Medieval ruins have long inspired the ghostly literary imagination. Perhaps most famously, the shell of the magnificent 13th-century church at Whitby Abbey provided an atmospheric backdrop to chilling scenes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire novel par excellence. But elements of Stoker’s story of the blood-sucking Transylvanian count have historical antecedents from across medieval Europe, evidence of which is buried in the histories of English Heritage sites in northern England.

Excavations at Wharram Percy revealed skeletons with their heads removed, likely ritual mutilation to prevent the dead rising from their graves to trouble the living. Monastic chroniclers documented the horrific deeds perpetrated by Satanic corpses during the hours of darkness. Twelve chilling ghost stories written by a monk of Byland Abbey at the turn of the 15th-century show that protection against the restless dead was provided by saying the name of Christ, crucifixes and holy relics.

Today, Dracula’s association with Whitby Abbey has resulted in the ruined monastery becoming a destination for modern-day Goths, especially at Halloween. Unwitting, they’re flocking to the abbey on the feast day of St Begu, a 7th-century nun and one of Whitby’s greatest saints – the evil count would’ve been quite powerless when faced with her sanctity.

Join Dr Michael Carter, Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage in this talk exploring the ghastly, gory, gothic history of some of the UK’s most fascinating locations.

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of the empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, we bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year. www.english-heritage.org.uk

About The Host

Michael Carter

Michael Carter is a medieval historian and art historian. His research is focused on monasteries, saints and relics. Michael holds a doctorate from the Courtauld Institute of Art and his numerous publications include The Architecture of the Cistercians in Northern England, c.1300-1540. Since 2015, Michael is Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage and he is also an honorary fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.