I’ve only ever had any dealings with two vampire hunters. I found myself in the middle of a decades long feud that involved occult duels, black magic, a bishop, vampires, a giant spider, Long John Baldry’s cat and Robin Hood…
It all began in 2003 when I was working on the first edition of Weird Calderdale and researching Robin Hood’s grave in the grounds of Kirklees Hall, near Brighouse. It was here, the ballads tell us, that an ailing Robin was bled to death by an evil Prioress and her lover Red Roger of Doncaster. In later centuries a wall and railings were constructed around an unimpressive lump of rock said to be Robin’s gravestone. In modern times, though, the grave became the haunt of Britain’s second most famous bloodsucker – the Kirklees Vampire. We’ll come to Britain’s most famous bloodsucker shortly.
The story of Robin Hood’s grave and the Kirklees Vampire is enough to make your head spin. It seems to begin with Barbara Green, founder of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society, collecting reports of some spooky encounters with a scary nun-like ghost near the grave. After meeting Lord (later Bishop) Manchester and asking him to become patron of the Society, she wondered if there might be something of a vampiric nature happening around Robin’s grave and corresponded with Manchester about it. After all, Manchester had written numerous books about vampires and claimed that he had destroyed more than one.
Manchester decided this was worth investigating and wrote to the owner of Kirklees Hall, Lady Armitage, asking if he could have permission to dig up the grave and to perform blessings at the site. On receiving this request from Manchester’s organisation ‘The International Society for the Advancement of Irrefutable Vampirological and Lycanthropic Research’, she issued a curt refusal. So Manchester and Green then sent a copy of their request to exhume Robin Hood to see if his grave was occupied by a vampire to the media, and they loved it. DID A VAMPIRE KILL ROBIN HOOD? BAT MEN WANT TO DIG UP ROBIN HOOD was a typical headline from the Liverpool Echo in 1989.
Two Encounters with the Kirklees Vampire
In Manchester’s book A Vampire Hunter’s Handbook, he describes how he made a clandestine nocturnal visit to the grave with two assistants. They fought their way through the thick, thorny undergrowth and located the grave hidden in its wooded corner of the estate, and one of his companions claimed to have witnessed a terrifying woman in black who was at first serene and then transmogrified into a horrible red-eyed wraith. They blessed the grave and left.
How much of that story you believe is up to you, but it’s not the only scary experience to happen on an illicit night-time trespass on the estate. Barbara Green herself had a similar encounter in 1992 where she had a frightening vision of Red Roger of Doncaster. Or was it the evil Prioress? Or was it both? Her accounts are rather fluid, and by her own admission she was coming off medication prescribed by a psychiatrist at the time, which may have had something to do with it.
However, one person who scorned the idea of vampire activity at Kirklees was David Farrant, who is variously described as an occultist, psychic investigator and vampire hunter. And Farrant and Manchester had history. A long history, going back to the late 1960s and involving Britain’s most famous bloodsucker, the Highgate Vampire.
The Highgate Vampire
At the end of the 60s, London’s Highgate Cemetery, resting place of Karl Marx, was in a bad state of repair. There were newspaper reports of graves being desecrated and corpses being exhumed or even staked. David Farrant made it his business to get to the bottom of the mystery and passed more than one night in the graveyard with a crucifix, hammer and stake (not to mention a camera to take naked photos of his girlfriend with). Farrant was eventually arrested for these activities and served four years in prison.
Meanwhile, Manchester conducted his own investigation and eventually, so he says, managed to destroy the vampire with a stake through the heart, though not before the vampire had bitten his girlfriend and turned her into a giant spider. Hmmm.
But the rivalry between Manchester and Farrant’s accounts of the Highgate Vampire developed into a bitter feud that lasted decades. They had occult duels to the death which were advertised round London, though no one actually died. Except 60s singer Long John Baldry’s cat. Baldry believed Farrant had sacrificed his kitty in a Highgate ritual, so asked another 60s rock star, Graham Bond, to work some magic for him, though he in turn died soon after, falling under a tube train. I told you this was weird.
Farrant produced a comic strip called Bishop Bonkers, satirising Manchester. Manchester in turn filled web sites and chat forums with accounts of Farrant’s ghoulish misdeeds.
Back to Kirklees
Anyway, when Manchester found out that Green and Farrant had been corresponding and discussing other supernatural explanations for the goings-on at Kirklees, he resigned his post as patron of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society. Green then offered the role to Farrant. The long-running feud continued, but its focus was suddenly Robin Hood’s grave, this rather non-descript folly near Brighouse.
And that’s where I came in. As I started investigating the tall tales associated with the grave, I penned a short article for a local website and within a day I was getting thundering, intimidating emails from Bishop Manchester about the evils of Farrant and the delusions of Green, and threatening action for referring to him as a vampire slayer. He objected to this because, he says, vampires are demonic and cannot be slain but only exorcised.
I wrote an email trying to mollify him, but this appeared, along with a photo I had taken of the grave, on one of his websites. That’s when Farrant and others in the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society contacted me. I interviewed Farrant about his thoughts on Kirklees, though he spent much of the time trying to get me to report Manchester to the police for publishing my message and stealing my photo.
Manchester in turn proceeded to send me email after long multi-coloured font email going into Farrant’s dubious activity in Highgate and other criminal escapades as well as casting doubt on Barbara Green’s sanity.
More emails followed from members of the Society encouraging me to make an official complaint about Manchester for stalking me. I was being stalked by a vampire hunter!
It was all getting unpleasant. I felt I’d been unwittingly dragged into a weird occult feud that stretched back decades, and it was with some trepidation that I approached the revision of the chapter on Robin Hood’s Grave and the Kirklees Vampire for the 2021 edition of Weird Calderdale.
But it’s such an odd story, that I just had to. I’ve only scratched the surface of this bizarre supernatural soap opera in this article. There’s so much more to it that I don’t have space for here, but you can read more in Weird Calderdale, though I’d also recommend Grave Concerns by Kai Roberts as the definitive work on all things related to Robin Hood’s Grave.
Barbara Green is no longer active in grave related matters. David Farrant died in 2019. The Bishop is still going, though. I thought I’d leave you with some of his advice to me about vampire hunting, sent in an email in May 2005, just in case you fancy your hand as an amateur Van Helsing:
Vampires exist now as they ever did, and their number is legion. The vampire, of course, quaffs human blood. This is what distinguishes it from other demonic entities. And they can and do metamorphose into other shapes and forms. Vampires, like all supernatural evil, are repelled by Christian images and holy objects, eg a blessed crucifix, but they cannot be destroyed, ie “killed.” Exorcism casts them out. The corporeal host will return to its natural state when the demonic entity has fled. Cremation is the most effective method of dealing with contagions, but impalation has proven to be as efficacious in recent times as it was in the past. I would remind anyone considering this remedy that the Anglo Saxon law that permitted such impalations was repealed in 1832.