Vampire Research Society

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The Vampire Research Society (London) – 1970 to 1988?

This site was set up by Sean Manchester (a fact corroborated by Wikipedia) and is entirely a fan-site about the activities of the former Vampire Research Society (London) which (allegedly) disbanded in 1988 under his leadership – although the name of the group is still much used on several websites and even a Facebook group of the same name, under the administration of Bishop Sean Manchester himself.

The website resource provides information to a new generation of believers in the myth of the “Highgate Vampire” mythos – as spread by Sean Manchester – and also appears to do rather a lot of marketing of Manchester’s merchandising and other publicity work. While the resource provides information primarily about the mythical and entirely fictional “undead” vampire, it does occasionally (as does Manchester) refer to the real Vampi(y)re subculture (often in a derogatory sense) as “vampiroids”.

The original organization (and modern offshoots around the world today claiming to originate from the original Vampire Research Society or to be affiliated to it) could be classified as “watcher” organizations, while some more extreme individuals posing as “hunters” might actually desecrate a few bodies if the opportunity ever presented itself.

It has been noted that those curious enough to ask Manchester questions about the real Vampi(y)re community and subculture are duly informed (with the authority of a bona fide ‘expert’ on the subject) that real Vampyres are not “real” at all – but that only the mythical and fictional undead creature of the fearful puritanical imaginings perpetuated by Manchester, are in fact the only “real” deal. People who are still alive while believing they are any kind of vampyric creature at all are simply delusional or pretending or just get their jollies off at the sight of blood – oh and they are dangerous too, apparently. *Snicker*

Manchester, by his own lengthy and convoluted explanations, spins tales of a shadowy and frightening world of demonic possession, walking corpses and other ghoulish inventions of fiction as explanation for his opinion. In short, real Vampyres know the fictional archetype quite well and do not claim to live it out or assume the mantle of it – after all, people who sleep in boxes because they believe they are Count Dracula probably are a little off kilter – while Manchester has apparently buried himself in it up to the neck, substituting it for reality.

While the sort of individuals who affiliate with such societies are usually really looking for signs of supernatural undead creatures like the “Highgate Vampire” in their surroundings, they often also include the local real Vampyre groups in their surveillance since they believe the undead archetype they seek may use “vampiroids” (their term for delusional people who believe they are vampires) as a kind of cover for their unholy *gasp* activities.

Manchester’s vampophobic influence however goes beyond simply badmouthing the VC and Vampyre-kind – it is felt in the kind of rejection shown to real Vampyres based on the principles he promotes – particularly when Academics who have been influenced by him encounter the VC. Nevertheless, Manchester and his ‘disciple’s’ disparaging comments about the Vampyre culture are taken by many kin to be insulting, and rightly so.

The Site:

“The Vampire Research Society originated in 1967 as a specialist unit within the much older British Occult Society ~ an organisation for paranormal and occult investigation that was eventually dissolved on 8 August 1988. Seán Manchesterwas responsible for the vampire research unit becoming a self-governing body on 2 February 1970 by which time he had initiated, as president of the BOS, a full-time investigation into the Highgate Vampire case in 1969. It would last thirteen years. The first published account of the case (including the initial discovery of the suspect tomb and a spoken exorcism) was given in The Vampire’s Bedside Companion (Leslie Frewin, 1975; Coronet Books, 1976). The first complete account was published in the best-selling The Highgate Vampire (British Occult Society, 1985; Gothic Press, 1991). The current Gothic Press edition is completely revised and updated with new illustrations. There is also a CD. Final comment on the Highgate case in print appeared in The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook (Gothic Press, 1997) while Carmel ~ A Vampire Tale(Gothic Press, 2000) draws on real experience based on the mysterious happenings in and around Highgate Cemetery. These works contain photographs from the VRS case files. Click on any of the preceding book titles for details, reviews and publisher ordering information.”

Most of this site is about Manchester and his misdaventures, his books about the “Highgate Vampire”, his TV interviews for documentary shows, and in effect this site is little more than an online equivalent of “vanity press” in which he rambles on in high English, portraying himself as a latter-day Van Helsing hip-deep in the undead like some Victorian recollection of the zombie-apocaplypse mixed in with liberal helpings of Bram Stoker and his literary creations.

