Wishing all of the readers of the Haunted Palace Blog a happy holidays, however you celebrate them. If you’re taking it easy this Boxing Day, following a day of over-indulging in festive cheer, why not relax to a spooky tale for Christmas. I’ve been collaborating with Paul from the excellent Voices from the North East podcast again. This time I’m talking about the Legend of the Alnwick Vampire, vampire lore and medieval revenants. And for anyone who listened in to The Wallsend Witches, you’ll be glad to hear I’ve invested in a better mic for this episode!!
Twice a year Whitby, a quaint seaside town in North Yorkshire, becomes the mecca for the darkside. Goths, Steampunks, Victorian enthusiasts all gather for the Whitby Goth Weekend. The event, which grew out of a goth music festival developed by Jo Hampshire back in 1994, is now so huge that accommodation is often booked out for two years in advance and it’s estimated that it these two weekends bring in over a £1.1 Millions pounds to the local economy.
WGW brings in the crowds!
I’ve been going to the Goth weekend for many years with Bonnie and Occasionally Miss Jessel has managed to join us, but life and general mischance have meant I’ve not been since the 2015 October event. My recollections of the at last visit was that there was a change in the air, the Goths who came for the music festival seemed to be in retreat in the face of Victorian enthusiasts and the Steampunk advance. The locals also seemed to be growing tired of photographers and visitors disrespecting and damaging the historic graveyard of St Mary’s. What had always seemed to be a very inclusive and welcoming atmosphere had developed fissures and the tensions were bubbling up to the surface. While I still enjoyed the evant, I was left wondering what would happen, if, indeed, it would survive.
WGW at Abbey Wharf
Doctor and the Medics at Abbey Wharf
I’m happy to say that WGW is going strong. In the face of a huge explosion in popularity over the last few years and the diversity of alternative sub-genres in evidence, it is clear that the event has successfully evolved and regenerated into a wonderful and inclusive event.
These days the music events have diffused and WGW have many official events across the weekend. The events are all free, but you can get fast-track and VIP tickets (which are worth it, as even after 11pm the Queues were long). Jo and the other organisers seem to have successfully brought music back to the forefront of the event Abbey Wharf played host to a Stars and Moons Productions Barnum and Bailey/Greatest Showman themed night, headlined by the legendary Doctor and the Medics. It was packed out and there were queues all night to get in.
The Bizarre Bazaar has also lost none of its allure since moving from Whitby Pavilion to Whitby Leisure Centre (just a short way along from the Pavilion).
Tourists flock through St Mary’s graveyard.
This year sadly Miss Jessel was unable to join me, but Bonnie and I went down with some younger friends who had never attended the event before. I don’t think that they were quite ready for how difficult it was to get anywhere without being swarmed by photographers! One of them even made it into the national papers (look for ‘woman in black corset and dramatic face makeup enjoying a stroll’ in the link below) not bad for her first visit!!
Alnwick Castle, image adapted from Alnwick Castle website
Northumberland is a county famous for its medieval castles. Not least amongst them is the thousand-year old Alnwick Castle. Seat of the legendary Percy family – the original Kings in the North – and now the home of Duke of Northumberland. Although its modern fame lies more with Black Adder, Harry Potter and the famous Alnwick Gardens, it also has a more unexpected connection. Alnwick Castle is purported to have spawned its own vampire.
William of Newburgh – author of the first vampire diaries?
The strange tale of the hunchback vampire that stalked the grounds of the castle bringing terror and disease in its wake, was most famously recorded by a medieval chronicler named William de Newburgh. Newburgh wrote his Historia rerum Anglicarum in the late twelfth century primarily as a work of ‘serious’ history. He was quite proud of his research, and not above a little professional bitchiness -particularly about the work of fellow medieval historian – Geoffrey of Monmouth, dreadful fellow(!). Nevertheless, de Newburgh was adept at adding a bit of local colour and even a supernatural twist to spice up his narrative.
Introducing the subject of revenants and vampire-like creatures, he manages to sound both archly aloof to the whole idea, whilst simultaneously seeming to claim that the eye-witness evidence supported the veracity of such claims.
“It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony” 
Despite de Newburgh’s implication that he used apparently reliable testimony there is little evidence of the Alnwick vampire other than local legends.
An early version of the tale says that the creature was the revenant of ‘the Lord of the Estate’ who lived underground and only came out to wreak mayhem and violence on the local peasantry. His reign of terror was finally stopped when the locals, no doubt wielding pitchforks, dug him up and burned his festering corpse.
William de Newburgh elaborated on the tale and added a few more vampire-like attributes.
