Melanie Ward takes a look at the time Bram Stoker holidayed in Whitby and how it inspired his most famous creation, and also tells the story of his wife, Florence
In 1890, Bram Stoker was employed as a business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London, which was owned by his friend, Henry Irvine. Stoker had written two novels and was working on a third, set in Austria – the story of an aristocratic vampire called Count Wampyr. After a tour of Scotland, Irving proposed a month’s holiday, after which the theatrical company would reconvene. Irving suggested to Stoker that he might enjoy a stay at Whitby, a town on the North Yorkshire coast which was a popular holiday destination in Victorian England.
And so in late July, Stoker travelled by train from Kings Cross station and arrived at Whitby, taking a room at No. 6 Royal Crescent, a boarding house owned by Mrs Veazey.
His wife, Florence, and their young son, Noel, were to join him later, but for the first week Stoker was alone. He spent his time walking around the town, taking in its sights and sounds, its history and its folklore.
Royal Crescent was on the West Cliff, and each day Stoker would stop and admire the view across the bay. Opposite, on the top of the East Cliff, the ruins of an ancient abbey cast a shadow over St Mary’s Church and graveyard, situated high above the town.
Stoker made several visits to the East Cliff, ascending the one hundred and ninety nine steps that lead to St. Mary’s Churchyard, and sitting on a bench to admire the view of West Cliff. During one of his visits he fell into conversation with an old sailor, George Estill. Estill was in his 90s and he told Stoker a little of the history of the town, including the time in 1885 when a Russian ship, the Dmitri, had run aground at Tate Hill Sands at the bottom of the East Cliff. He may have also mentioned the Barguest Hound, a large black supernatural hound said to haunt the town.
Stoker was intrigued by this story of a shipwreck, and visited the coastguard station to find out more. One of the coastguards, William Petherick, gave him a copy of the Coastguard’s log book entry for October 1885, which detailed the wrecking of the Dmitri.
Stoker returned to St. Mary’s Church several more times, making notes of the names and details of some of the headstones, mostly of people who had drowned or been killed in distant parts and were simply remembered on the tombstone of their family.
In August, Stoker was joined by his wife, Florence, and their young son Noel. They spent their days sightseeing, going for a picnic at nearby Musgrave Wood, walking to nearby Robin Hood’s Bay and watching the annual Water Fete, where hundreds of people in fancy dress sailed in a flotilla of boats from the North Sea along the River Esk.