In reality, the life of Sean Manchester as portrayed by Sean Manchester appears to be little more than a quest by one man to draw the attention of the public to himself in a desperate quest for the limelight. If the idea were not so unsettling, one might think the man – being in such dire need of the energy of human attention – to be a psychic Vampyre himself. It is doubtful he would find that notion very flattering either.

The Highgate Vampire “Case”:

Wikipedia has this to say about the mysterious case of the “Highgate Vampire” and Sean Manchester – “Many popular books on ghosts, like the book called “The Highgate Vampire”, mention a vampire which purportedly haunted Highgate Cemetery in the early 1970s. The growth of its reputation, which can be traced through contemporary media reports and subsequent books by two participants, Seán Manchester and David Farrant, is an example of modern legend-building. The most academic account is given by a folklore scholar, Professor Bill Ellis, in the journal Folklore.[1] He writes from the viewpoint of sociological legend study; this concerns public perceptions of a real or purported event, and how these are shaped into a narrative by processes of rumour, selection, exaggeration and stereotyping.

Other narratives which treat these purported happenings as fact are available in the books and websites of Seán Manchester and David Farrant.

Initial publicity

The publicity was initiated by a group of young people interested in the occult who began roaming the overgrown and dilapidated cemetery in the late 1960s, a time when it was being much vandalised by intruders.[2] On 21 December 1969 one of their members, David Farrant, spent the night there, according to his account written in 1991. In a letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970, he wrote that when passing the cemetery on 24 December 1969 he had glimpsed “a grey figure”, which he considered to be supernatural, and asked if others had seen anything similar. On the 13th, several people replied, describing a variety of ghosts said to haunt the cemetery or the adjoining Swains Lane. These ghosts were described as a tall man in a hat, a spectral cyclist, a woman in white, a face glaring through the bars of a gate, a figure wading into a pond, a pale gliding form, bells ringing, and voices calling.[3] Hardly two correspondents gave the same story.

The vampire theory

A second local man, Sean Manchester, was just as keen as Farrant to identify and eliminate what he and Farrant believed was a supernatural entity in the cemetery. The Hampstead and Highgate Express reported him on 27 February 1970 as saying that he believed that ‘a King Vampire of the Undead’, a medieval nobleman who had practised black magic in medieval Wallachia (Romania), had been brought to England in a coffin in the early eighteenth century, by followers who bought a house for him in the West End. He was buried on the site that later became Highgate Cemetery, and Manchester claimed that modern Satanists had roused him. He said the right thing to do would be to stake the vampire’s body, and then behead and burn it, but this would nowadays be illegal. The paper headlined this: ‘Does a Vampyr walk in Highgate?’

Manchester later claimed, however,[4] that the reference to ‘a King Vampire from Wallachia’ was a journalistic embellishment. Nevertheless, the 1985 edition of his book also speaks of an unnamed nobleman’s body brought to Highgate in a coffin from somewhere in Europe.

In his interview of 27 February, Manchester offered no evidence in support of his theory. The following week, on 6 March, the same paper reported David Farrant as saying he had seen dead foxes in the cemetery, ‘and the odd thing was there was no outward sign of how they died.’ When told of this, Manchester said it seemed to complement his theory.[5] In later writings, both men reported seeing other dead foxes with throat wounds and drained of blood.[6]

Farrant was more hesitant in identifying the phenomenon he had seen. In some interviews he called it simply a ghost or spectre, sometimes he agreed that it might be vampiric. It is the ‘vampire’ label which has stuck.[7]

Manchester’s appetite for drama and media attention cannot be made more clear than by the following paragraph which indicates police and media frenzy surrounding his “vampire hunting” activities – coupled with the much publicized vendetta between him and David Farrant.