Varney the vampire
In de Newburgh’s version the vampire is demoted, and the lord of the estate becomes instead a mere retainer of the lord (perhaps de Newburgh did not want to annoy the powerful de Vescy family who owned Alnwick at that time); the creature is seen prowling the estate Post Mortem looking for trouble. The energetic corpse took to paying less than welcome house calls, bringing sickness and plague in his wake. The villagers barricaded themselves in to their homes once night fell.
Then on Palm Sunday, the priest, seized with a Van Helsing-like zeal, enrolled a pitchfork wielding mob (every village should have one) and successfully uncovered the lair of the unruly cadaver. Upon striking the putrescent body with a spade, blood gushed out, seeming to prove that the rogue rotter had been feasting on the blood of the living. Staked with a spade and burned at the margins of the village (cross roads maybe?), the curse was lifted, the plague ended and everyone lived happily ever after….(well except for the serfs, they probably still had a pretty rubbish time).
So was the creature really a vampire?
It is definitely not within the scope of this post to do a full on study of all things vampire as they relate to this legend. When I first came across the tale I thought it sounded much more like a zombie-like creature than a vampire (but that is probably just my own bias) – I mean, where were the fangs?
Dracula’s Guest writing on http://www.vampyres.ca dissects the classic Eastern European Vampire and in his/her erudite article DG provides a useful definition from Dudley Wright who describes vampires as:
A vampire is a dead body which continues to live in the grave, which it leaves, however, by night, for the purpose of sucking blood of the living, whereby it is nourished and preserved in good condition, instead of becoming decomposed like other dead bodies. 
A lively medieval corpse
The Alnwick vampire was said to be a dead body, leaving its grave at night and bringing a sickness in its wake. The corpse, when it was discovered, was found to be corpulent and brimming with blood. So, under the terms of Wright’s definition, the Alnwick Vampire seems to fit the classic usually Eastern European profile for a vampire. Afterall, people in the past were less likely to understand the post mortem changes that afflict a corpse and might view the natural decomposition process and its occasional mockery of corpulent, rosy cheeked health as something far more sinister and unholy.
Dracula’s guest goes on to suggest other reasons for the vampire legend which could also fit in this instance. DG suggests that in rural communities when things go wrong – such as crops failing and outbreaks of disease – a community can regain some sense of control of the natural world by finding a scapegoat and then carrying out a proscribed set rituals to regain control. Whereas a witch might be the first choice for blame, in the Alnwick Castle legend, it is a vampire. And once the ritual is performed (led by a churchman) then the natural order is returned and just as the monster is vanquished, so is the sickness that plagued the community.
As to location, well, this particular vampire legend has become associated with Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, however William de Newburgh calls the castle Anantis, and there are other claimants to the vampire across the border in Scotland.
George Clarkson, writing in 1567, describes Alnwick Castle as:
“The castell of Alnewike ys a verye ancient large beutifull and portlie castle, scytewate on ye southe side of ye ryver of Alne upon a lytle mote.”
Although this demonstrates how spellings change over time, there seems to be quite a big divergence between Anantis, and Alnewike (which phonetically, at least, sounds like Anlwick).
So, vampire (or vampire-like creature), I would say, yes OK, to my mind this beast has fangs! But as to the location, I would love there to be a Northumbrian Vampire legend from such an early period, but I’m just not so sure on the Alnwick connection. If anyone has thing else on this legend and how it links to Alnwick or the castle, I would love to hear about it.
In the meantime, here is the tale of the Alnwick/Anantis Vampire in the words of William de Newburgh himself. Sit back, pour yourself a goblet of something ruby-red, and enjoy…
Of certain prodigies 
Alnwick Castle by JM Turner c1829
 Another event, also, not unlike this, but more pernicious in its effects, happened at the castle which is called Anantis, as I have heard from an aged monk who lived in honor and authority in those parts, and who related this event as having occurred in his own presence. A certain man of evil conduct flying, through fear of his enemies or the law, out of the province of York, to the lord of the before-named castle, took up his abode there, and having cast upon a service befitting his humor, labored hard to increase rather than correct his own evil propensities. He married a wife, to his own ruin indeed, as it afterwards appeared; for, hearing certain rumors respecting her, he was vexed with the spirit of Jealousy. Anxious to ascertain the truth of these reports, he pretended to be going on a journey from which he would not return for some days; but coming back in the evening, he was privily introduced into his bedroom by a maid-servant, who was in the secret, and lay hidden on a beam overhanging, his wife’s chamber, that he might prove with his own eyes if anything were done to the dishonor of his marriage-bed. Thereupon beholding his wife in the act of fornication with a young man of the neighborhood, and in his indignation forgetful of his purpose, he fell, and was dashed heavily to the ground, near where they were lying.
