Learn more about Dracula's connections with Whitby and how Bram Stoker was inspired by the town to write his famous novel.
The infamous novel Dracula was published in 1897 and has never been out of print.
Bram Stoker first visited Whitby in 1890 with his son, Noel and his wife, Florence Balcombe, one-time sweetheart of Oscar Wilde. 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.
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’.
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.
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 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. Bram Stoker had just discovered the star of his book.
Dracula, meaning ‘Son of the Dragon’, leapt out of the pages in the form of Vlad Tepes, a sadistic Eastern European prince with a penchant for impaling his victims on wooden stakes.
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. From the grounding of the Demeter at Tate Hill Sands to the first attack of Dracula on Lucy on the ‘suicide seat’ in St Marys Churchyard, 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.
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, later saying that the atmosphere and sites such as Whitby Abbey and the graveyard of St Mary’s Church gave him the first creative sparks that led to the ‘Dracula’ novel.
For example, the book 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. 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.
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.
Where to find Bram Stoker’s Whitby
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.
As mentioned earlier, Bram Stoker stayed in a house located on the West Cliff. From there he could look out to the East Cliff with the Abbey and St Mary’s Churchyard standing proudly, yet eerily, on top; the view that set the scene for his dramatic opening chapters. Tate Hill Sands, where Dracula is written to have come ashore, depicts the start of his route into the town, while the 199 steps leading from the sands to the cliff top are most definitely real and worth the iconic climb.
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.
Take the guided Whitby Dracula 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’s 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 & Whitby in this video
The Lasting Remnants of Stoker’s Dracula in Whitby
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’re a true fan of Bram Stoker and Dracula then you might want to attend one (or both) of the bi-annual events that celebrate his life and works.
The Bram Stoker International Film Festival runs over a four day weekend twice a year, normally in spring and around Halloween. Attendees can enjoy a range of films and documentaries in addition to live theatre, guest speakers, lectures, debates, live music from an assortment of metal and goth bands, dark comedians, trade stands and of course a range of real ales and other delicious concoctions. More information can be found by visiting www.bramstokerfilmfestival.com
The second 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 (often it runs the weekend after the film festival). 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 & 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.
If you have more information on Dracula and the connections to Whitby then please comment below.