“The Mass Vampire Hunt of March 1970

The ensuing publicity was enhanced by a growing rivalry between Farrant and Manchester, each claiming that he could and would expel or destroy the spectre. Manchester declared to his associates that he would hold an ‘official’ vampire hunt on Friday 13 March—such Fridays are always ominous dates in British and North American superstition (Friday the Thirteenth), and are frequently chosen for items on occult matters in the media.[8] ITV then set up interviews with both Manchester and Farrant, and with others who claimed to have seen supernatural figures in the cemetery. These were broadcast on ITV early on the evening of the 13th; within two hours a mob of ‘hunters’ from all over London and beyond swarmed over gates and walls into the locked cemetery, despite police efforts to control them.[9]

Manchester’s exorcism claims

In later years, Manchester wrote his own account of his doings that night (The Highgate Vampire 1985; 2nd rev. ed. 1991). According to his narrative, he and some companions entered the cemetery, unobserved by the police, via the damaged railings of an adjoining churchyard, and tried to open the door of one particular catacomb to which a psychic sleepwalking girl had previously led him; but try as they might, it would not budge an inch. Failing in this, they climbed down on a rope through an existing hole in its roof, finding empty coffins into which they put garlic, and sprinkling holy water around.[10]

Some months later, on 1 August 1970 (Lammas Day), the charred and headless remains of a woman’s body were found not far from the catacomb.[citation needed] The police suspected that it had been used in black magic. Soon after this incident, there was a noticeable surge in both Farrant’s and Manchester’s activities. Farrant was found by police in the churchyard beside Highgate Cemetery one night in August, carrying a crucifix and a wooden stake. He was arrested, but when the case came to court it was dismissed.[11]

A few days later Manchester returned to Highgate Cemetery, but in the daytime, when visits are allowed. Again, we must depend on his own published book for an account of his actions, since neither press nor police were present. He claims that this time he and his companions did succeed in forcing open, inch by inch, the heavy and rusty iron doors of a family vault (indicated by his female psychic helper). He lifted the massive lid off one coffin, believing it to have been mysteriously transferred there from the previous catacomb. He was about to drive a stake through the body it contained when a companion persuaded him to desist. Reluctantly, he shut the coffin, put garlic and incense in the vault, and came out from it.[12]

A later chapter of Manchester’s book claims that three years afterwards he discovered a vampiric corpse (he implies that it was the same one) in the cellar of an empty house in the Highgate/Hornsey area, and staked and burned it.[13]

Manchester’s story is full of melodramatic details mirroring the Dracula mythos: the sleepwalking girl; the vampire transported to England in a coffin; a coffined corpse ‘gorged and stinking with the life-blood of others’, with fangs and burning eyes; his own role as a Van Helsing figure. If he did indeed act as he describes, it can be regarded as a good example of what folklorists (following terminology established by Linda Degh) now call ‘ostension’ and legend tripping. This means the real-life imitation of elements from a well-known tale, often involving role-playing, and sometimes leading to ritual acts of vandalism and desecration.[citation needed]

Aftermath

There was more publicity about Farrant and Manchester when rumours spread that they would meet in a ‘magicians’ duel’ on Parliament Hill on Friday 13 April 1973, which never came off.[14] Farrant was jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery—vandalism and desecration which he insisted had been caused by Satanists, not him.[15] Both episodes kept memories of the Highgate affair vivid. In 1975 Manchester wrote a chapter about it in a book edited by Peter Underwood, a well-known popular writer on ghost lore. The Highgate Vampire is now regularly featured in books and internet sites on occult subjects.

The feud between Manchester and Farrant remains vigorous to this day; each claims to be a competent exorcist and researcher of the paranormal; each pours scorn on the other’s alleged expertise. They continue to investigate supposed supernatural phenomena, and have both written and spoken repeatedly about the Highgate events, in every medium available, each stressing his own role to the exclusion of the other.

In her book, Blood Lust: Conversations with Real Vampires, published by HarperCollins in 1991, author Carol Page describes her lengthy interview with Sean Manchester, further questioning his credibility and describes his self-proclaimed activities as “the real evil in Highgate Cemetery.”

Manchester defines real self-identifying Vampi(y)res as follows:

Vampiroids are not vampires. Some actually believe themselves to be vampires. They are not. How could they be when the definition of a vampire, upon examination, is revealed to be a dead body that issues forth from its tomb in the night to quaff the warm blood of the living, whereby it is nourished and preserved? Vampiroids, therefore, cannot be re-animated corpses with an awful supernatural existence beyond the grave. People who either believe themselves to be vampires, or want to become vampires and affect what they construe to be vampiristic lifestyles, even when this is taken to extremes, are invariably vampiroids. 