 The adulterer himself leaped up and escaped; but the wife, cunningly dissembling the fact, busied herself in gently raising her fallen husband from the earth. As soon as he had partially recovered, he upbraided her with her adultery, and threatened punishment; but she answering, “Explain yourself, my lord,” said she; “you are speaking unbecomingly which must be imputed not to you, but to the sickness with which you are troubled.” Being much shaken by the fall, and his whole body stupefied, he was attacked with a disease, insomuch that the man whom I have mentioned as having related these facts to me visiting him in the pious discharge of his duties, admonished him to make confession of his sins, and receive the Christian Eucharist in proper form: but as he was occupied in thinking about what had happened to him, and what his wife had said, put off the wholesome advice until the morrow — that morrow which in this world he was fated never to behold! — for the next night, destitute of Christian grace, and a prey to his well-earned misfortunes, he shared the deep slumber of death. A Christian burial, indeed, he received, though unworthy of it; but it did not much benefit him: for issuing, by the handiwork of Satan, from his grave at night-time, and pursued by a pack of dogs with horrible barkings, he wandered through the courts and around the houses while all men made fast their doors, and did not dare to go abroad on any errand whatever from the beginning of the night until the sunrise, for fear of meeting and being beaten black and blue by this vagrant monster. But those precautions were of no avail ; for the atmosphere, poisoned by the vagaries of this foul carcass, filled every house with disease and death by its pestiferous breath.
Gargoyle by Lenora
 Already did the town, which but a short time ago was populous, appear almost deserted; while those of its inhabitants who had escaped destruction migrated to other parts of the country, lest they too should die. The man from whose mouth I heard these things, sorrowing over this desolation of his parish, applied himself to summon a meeting of wise and religious men on that sacred day which is called Palm Sunday, in order that they might impart healthful counsel in so great a dilemma, and refresh the spirits of the miserable remnant of the people with consolation, however imperfect. Having delivered a discourse to the inhabitants, after the solemn ceremonies of the holy day had been properly performed, he invited his clerical guests, together with the other persons of honor who were present, to his table. While they were thus banqueting, two young men (brothers), who had lost their father by this plague, mutually encouraging one another, said, “This monster has already destroyed our father, and will speedily destroy us also, unless we take steps to prevent it. Let us, therefore, do some bold action which will at once ensure our own safety and revenge our father’s death. There is no one to hinder us; for in the priest’s house a feast is in progress, and the whole town is as silent as if deserted. Let us dig up this baneful pest, and burn it with fire.”
Le vampire by R de Moraine, 1864
 Thereupon snatching up a spade of but indifferent sharpness of edge, and hastening to the cemetery, they began to dig; and whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and, thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart. This being torn piecemeal, and the body now consigned to the flames, it was announced to the guests what was going on, who, running thither, enabled themselves to testify henceforth to the circumstances. When that infernal hell-hound had thus been destroyed, the pestilence which was rife among the people ceased, as if the air, which had been corrupted by the contagious motions of the dreadful corpse, were already purified by the fire which had consumed it. These facts having been thus expounded, let us return to the regular thread of history.
Overgrown tomb by Lenora
You can hear me talk more about the Alnwick Vampire, Vampires and medieval revenants on the Voices from the North East podcast Spooky Christmas Special 2021, available free from anchor.fm/voicesfromthenortheast , Spotify, or where ever you get your podcasts.
It was a crisp March day when I found myself making may way down Swains Lane, the lane that cuts through West and East Cemeteries. I had always wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery, it features in so many of my favorite old horror films such as Tales from the Crypt and From Beyond the Grave (and always appears in my imagination accompanied by an overblown 1970’s horror soundtrack and maybe the odd scream as well…)
You would be unwise to wonder around Highgate Cemetery alone, many of the graves and monuments are fragile and a wrong step off the path could lead the unwary to spending some time up close and personal with a cadaver in a lead-lined vault that could be up to 30 feet deep. The cemetery is vast and has many secluded spots so rescue, should it even come, could be slow indeed….
Don’t be put off by taking a guided tour, touristy it might be, but it is also informative and the cemetery doesn’t lose any of its magic, especially if the group isn’t too large. The guides are knowledgeable about the famous and not so famous persons buried here, and can help decode the Victorian language of death which written all over their tombstones if you have eyes to see it. You only have to look at some of the more morbid Victorian paintings (dead shepherds, pining loyal hounds etc) or remember that they often had one last family photo taken with the dearly departed, to know that their attitude to death was very different from our own.
