Regular readers will note we have ourselves an... interesting... conversation going on in the "Robin Hood" story. Two people, who I would like to point out have absolutely no relationship to myself or Ellen, have taken extreme exception to each other. Who are these people? Why did they end up on our weblog? Why do they seem to be at each other's throats? (No pun intended)
As someone who figuratively woke up with two strangely dressed people loudly arguing with each other in his living room, I took it upon myself to find out. I mean, if Geraldo Rivera can call himself an investigative journalist, how hard can it be? Here's what I have so far:
To get to the root of this conflict, we must go all the way back to the late 1960s, to a wealthy suburb of London called Highgate. The cemetery there is the final resting place for people such as Karl Marx and Michael Faraday and is widely accepted to be the inspiration for the climactic scenes in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Sources are conflicting, but some time between 1967 and 1969 several reports of a mysterious apparition in the famous cemetery began to surface, which at this point in its history was half ruined from neglect and famously creepy. By 1970 these reports had become frequent enough they drew the attention of local papers, whose lurid accounts seem to have attracted the attention of two very colorful characters, termed "vampire hunters" by the popular media, David Farrant and Sean Manchester.
Manchester claims to have been first to arrive "on the scene". While he would later go on to acquire many impressive titles, at this point in his life he seems to have simply been president of an organization known as "The British Occult Society". According to Mr. Manchester's book 'The Highgate Vampire', he was contacted by several women in the area, complaining of mysterious anemias, bizarre marks on the neck, and strange compulsions to sleepwalk through the Highgate cemetery.
In March of 1970 Sandra Harris of Thames Television's 'Today' program interviewed Mr. Manchester, who announced he would be conducting an actual vampire hunt through the cemetery that day. This had the predictable affect of drawing enormous numbers of curious people (both of the "what's-up-with-that" and "wow-I-thought-I-was-weird" kind), who eventually had to be dispersed by the police.
However, David Farrant tells a different story. According to Mr. Farrant, who seems to have been a member of the "British Psychic and Occult Society" (BPOS), his group began investigating strange reports of activity in the cemetery in 1969. He himself claims to have witnessed an extremely alarming apparition that December. Following this, the BPOS held a seance in the cemetery to "make contact" with this entity. This was interrupted by police, and, according to Mr. Farrant, he was eventually taken to court and charged with "vampire hunting".
In the meantime, Mr. Manchester, according to his book, was busily chasing what was now known as "the Highgate Vampire", engaging in an escalating series of exorcisms and other rituals designed to rid the cemetery of its unwelcome guest. However, this seems to not have worked very well, as Mr. Farrant appears to have been drawn back to the site four years later, only to be ignominiously arrested and later found guilty of charges related to grave desecration.
The BBC brought even more attention to the story three years later (1977) with a documentary about the occult that included interviews with both Farrant and Manchester. However, by this time the cemetery had been reclaimed and restored by a neighborhood group whose mission was to revamp the entire area, and it was made very clear by that association neither were welcome there any more.
Both Farrant and Manchester seem to have gone on to lead very colorful careers. Farrant appears to have become a "psychic investigator", presumably uncovering and exploring diverse occult activities all over Great Britain, as well as publishing a few books on his experiences. He seems to have lead a comparatively low-key life, while at the same time acquiring a devoted group of friends.
Mr. Manchester, now the Right Rv'd Sean Manchester, Superior General for Ordo Sancti Graal, Founder of the Sacerdotal Society of the Precious Blood, Primate/Bishop (with dignity of Archbishop) for Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi (an autocephalous Old Catholic jurisdiction), has led a far more colorful (or, at least, better web-published) life.
He claims to have entered "the minor order of exorcist" in 1973, which, eventually, through an elaborate and obscure set of self-described circumstances, "led to his entry in the diaconate" in 1991. It should be noted that the proudly proclaimed "autocephalous"-ness of his title ultimately means, apparently, "self-appointed". He's also a "founding patron" of G.A.S.P., the "Guardians Against Satanic Pollution", an organization dedicated to, not surprisingly, witchcraft, exorcism, and demonology. Mr. Manchester seems to have a very dedicated and efficient set of followers who quickly pounce on any on-line mention of himself or Mr. Farrant.
The origins of their disagreement are less well documented, at least on-line. Mr. Farrant is sometimes referred to as "the vampire hunter who didn't believe", which leads me to speculate that perhaps he may have or have had doubts about the colorful and self-referential Mr. Manchester's graphic accounts of the Highland Vampire.
While this in and of itself may not have been enough to start a feud, news clippings refer to Mr. Farrant's publishing these doubts in various books and pamphlets. This all could have quite easily led to a very civil (they are both British, after all) but no less acrimonious exchange of what seems to amount to "did not! did too! did not! did too!" which has managed to last nearly thirty five years.
For his part, Mr. Farrant seems to have had a quite colorful youth, with breathless allegations of naked pictures in cemeteries often being levied. A person with enough determination and cheek to "autoencephalate" himself into a bishopric, as Mr. Manchester seems to have done, would perhaps not take kindly to being doubted by the likes of Mr. Farrant. Such a person would seem quite willing and able to mobilize and maintain a feud such as this for three and a half decades.
Their connection with the Robin Hood Society of Yorkshire is less clear. It would seem that this otherwise harmlessly quirky social society has had the perhaps questionable wisdom to appoint both Mr. Manchester and Mr. Farrant as patron over the years. While the dark humor of appointing what one man certainly seems to see as his archrival to the post he left certainly has some appeal, directly involving two people with a decades-long feud in what seems to be an otherwise easy-going organization does lead me to question just who is playing a joke on whom.
As to their connection to us, well, that's almost as much of a mystery to us as it is to you. Ms. Green's original comment on our "one-off" story about an archaeological dig was both civil and informative, but apparently Mr. Manchester or one of his minions keeps an eagle eye on the goings-on of the RHSY, and a far less reasonable (albeit probably factual) reply followed a few months later. How Ms. Fearnley stumbled upon us is an even greater mystery, as Mr. Farrant seems both more relaxed and less well-organized than Mr. Manchester. Regardless, her passionate and rather threatening defense of Mr. Farrant was what ultimately led me to stumble onto this entire, amazing story.
For my own part, I can only honestly say that, with the possible exception of Ms. Green, I think they're all loons. I've gone on record many, many times explaining my own complete non-belief in all things paranormal, psychic, and occult. While I certainly respect the passion everyone seems to have involved in all of this, I can only repeat that, as I believe the English themselves say, "you're all bloody daft."
I have the feeling, perhaps more a wish all things considered, that Mr. Farrant will get merely a chuckle from all this, as from my research he seems to me a rather agreeable fellow. I have not a single doubt that Mr. Manchester and his followers will be at the very least incensed, if not utterly enraged, by my account and my opinions. To that I can only say, in closing, that I am very grateful an ocean and far more liberal libel laws lie between myself and the Right Rv'd Superior General for Ordo Sancti Graal, Founder of the Sacerdotal Society of the Precious Blood, Primate/Bishop (with dignity of Archbishop) for Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi (an autocephalous Old Catholic jurisdiction). I have a feeling they will just be barely enough.