Place is very important in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Most famously it takes place in Transylvania, which was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the control of the Kingdom of Hungary. Also, Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast is very important. Both of those places (and Stoker never visited Transylvania) are heavy with atmosphere. But equally important to the novel are the episodes that concern Dracula in London.
At that time, London was the centre of the every expanding British Empire and the pre-eminent city in the world in terms of commerce and power. Dracula wants to come from the (to me delightful) obscurity of Transylvania to the centre of the world so he can further the plague of vampirism. Key places mentioned in Dracula are the Albemarle Hotel where the Honorable Arthur Holmwood stays in the centre of fashionable London when he’s in town.
Dracula arrives in Purfleet
Dr Seward runs his asylum at Purfleet east of London in the county of Essex where Dracula’s servant Renfield eats flies and is contained in a straight-jacket. Nearby is Carfax Abbey which Dracula rents out and has his boxes of earth transferred to. It’s a dusty old place and while there is no place named Carfax Abbey at Purfleet, the London History Society did some research and suggest Carfax Abbey might be based on Purfleet House built by the brewing family Whitbread. This house is now demolished and the stones recycled into a modern church. The London Historical Society tells me something I didn’t know that there is a plaque marking its site that was placed by the beautiful Ingrid Pitt, who starred in such vampire classic movies as Carmilla, Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers.
Vampires in Hampstead
Lucy Westenra first falls victim to Dracula in Whitby where she is on vacation, but when she returns to London, the count follows her to her home near Hampstead Heath. Later, when Lucy rises as a vampire she haunts Hampstead Heath (which interestingly is not far from Highgate Cemetary, haunted by the famous Highgate Vampire in the next century. I recall from his book that Bishop Sean Manchester, had theorized that a Romanian nobleman originally from the 15th Century and now ‘King Vampire’ had come to be buried in the crypts at Highgate and that this might be the origin on the Highgate Vampire, and in passing one wonders whether this allegedly real vampire was the inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula. Or the other way round.) Both Manchester and his rival David Farrant wrote books of their experiences at Highgate, which are now rare and expensive.
London Zoo at Regent’s Park is the scene of the escape of the Norwegian wolf Berserker, who goes missing from his cage and goes up to Hillingham where Lucy lives (a made up place near Hampstead) and appears at the broken window. Berserker is a savage animal tearing at his cage to get out but the keeper recounts the story of a strange man who was able to tickle the wolf’s ears. We already know from Transylvania that Dracula has influence over wolves. Then the wolf mysteriously escapes and the keeper can’t account for how that might be. The wolf goes up to Lucy’s house at Hampstead and breaks the glass in the window, scaring her mother literally to death, who snatches the protective garlic from Lucy’s throat, and somehow letting in Dracula as a cloud of specks:
The air seems full of specks, floating and circling in the draught from the window, and the lights burn blue and dim.
And that’s Lucy’s fate sealed.
Lucy is buried in a church in Kingstead (Hampstead). Hampstead is a delightful place and worth visiting if you’re in London. The church that Stoker seems to have intended as Lucy’s resting place is St John at Hampstead. Again, a great church and well worth a visit for its atmosphere. Probably don’t tell them you are vampire hunting though. Later the vampire Lucy wanders Hampstead Heath killing small children.
THE HAMPSTEAD HORROR.
ANOTHER CHILD INJURED.
The “Bloofer Lady.”
We have just received intelligence that another child, missed last night, was only discovered late in the morning under a furze bush at the Shooter’s Hill side of Hampstead Heath, which is, perhaps, less frequented than the other parts. It has the same tiny wound in the throat as has been noticed in other cases. It was terribly weak, and looked quite emaciated. It too, when partially restored, had the common story to tell of being lured away by the “bloofer lady.”
Van Helsing and Dr Seward go hunting the vampire at Hampstead and eat at Jack Straw’s Castle (now luxury appartments with a gym!).