The Circle of Lebanon
One of the first things that struck me about the cemetery was how different it was to modern cemeteries. Now gravestones are in formal rows, with standardised inscriptions – compared to Victorian exuberance (all weeping angels, obelisks and broken columns) – our way of death seems clinical and regimented. In a modern cemetery you would never get such a tragic description as that of Emma Wallace Gray who died in 1854 at the age of nineteen “From the effects of her dress having caught fire”. Her inscription reads thus:
In bloom of youth, when others fondly cling To life, I prayed, mid agonies for death
The only pang my bleeding heard endur’d
Was, thus so early doomed to leave behind on
Earth those whom I so dearly lov’d.
The architecture too is something you would never find in a modern cemetery, the
Entrance to the Egyptian Avenue
picturesque chaos of the tombstones and mossy angels hidden amongst the trees all overgrown with grasses and wild flowers. And the monumental grandiose mausoleums; the eerie circle of Lebanon with its use of the natural landscape – the mausoleum is crowned by a Cedar of Lebanon; the austere Terrace of Catacombs cut into the hillside; and of course the fabulous Egyptian Avenue (and the Egyptians knew a thing or two about death). Walking through the dramatic gateway into the dank alley’s of the Avenue I truly felt like I was walking into another world – a city of the dead.
Highgate and the Macabre
Elizabeth Siddal – public domain image via Wikimedia Commons
No Victorian cemetery would be complete without some macabre tales, and the one that stuck me most was that of Elizabeth Siddall. Elizabeth was the beautiful wife and muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the foremost Pre-Raphaelite painters, and herself a talented artist. Elizabeth died tragically young, only 32, possibly as a result of addiction and depression. She was buried in 1862 by a grief-stricken Dante Gabriel who tenderly placed a sheaf of manuscript poems by her cheek – how romantic. But Elizabeth was not to rest in peace for long. In 1869 Dante Gabriel must have been feeling considerably less grief-stricken and romantic because he ordered her exhumation in order that he could retrieve his manuscript….Hmm.
The Highgate Vampire
The Ham and High Gazette from March 1970
One thing that the tour did not mention was the legend of the Highgate Vampire. This legend seems to have begun sometime in the late 1960’s, the cemetery was neglected and overgrown and attracted not only vandals but those interested in the occult. There appears to have been some reports of strange goings on the cemetery and in Swains Lane: reports of dead foxes and of a tall dark figure with burning red eyes (Christopher Lee – I wonder?) scaring dog walkers and generally lurking in a sinister way.
In 1970 an occultist called David Farrant contacted the local newspaper the Ham and High Express and the legend was born…further sightings were recorded (although accounts often varied) and it was proclaimed by Farrant that the figure had Vampiric characteristics and that he and the British Occult Society that he was part of would exorcise it. Another flamboyant figure, Sean Manchester, appeared at about this time. The ‘Bishop of Glastonbury’*[please refer to comments section for more information] soon became a rival vampire hunter and a bitter enemy of Farrant (so much so that the best ‘hammer horror’ tradition he is alleged to have challenged his nemesis to a magical duel).
Whatever the truth of the legend, the impact was devastating. On the night of the ‘vampire hunt’ hundreds of ‘vampire hunters’ (many valiantly armed with cans of beer), stormed the police cordon around the cemetery and began basically trashing the place. Needless to say no vampire was found.
During the whole Highgate Vampire frenzy not only were monuments damaged but vaults were broken into, corpses attacked and even beheaded. One gruesome story is that a local resident found a headless corpse sitting behind the steering wheel of his car. This might sound funny, but really, it’s not, these desecrated corpses were not vampires or demons, just ordinary people who had hoped to rest in peace. Perhaps the real vampires of Highgate were Farrant and Manchester who fed off the media hype they created.
A modern tragedy
Burials are still carried out in the Cemetery, and one of the modern interments the tour visited was that of Alexander Litvinenko the Russian exile and spy buried in 2006. Litvinenko was poisoned using Polonium after taking tea with two of his Russian contacts, he died from the effects of the posion. I still remember the news footage showing him fighting for his life in his hospital bed. He is buried here because the Victorian vaults are lead lined and therefore radiation proof.
His story reminded me that everyone buried in Highgate, however long ago, was once a living breathing individual with their own personal story. And that one day, despite our iphones and our apps we will all be dust just like them.
My final thoughts on Highgate Cemetery are best summed up by one if its famous incumbents, Christina Rossetti the poet.
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet:
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.