Thus Manchester makes it clear that in his opinion, ‘REAL‘ vampires are the walking corpses from myth and legend, averted by crucifixes and garlic, and to be killed by a stake through the heart – something which, funny enough, this man claims to have actually done – despite a complete lack of proof, of course.

He defines people who identify with the vampyric stereotype or who identify as living Vampyres or vampyric people as “vampiroids” and essentially as “wannabes”. It does not end there however, as he goes on to further define “vampiroids” and the subculture as being categorically and potentially dangers to Shinai society – regardless of how they identify, by throwing in examples of mentally-ill serial killer sociopaths who had little if any connection to the VC perse’:

But it is not even as simple as that because there are various categories of vampiroid, ranging from harmless poseurs to dangerous psychopaths. The former may be benign, but the latter are capable of murder. Thus the vampiroid is not a supernatural being, but a human who embraces what he or she assumes to be a lifestyle commensurate with vampirism as largely depicted in fictional films and literature. Whereas the true vampire partakes of the dark natures and possesses the terrible qualities of both apparition and demon, assuming the form of a dead body to suck the blood of the living. Vampiroids identify with the imagery of the vampire and become totally seduced by its mythology, having almost no regard for what is fact and what is fantasy. The more extreme examples of vampiroidism, known as ultra-vampiroids, have no problem with the fact that in reality vampires are biocidal and destroy all life-forms. Hence, within the supra-individual level of the psyche, they respond utterly to the vampire archetype.

Despite the very high percentage of relatively harmless poseurs in most vampiroid clubs, there can nevertheless occasionally be found a small number of extreme types. These can vary in levels of psychotic behaviour from proto-vampiroids, eg the UK’s David Austen, a self-confessed Satanist and sexual deviant of many years, to ultra-vampiroids like America’s Rod Ferrell, who committed two gruesome murders and is now awaiting execution as the youngest person on death row. Both have belonged to vampiroid clubs.

By no means are all vampiroids enmeshed in diabolism and murder. In fact, the majority are definitely not. However, the clubs produce literature that feeds certain beliefs and obsessions. These undoubtedly compromise the dynamics of any benign vampiroid philosophy, such as it can be deduced from those within these groups. The crude and splenetic expression of their views points to an irrational pathological prejudice rather than a coherent philosophy. Some of this prejudice is similar to malefic occultism with an anti-Christian bias. Personality problems obviously plays a part in the opinions expressed by many, but vampiroidism per se is no freak display of Gothic Romanticism at its most decadent. It is, in fact, anti-Gothic and anti-Romantic. At its cutting edge its raw materials are concepts usually allied to destructive beliefs and an acute ethnocentric identification with the archetype in forms that are mostly allegorical.”

Thus Manchester exposes his vampophobia – which despite his apparent obsession with vampire myth and legend, is rather pronounced.

Not only does he seek the non-existent ultimately in the hopes of destroying it in his pretense and glorification of “vampire hunting”, perhaps viewed through the lens of puritanical religion – but through his narcissistic quest he seeks fame, glory and adoration for it.

He makes it plain that in his obsession with the myth, being a legend-tripper himself, the irony of this completely eludes him:

In searching for vampires, he has failed to recognize the real thing – perhaps because this does not measure up to his unrealistic expectations.

In addition, his attempt to paint the real VC as dangerous by painting a scene littered with dead bodies, psychopathic serial killers and punctuated by anecdotal “evidence” provided by means of references to legend-tripping “satanism” – is at best, feeble.

Like other purveyors of legend-tripping anti-occult hysteria, he belittles real Vampyres by defining them as a less-desirable societal element which undermines the vampire mythos and which offends not only his obsession, but also his morality and perception of the Gothic and Romantic archetypes, among others.

It is in the slogan of the Vampire Research Society, located at the top of the front page: “CREDO  QVIA IMPOSSIBILE” or “I believe because it is impossible” where Manchester states the obvious:

“Ego satis esse non est possibile improbare michi…” or “I discredit the possible because it is not impossible enough to suit me”.

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