About ten o’clock we started from the inn. It was then very dark, and the scattered lamps made the darkness greater when we were once outside their individual radius. The Professor had evidently noted the road we were to go, for he went on unhesitatingly; but, as for me, I was in quite a mixup as to locality. As we went further, we met fewer and fewer people, till at last we were somewhat surprised when we met even the patrol of horse police going their usual suburban round. At last we reached the wall of the churchyard, which we climbed over. With some little difficulty—for it was very dark, and the whole place seemed so strange to us—we found the Westenra tomb.
This seems to be St John at Hampstead and Van Helsing and Seward break into the tomb but they find Lucy’s coffin is empty, but as they wait the vampire returns with a dead child. These aren’t sparkly Twilight vampires remember. They are nasty.
Suddenly, as I turned round, I thought I saw something like a white streak, moving between two dark yew-trees at the side of the churchyard farthest from the tomb; at the same time a dark mass moved from the Professor’s side of the ground, and hurriedly went towards it. Then I too moved; but I had to go round headstones and railed-off tombs, and I stumbled over graves. The sky was overcast, and somewhere far off an early cock crew. A little way off, beyond a line of scattered juniper-trees, which marked the pathway to the church, a white, dim figure flitted in the direction of the tomb.
The intrepid vampire hunters don’t encounter the vampire Lucy there and then but they take the child’s corpse to the Heath where it can be discovered by the police and catch a cab from The Spaniards Inn.
You will remember that when Dracula left Transylvania, he brought with him boxes full of his native earth, dug from the old ruined chapel at his castle by his Slovak servants. There were fifty boxes of earth in the chapel and Jonathan Harker found the count asleep in one of them during the day. These boxes were on the ship Demeter which was wrecked at Whitby, but they were recovered from the ship by Dracula’s servants and all fifty are sent to Dracula’s rented house at Carfax Abbey, next to the asylum where the madman, and servant of Dracula, Renfield is kept. Renfield becomes very agitated when he spies these boxes being delivered to the abbey and goes out and attacks the workmen delivering them, only just being beaten off with a whip. It’s fun that Stoker mentions these boxes all the time, seen by his characters or mentioned in letters and reports, but no one figures out what they are until much later and then they have to track down all the boxes all across London in case Dracula is resting in one of them.
Dracula in London – Piccadilly
Nine of the boxes are sent on from Carfax to a house he was also renting in the heart of fashionable Piccadilly, “only a few doors from a big white church or somethink of the kind.” The only church I can find on Piccadilly is St James which is red brick with white stone dressing, so perhaps Stoker made this up, or perhaps he changed the description?
The house in Piccadilly where Dracula was lurking was a high one with a stone front with a bow in it with steps up to the door. Jonathan Harker goes searching for the house and takes a cab to Piccadilly Circus then walks west down Piccadilly past the Junior Constitutional Club at 101 Piccadilly. The north side of Piccadilly here is built up but the south is Green Park. It was beyond this he found Dracula’s house encrusted in dust with the shutters up. It looked empty.
If I were to guess, I’d say the only one even slightly matching this description — stone with a bow in it — is 105 Piccadilly. Now a very swanky place.
Later they see the Count on Piccadilly ‘grown young’.
As well as sending boxes of earth to the fashionable West End, Dracula also rents a property at 197 Chicksand Street, Mile End New Town, in the unfashionable East End area known as Whitechapel. This area is now completely different as it was bombed flat in the war and the old houses have been swept away and are replaced by council housing. But, everyone reading Dracula knows Whitechapel as the scene of the horrific Jack the Ripper Murders. There were eleven brutal killings in Whitechapel from 1888 until 1891 and Dracula was published in 1897, though written earlier of course. This area was one of great poverty, disease and crime and the Victorian readers of Dracula would have had all sorts of images of murder and danger and darkness conjured in their imaginations (and remember that Jack the Ripper was thought by many to be supernatural at least in part). Jack was thought by many to be an outsider, a foreigner or a mad aristocrat and so again we see a linkage with Dracula.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886 with a stage version in 1888 and the monstrous Mr Hyde went hunting from his house in Soho, an area painted in dull and sinister colours:
The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful re-invasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare.