The infamous novel Dracula was published in 1897 and has never been out of print. Here we discuss Dracula in Whitby and how Bram Stoker was inspired by the seaside town to write his famous novel.
There are short descriptions of Whitby and the surrounding area throughout the Dracula novel however it’s the opening chapters that let you know you’re definitely in Whitby.
When we explore the moody but picturesque ruins of Whitby Abbey, they have a truly unique atmosphere which is the perfect backdrop for any gothic horror story. They are the most remarkable and obvious inspiration for Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.
Whitby Abbey's connection to Dracula
It's obvious how impactful Whitby Abbey is to the story of Dracula. There are bits and pieces of Whitby that can be found throughout Stoker’s novel, including, of course, the famous 199 steps that lead up to the Abbey.
Dracula in the form of a dog is shown to run up the steps after his ship is wrecked on Tate Hill Sands. You’ll also see references to the town’s ruins of the Abbey.
St Marys Churchyard's connection to Dracula
If you have visited Whitby you can totally imagine St Marys Churchyard on Whitby’s windswept headland, with the dramatic Abbey ruins towering over it, surrounded by swooping bats! Or just us?
“For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St. Mary’s Church and all around it. Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the Abbey coming into view; and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and churchyard became gradually visible… It seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.”
Many of the notes that Stoker made during the visit were included in the dialogue of Mina Murray, one of the novels main characters.
There is a seat in St Marys Churchyard that was a favourite spot for Stoker to sit, looking out to sea. It is this seat where Lucy is first attacked by Dracula, referred to by Mina as the ‘suicide seat’.
It is clear that Whitby made a huge impact on Bram Stoker. The most exciting chapters of the book are those that take place in the town.
Local legends are woven into the fabric of the story of Dracula in Whitby. From the grounding of the Demeter at Tate Hill Sands to the first attack of Dracula on Lucy on the ‘suicide seat’, the intensity of the action in the sleepy fishing port of Whitby is the finest in the novel. Whitby is truly the birthplace of Dracula.
Bram Stoker's visit to Whitby
Bram Stoker first visited Whitby in 1890 with his son, Noel and his wife, Florence Balcombe, one-time sweetheart of Oscar Wilde. Stoker was directed to the town by a good friend in 1890 after he became exhausted from work. He apparently fell for the place immediately. The Stokers stayed at number 6 Royal Crescent – one of the most prestigious addresses in the town. At the height of the Victorian era, Whitby had become one of the most popular resorts in the UK.
If you stand outside the Royal Hotel on the West Cliff today you can get the same view as Stoker would have got 125 years ago. A few things have changed over the course of the last century but you can easily relate the descriptions in the novel to the beautiful scenery of Whitby.
The novel starts with Dracula travelling from Russia to London on a schooner that becomes shipwrecked off the coast of Whitby.
This tale was told to him during his stay and is based on an incident that actually happened earlier in the 1800s. As Stoker roamed around the graves at the top of the East Cliff, he chatted with local fishermen and the coastguard.
These conversations revealed to him the story of a recent wrecking of the ship, Dmitry, a Russian schooner sailing out of Narva. The cargo of silver sand wrecked on the beach at Tate Hill Sands.
Similarly, the form of the large black hound that Dracula takes as he enters Whitby is taken from a legend that can still be heard in some of the old taverns of the area.
Demeter is a popular name for guest houses and cottages throughout the town. It is the name given to the ship featured in the novel that carried Dracula to Whitby, in boxes of earth and silver sand. It sailed from the port of Varna.
During the trip to Whitby, on the afternoon of Friday 8 August 1890, Stoker visited what was known as the Coffee House End of the Quay. He visited the public lending library on the Harbourside (now the Quayside fish and chip restaurant).
The book he read was called An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova by William Wilkinson. Wilkinson’s history mentioned a 15th-century prince called Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler) who was said to have impaled his enemies on wooden stakes.
Bram Stoker had just discovered the star of his book. He was known as Dracula – the ‘son of the dragon’. In Wallachian language Dracula interestingly means Devil. The Wallachians at that time used to give this as a surname to people who were cruel in actions, or cunning.
Bram Stoker’s love for Whitby and the surrounding area is evident when you read the words of his novel’s characters, such as Mina. One of the book’s main characters, Mina keeps a journal where she describes many of the scenic areas in and around the town as they were at the time Stoker was there.
Take the guided Dracula in Whitby tour
During the 1990s one of Whitby’s long term residents, Harry Collett, thoroughly researched the connection between Bram Stoker and Whitby before deciding to offer informative guided walks to the thousands of Dracula fans that visit the town each year.
Although Harry is no longer conducting these tours himself, the walks are still available through Dr Crank, dressed in the traditional Victorian costume of course. He now insists however that the walks happen after the sun goes down…it is a tour of Dracula in Whitby after all.
Dr Crank's walks are ideal if you want to know the real facts about Bram Stoker, Dracula and Whitby. During the tour, you’ll get to hear the myths and legends that Stoker would have heard from the fishermen and labourers of the time; the myths and legends that helped to create his timeless novel Dracula.
For more information on Dr Cranks's walks, you can visit his website at www.whitbywalks.com
Learn more about Dracula and Whitby in this video
Dracula in Whitby today
Whitby will always be associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and thankfully the residents of the town have found numerous ways to keep the connection alive. From the coffin-shaped chocolates found in the local fudge shop to the fake tombstone depicting the final resting place of Dracula, there are remnants of the fictional character everywhere you look (they may not always be obvious though so look closely).
If you have a spare hour while in Whitby, and a strong heart to go with it, you can always take part in the Dracula Experience. Here you get to skulk around a series of pitch-black tunnels while being ‘attacked’ by the local ‘ghouls and ghosts’. Scary yet a lot of fun, this experience isn’t for the fainthearted.
If you love Dracula you might enjoy Whitby Goth Weekend
The bi-annual event inspired by the dark world of Dracula is the Whitby Goth Weekend. This is a very popular alternative/gothic music festival that is normally held around May and early November. The dedicated website has a list of acts for each event so if you’re interested in the next event please visit www.whitbygothweekend.co.uk.
To many people, Whitby is a sleepy town on the Yorkshire Coast but as you can see, it has an interesting history.
The connection between Whitby, Dracula and Bram Stoker is undeniable but even if you’re not particularly interested in this aspect of the town there are still plenty more things to see and do while visiting.
So it's clear to see why Whitby was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's, Dracula. Maybe Whitby will inspire you to write too. If you have more information on Dracula and the connections to Whitby then please let us know in the comments.