Back to blog

Whitby is a small town with a big history. The headland overlooking the fishing port shows evidence of at least 3,000 years of continuous occupation. The Abbey hosted the famous Synod of Whitby, which determined the date we use to calculate Easter; the town was home to both Caedmon, the father of English Poetry, and the explorer Captain James Cook. But it is Whitby’s connection with Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula which looms large in popular culture; especially at Halloween.

Whitby Blog 1

Bram Stoker had already written two novels, and was working on a play based Austria, when he arrived for a holiday in Whitby in 1890. During his holiday the dramatic seascape and atmospheric streets of Whitby provided inspiration for his new work. In particular, the 199 steps, which wind their way up St Mary’s Church and graveyard, framed by the soaring remains of the Abbey behind, left a deep impression on Stoker. The play which Stoker was working on became a novel, and began not in Austria, but in Transylvania. That novel, Dracula, was published in 1897 and is one of the biggest selling novels of all time. Many of the key scenes of the novel are set in Whitby, including Dracula’s dramatic arrival from Transylvania, on board the Demeter, from which he leaps in the form of a black hound, and bounds up the 199 steps towards the Abbey.

Stoker was not alone in writing this style of fiction, the Victorians were fascinated with the gothic, with many other plays and novels featuring haunted houses, eerie castles, ghosts and monsters, and darkly mysterious foreign lands. The windswept headland on which Whitby Abbey sits, the eerie graveyard of St Marys and the dark gothic remains of the Abbey are a classic Victorian Gothic location. 

The town of Whitby and Whitby Abbey have come become popular with fans of Dracula and other Victorian Gothic literature. Mina Murray, one of the key characters in Dracula, records in her diary. “Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes ... It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.”

Whitby Blog 2

Every year, in the run up to Halloween, English Heritage hosts Illuminated Abbey, a celebration of the sites connection with Dracula and the Victorian Gothic tradition. The Abbey is illuminated with an array of colours, providing a stunning backdrop for performances which celebrate the rich gothic tradition. Illuminated Abbey runs from 23 to 31 October from 6pm to 9pm. Get your tickets now.

Promotional blog written by English Heritage

You may also like

IMG 0397 7690 1131487651
Dog friendly white

Rose Cottage Huggate

Dare you brave York Dungeon

York Dungeon

Visit York image 1 331627000
Things to do white

LEaF Translations

Visit our eshop to buy exclusive York gifts and merchandise.

Shop Now
New Site Ad 02 New Site Ad 03 Mobile