York & North Yorkshire

Whitby landslip exposes human bones at 'Dracula graveyard'

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Media captionThe BBC's Peter Harris reports from Whitby

Human bones have been exposed at a church graveyard in Whitby after a landslide took away part of the cliff.

The large landslip, at the cliff on which St Mary's Church stands, has exposed ancient graves when rock started to crumble.

The church, founded around AD1110, includes the graveyard that provided the inspiration for a scene in Bram Stoker's horror novel Dracula.

The human bones have been collected and will be reinterred, officials said.

The landslide has been blamed on a broken drainage pipe which has become damaged and fallen away.

'Only bones'

This meant that after heavy rainfall the soil became saturated, leading to more of the cliff falling away.

A stream of water can now be seen flowing out of the rock face where the bones are believed to have been recovered.

St Mary's rector, Canon David Smith said: "The cemetery has been closed for over a century, so if any graves are exposed it's only bones.

"If anything is exposed we collect and reinter them in the same churchyard away from the edge."

More cracks have since appeared in the cliff top at St Mary's churchyard and warning signs have been installed along the pathway.

Residents and business owners in the area are now concerned further landslides may occur should the cliff be subjected to more heavy rainfall.

Barry Brown, owner of Fortune's Kippers on Henrietta Street, below the cliff, voiced his fears of further movement.

He said: "There is still stuff coming down. It is currently no worse, but not a lot better either.

"They started work this week but it all depends on the weather."

Church responsibility

The church, a famous setting in Bram Stoker's Dracula, was built more than 900 years ago, with the cemetery closing in 1865.

Canon Smith said: "St Mary's is the oldest building left in Whitby.

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Media captionParts of Whitby church cemetery have fallen away

"It is a Grade I listed building and still the parish church so it would be a loss to the community."

The land, including the cliff itself, is the property of the church, and so it is their responsibility to carry out repairs.

Canon Smith added: "The church has been trying to get things done and we have had a civil engineer and people working to sort it out.

"They've been trying to find where the water was coming from and making the cliff edge more secure."

Whitby town councillor, Steve Smith, said the church building was not under threat.

He said: "The church is close to the edge of the landslip, some work has been done by a mini digger to do exploration work where the slippage is.

"I'm assured by the rector of the church, Canon David Smith that the church itself is built on a solid rock foundation."

The landslide comes after five houses in Aelfleda Terrace, Whitby, were demolished in December after heavy rain and flooding washed the steep bank beneath them away.

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