Vampire Fandom: United Kingdom

Vampire Fandom: United Kingdom

(pop culture)

For many years, vampire fandom in the United Kingdom has been anchored by the Dracula Society (founded in 1973), which has combined a lively celebration of Dracula and the vampire in the arts with the serious consideration of issues in Dracula and vampire studies. However, in the wake of the renewed interest in vampires which began in the late 1980s, a number of new organizations emerged which have led to the formation of vampire interest groups across the United Kingdom.

Among the most impressive of the 1990s groups was the Vampire Guild of Dorset, England, which grew out of the childhood fascination with vampires of founder Phill M. White. White had collected vampire materials during his teen years, and officially founded the guild in August 1990 as a vampire interest group. Its primary goal was to bring people together who share the founder’s interest in vampires and who wish to meet and correspond with others of like mind. As the membership expanded, the concerns of the guild broadened.

One of White’s purposes in founding the guild was to explore some of the lesser-known aspects of vampirism, and the guild investigated obscure cases of vampirism such as those of William Doggett, the Tarrant Valley Vampire, and the Black Lady of Durweston, both from Dorset. The research files of these cases sit in the guild’s vampire archive. Access to archive information was available to members of the guild and any serious researchers. The guild also published a quarterly journal, Crimson which emerged in the 1990s as one of the best vampire fanzines in the entire world of vampire fandom. The Vampire Guild had an international membership. It has not been visible in the new century and does not appear to have an Internet site.

The Whitby Dracula Society (originally the Dracula Experience Society), centered in the resort community in northern England where Dracula reportedly first landed on British soil, emerged by stages in the mid-1990s. It became known for its sponsorship of the annual “Vamps and Tramps” event, the first of which was held in 1995. The society began a quality periodical, The Demeter and during the weekend of June 13–15, 1997, co-sponsored Dracula: The Centenary Celebration 1897–1997, with the Vampire Guild.

The Whitby Dracula Society currently sponsors a monthly gathering and an annual Grand Masked Ball. Its Internet site is found at http://www.whitbydraculasociety.org.uk/. Member’s receive copies of its periodical, Harker’s Journal. Most recently, musician/composer Alan Moore has launched a new Dracula/Whitby-oriented Internet site, “Dracula in Whitby” (http://www.dracula-in-whitby.com/), which invites discussion of the Dracula-Whitby connection and keeps people informed of events in Whitby. Moore issues an electronic newsletter to all who request it. Since the mid-1990s, Whitby has been home to a large gathering of Goths, who arrive for the Halloween weekend.

Throughout the 1990s, two groups operated in Great Britain with the name The Vampyre Society. One was founded in 1987 by Allen J. Gittens. Several months before establishing the society, he had written an article on vampires for a British rock fanzine. People contacted him asking questions about vampires, resulting in the formation of a correspondence circle of about a dozen people. Rather than write each individually, Gittens decided to produce an information leaflet and organized the correspondence circle into The Vampyre Society, taking its name from a novella by John Polidori. Within a year the free information leaflet had become a newsletter offered for subscription through the society. A short time later, Gittens had a falling out with one of the society’s leaders, who then left and established a rival organization with the same name. Both organizations claimed to be the continuation of the original society.

The Vampyre Society is primarily a correspondence club for its members (approximately 100 in 1993), who share a common interest in the vampire in all of its aspects. The society held no meetings and eschewed any association with either adherents of the occult or with blood-drinking. New members were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire concerning their interest in vampires. The society’s newsletter grew into a quarterly journal, For the Blood Is the Life which featured occasional special issues devoted to poetry and fiction written by the members. The society was based in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

The second more-active Vampyre Society, headed by Carole Bohanan, was also founded in 1987. Bohanan was originally associated with Allen J. Gittens, but soon after the founding of the original Vampire Society, they parted company. The society led by Bohanan went on to become one of the largest vampire interest groups in England with local groups across the country. It published a high-quality journal, The Velvet Vampyre, which carried articles, shorts stories, and book and movie reviews. As the Dracula centennial approached, the society was split with dissension that led to its disruption as a national organization and the discontinuance of The Velvet Vampyre. A number of the local groups, most prominently one in London, survived briefly but was soon superseded by the presently existing Vampire Connexion. The Vampire Connexion publishes a journal, Dark Nights and may be reached via email at Info@AlexMasi.co.uk.

No coverage of the UK vampire fandom scene would be complete without mention of the Uncle Alucard. In 1992, Dr. Michael Eboy, a London lawyer, with an interest in Victorian life, created a counter-myth to the one publicly projected by the Vampyre Society. His tongue-in-cheek effort began with a letter he sent to The Velvet Vampyre, the society’s journal. Signed by a (fictional) Professor William Drysdale of the University of Human Sciences, the letter recounted how he had been contacted by Eboy who, in 1988, had returned from eastern Europe with proof that vampires were real and still functioned on Earth. Drysdale had turned Eboy away although he was sure that Eboy was in London as a vampire hunter.

Following the publication of that letter, Eboy became the center of a small group of vampire enthusiasts who prefer to celebrate the vampire hunters, especially as portrayed by actor Peter Cushing in the several movies produced by Hammer Films. In a set of brief writings, Eboy created the fiction that he descended from a family of vampire hunters. Among their targets was the vampire Frederick Scvartsenferter, better known as Camp Freddie, who has eluded the efforts of his family to finally kill him.

In 1992, Eboy published a single issue of a fanzine, Uncle Alucard which continued the myth and featured articles on vampire hunting. Meanwhile, Eboy and several friends made several appearances at The Vampyre Society gatherings. Eboy and his associates gathered irregularly in the 1990s to screen vampire movies and hold contests in vampire staking (using a watermelon as a substitute for a corpse). Not covered as part of vampire fandom are the two rival organizations headed by people who believe in the reality of vampires, the Vampire Research Society led by Sean Manchester and the Highgate Vampire Society founded by David Farrant. Manchester, in particular, sees the activities of vampire enthusiasts as dangerous, and all agree that vampire fans and the Vampire Research Society are pursuing very different goals.

Sources:

“Eboy’s Casefile: The One that Got Away.” The Velvet Vampire 21 (1993): 18–21.
Farrant, David. Beyond the Highgate Vampire. London: British Psychic and Occult Society, 1991. Third revised ed. London: British Psychic and Occult Society, 2002. 63 pp.
———. The Vampire Syndrome: The Truth Behind the Highgate Vampire Legend. London: Mutiny! Press, 2000. 65 pp.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Vampires Among Us. New York: Pocket Books, 1991. 270 pp.
Manchester, Sean. The Highgate Vampire: The Infernal World of the Undead Unearthed at London’s Highgate Cemetery and Environs. London: Gnostic Press, 1985. Revised ed. London: The Gothic Press, 1991. 188 pp.
———. The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook. London: Gothic Press, 1997. 96 pp.