5 Gothic literary locations in the UK

Many of the world’s most famous Gothic authors lived in the UK. The country’s wild and dramatic locations inspired some of the most iconic characters, scenes and places in Gothic fiction.

1. Haworth, West Yorkshire

Emily Brontë and her sisters lived in Haworth, West Yorkshire. The wild moors surrounding the village were the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. The bleak and stormy landscape was the perfect location for a Gothic drama of obsession and violence.

An isolated location is a hallmark of Gothic literature. Think of Dracula’s foreboding Transylvanian castle or the desolate French alps in Frankenstein. Emily Brontë bought the isolated, Gothic location to the UK’s shores. The novel features other hallmarks of Gothic fiction too: a tyrannical 'hero', ghosts and the supernatural, and an imposing and atmospheric building.

Today, visitors can absorb themselves in the atmosphere of the novel by visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. The more adventurous can venture into the moors and seek out Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse reputed to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

The wild and rugged landscape of the Yorkshire moors inspired Emily Brontë's famous novel

2. Strawberry Hill House, London

Horace Walpole, a writer, politician, antiquarian, and son of Britain’s first prime minister, built Strawberry Hill House in four stages: 1749, 1760, 1772 and 1776. With each stage, he added more and more Gothic features - towers, crenellations, battlements, fireplaces and other elaborate interiors. The house predated and inspired the Gothic revivalism in Victorian architecture.

After he had built Strawberry Hill House, Walpole claimed the idea for his novel The Castle of Otranto came to him following a vision of a 'monstrous disembodied hand in armour'

The Castle of Otranto is widely regarded as the first-ever Gothic novel.

Some of the creepier items contained in Strawberry House (and sometimes displayed to the public) included:

  • A clock Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn on their wedding day, she was condemned and ordered to be beheaded by her husband. Their initials are still visible on the clock.

  • William Hogarth’s portrait of Sarah Malcolm, a convicted murderer. The portrait shows her awaiting her execution.

A monstrous disembodied hand in amour

Horace Walpole's vision inspired the first ever Gothic novel

3. Whitby, North Yorkshire

The windswept, atmospheric seaside town of Whitby was where Count Dracula first arrived in the UK. Bram Stoker’s visit to the town in 1890 inspired some of the iconic scenes and characters in his famous novel.

In the old public library, Stoker discovered ‘An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia’, a book by William Wilkinson, a British consul in Bucharest. Wilkinson’s book discussed a prince from the 15th Century - Vlad Tepes (more famously known as “Vlad the Impaler” because he impaled his enemies on wooden spikes). Vlad was known locally by the nickname Dracula. Stoker was drawn to the evocative name and the gruesome history of the region.

Stoker also learned of a Russian ship, the Dmitry from Narva, which was wrecked on East Cliff near Whitby five years earlier. The ship carrying the Count in its cargo was renamed the Demeter in the novel.

The atmospheric ruined abbey in Whitby, North Yorkshire was among the locations that inspired Bram Stoker's novel Dracula

4. Bath, Somerset

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has one of the most iconic origin stories in all of literature. In the wet summer of 1816, Mary, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and others gathered in the Villa Diodati, near Lake Geneva.

'We will each write a ghost story!', Byron declared. The 18-year-old Mary devised a tale which would 'speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror.'

Though the idea for Frankenstein was concieved on Lake Geneva, it was written in Bath. In 2018 a plaque was unveiled by the city's Pump Room, celebrating Shelley's connection to the city. It explains that Mary arrived in Bath in September 1816, took lodgings at 5 Abbey Church Yard (later demolished for the pump room extension), and attended lectures by Dr Wilkinson in the Kingston lecture rooms. In one lecture he suggested that electricity could bring inanimate matter to life, which inspired some of the scenes and themes in her prescient and original novel.

Bath is where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein

5. Fowey, Cornwall

Manderley, the iconic and gloomy house in Daphne Du Maurier's Gothic tale Rebecca, was loosely based on Menabily, a house near Fowey, Cornwall.

Du Maurier lived there for over twenty years and was obsessed with it. She never owned Menabily, but had a long lease from the Rashleigh family. It was dilapidated when she moved in and she took great pains to renovate it.

Though it was smaller than Manderley, the houses share similarities: both are located down a windy path, far from the road, surrounded by dense woodland, and separated from the sea by steep cliffs and treacherous rocks.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

The iconic opening line from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Learn more about this topic:

How did Shakespeare shape our sense of history?
WW1: Has poetry distorted our view of the war?
Culture in the countryside: Top ten places to take your kids