Sheffield Gothic presents:
our Spooky Places to Visit Picks for Halloween
Its a Gothicists favourite time of the year, so what better time than Halloween to share some of our favourite spooky recommendations! Whether you prefer Terror Gothic or Horror Gothic, if you like your frights to be strictly PG, or if you just need a break from slaying all that evil – settle in with our spooky picks. And if you like any of our recommendations, or want to share some of your own, don’t forget to tweet us at @SheffieldGothic!
Sheffield is so ideally placed to visit lots of fascinating locations with Gothic associations that it is difficult to pick just one, but Hardwick Hall makes the cut as my Halloween recommendation. I’m known for my love of country houses to the extent that my nephew once referred to me as ‘Country Manor Hannah’, so no surprises I’m going to pick this spooky sixteenth-century pile.
Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall (as the saying goes), is as impressive as it is imposing. Although the expansive windows make this a far less gloomy space than you’d usually expect from a house of this period, the towering façade still looms large over the approaching visitor. Standing in stark contrast to the remains of the ruined old manor house which still stand alongside the sumptuous new hall, Robert Smythson’s designs were radical for the time. Topped with the initials ES, there is no mistaking that this building was very much a power project for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, perhaps better known as Bess of Hardwick (1520-1608). Bess has gone down in history as formidable social climber who became one of the richest and most powerful women in the country through a series of strategic marriages. Her fourth and final marriage sealed her position as Countess of Shrewsbury, but her canny handling of property and other business ventures meant that she was no mere dependent.
As someone particularly interested in women’s art, I’m fascinated by Bess’ extant needlework – particularly that she worked on with Mary, Queen of Scots whilst she was held under house arrest by the Shrewsburys on behalf of Elizabeth I. Although Mary did not stay at Hardwick (the new hall was not yet built), the property retains an association with Mary due to her links with Bess. When Ann Radcliffe visited the site, she was particularly taken with the property’s supposed connections to Mary, Queen of Scots and you can see how tales of incarcerated women in Radcliffe’s work may well have been inspired by Hardwick’s history. The life of Bess’ granddaughter, Arbella Stewart (1575-1615) certainly reads like the plot to a Gothic novel. Effectively held captive in the gilded cage of Hardwick Hall, her Lennox blood meant that she was seen as a political pawn who could potentially have succeeded Elizabeth I as Queen of England, but a far unhappier fate was in store for Arbella following her daring escape from her grandmother’s watchful eye. Marrying William Seymour (1587-1660) without royal consent saw her imprisoned in the Tower of London, where she died in 1615.
There is currently the chance to view the portraits of 20 modern women, taken by the photographer Rachel Adams, hanging alongside the Tudor portraits in the Long Gallery. This temporary exhibition, entitled ‘We are Bess’, is billed as a project which seeks to reveal ‘a new side to Bess of Hardwick’s story through the voices and experiences of modern day women’. With such a rich history of strong, wilful women, Hardwick Hall is one of those places I find I like more and more each time I visit.
The National Justice Museum
Formally known as the Galleries of Justice, this museum in Nottingham is a perfect location for any one keen on embarking on some Gothic related tourism. The building as it stands is a mishmash of Georgian and Victorian architecture, placed on top of a centuries old dungeon carved into the cliff face with what is possibly an oubliette. The prison and courthouses are full to the brim with history, some of which is literally carved into the walls. The museum showcases Victorian isolation cells, a debtors prison and even Georgian pits. Also, if Robin Hood existed, this may have been the prison he spent his days escaping from: the museum was once the Shire Reeve’s hall, where the Sheriff of Nottingham heard cases. Amongst the museum’s weird, wonderful and tragic past are a number of tales of haunting and apparitions. If ghoul hunting is your thing, you can even join an overnight paranormal investigation. (Disclaimer: I worked in the museum myself, and though I saw many, many bizarre things there, ghosts weren’t one of them… #shaniac)
Situated in the market town of Bakewell in Derbyshire, Haddon Hall is a fortified medieval manor house surrounded by sublime views of the Peak District. As its website attests, the house and grounds have played host to no less than three adaptations of Jane Eyre, which is one of the reasons why I have nominated Haddon Hall for this category. While there is no evidence to suggest that Charlotte Brontë ever set eyes upon Haddon Hall, Jane’s description of Thornfield’s ‘bold battlements’ is certainly evocative of its imposing exterior:
The fifteenth-century fresco seccoes that adorn the walls of the adjoining chapel are my second reason for choosing Haddon Hall as my favourite spooky place to visit. These recovered murals (see below) are the vestiges of the chapel’s pre-Reformation wall décor, which was white washed until the 1930s.
