from now on while I undertake more background research. So I hope to share with you some of my findings along the way.

But for now I will wish all my loyal readers a very belated Happy New Year!


1.  'That vampire back again?' - The Hampstead and Highgate Express, August 7, 1970 (p. 1).