A list of spooky placed to visit isn’t complete without Whitby, arguably the home of the Goths. Whether you want to tick Whitby Abbey off of your religious Gothic bucket list, follow in the footsteps of Bram Stoker and his Transylvanian count, Dracula, visit the Dracula experience, or attend the legendary Whitby Goth fest, Whitby has something Gothic for everyone. Visit the West Cliff and see the pavilion where Stoker often stayed when he visited Whitby, which was at the time a very popular Victorian sea side haunt. This pavilion is also where Mina and Lucy would stay in Stoker’s novel. A short walk from the pavillion will take you to the cliff edge overlooking the East Ciff that is separated from the West Cliff by the river Esk, and that marks the entrance of Dracula from Transylvania to England as the place where the Demeter crashes onto the shore of Whitby. Later, and standing on the West cliff at night, Mina searches for her somnambulist friend and spots Lucy and a dark shadow in the churchyard of St Mary’s.
Like Mina, you can climb the 199 steps to St Mary’s church, and explore the graves that still stand here, some crumbling near the cliff edge on this side. In daylight you can gaze upon Whitby’s array of red roofs, or look behind the church to the historic ruins of Whitby abbey that possesses its own ghost. Predating Dracula, the woman in white haunts the Abbey ruins. I cannot guarantee that you will meet this ghostly women in white or even Dracula here, but if they were to be found anywhere its Whitby. And you never know what lurks beneath that striking gothic ruin, or what monsters might be hiding just beneath the surface of a beautiful seaside town (just make sure you stay away from any stray dogs that leap from mysterious shipwrecks!)
So Edinburgh might be the obvious choice for a Gothic trip in Scotland (which it is, the place is incredibly Gothic, but that’s quite well documented) but here I want to talk about a different Scottish city, Glasgow, because amongst Glasgow’s many cultural delights is A REAL ACTUAL NECROPOLIS. I would recommend a winter visit for maximum effect.
Yes: A NECROPOLIS.
Is there anything more Gothic than a necropolis? No. It’s glorious. You could easily lose an entire afternoon wandering around its magnificent Victorian monuments.
Also they have the Hunterian, some amazing Victorian architecture, and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. It’s a wonderful city.
The Churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, London
As I live in Sheffield, St Pancras International is the only destination for your direct train journey from Sheffield to London. As a Thai person, I was quite shocked, and am still a little terrified, whenever I walk into any beautiful churchyards or cemeteries. As far as I understand, churchyards and cemeteries are beautiful places you can pay respect to the deceased and, at the same time, they can function as a park to walk your dogs, or to have a stroll. (That might sound a bit like Addam’s Family though.) In Thailand, we have cemeteries, which are the places we pay respect to the deceased as well, but it is not a place people would stroll, even in a day. You can say this is a kind of culture shock for me.
After doing a little research on Mary Shelley, I decided to visit St Pancras Old Churchyard, not far from St Pancras International Station. The small church, with ornate decoration inside, does not attract me as much as the churchyard. I would like to recommend the churchyard, especially if you love the Gothic and you’re interested in nineteenth-century literature. The first reason I decided to visit, and the main reason for me to recommend you to visit, is to pay respect to Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave stone. The grave stone will not only remind you of her activism for women’s rights, but also her daughter’s famous Gothic work, Frankenstein, and her tryst with Percy Shelley here around her mother’s gravestone. As a fifteen-year old girl, who used to stay in Dundee and see the carnage of whaling, what add to her imagination are the resurrectionists in this churchyard. The resurrectionists exhumed bodies from graveyard for medical students before the enactment of Anatomy Act (1832), and St Pancras Old Church were among the places they worked. If you love Frankenstein, this is the place to reimagine the Gothic atmosphere which inspired Mary Shelley to pen her creature. Also, Charles Dickens’ literary resurrectionist, Jeremiah Cruncher, in A Tale of Two Cities, has brought his son to visit his “workplace” to learn how he works. The son, certainly, became hallucinated, and imagines that a jumping coffin is following him home. To add to the Gothic atmosphere, you will surely meet a huge tree, surrounded by gravestones. That was one of the first architectural works of no one else, but Thomas Hardy, who was still an assistant to Arthur Bloomfield, a renowned architect, at that time. Thomas Hardy had to move all the gravestones and reinter bodies from the churchyard, as King’s Cross Station had started to materialise and expand into the border of the churchyard. The tree is now called The Hardy Tree.
If you would love to start a Gothic literary pilgrimage, this place must be included in your trip.