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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd

BRAM STOKER IN CRUDEN BAY AND THE WRITING OF DRACULA: EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS

Updated: Sep 25, 2022





Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, took his summer holidays in Cruden Bay between 1892 and 1910. A part-time writer, he managed the Lyceum Theatre in London, and his holidays gave him spare time to write his books. He started writing Dracula in the village in 1895, and may have completed it here in 1896.


The following are first and second-hand accounts of his visits to Cruden Bay as given by those who knew him, or as passed on to others.

 

‘Cruden has an enthusiastic friend in Mr Bram Stoker, Sir Henry Irving’s manager. Mr Stoker (says a London correspondent), made the acquaintance of the district – as he tells me – by accident. He wanted to find a bracing place far north on the east coast. From a large ordnance map and the geological formations, he knew that some such place must lie between Peterhead and Aberdeen.


Accordingly he went to Peterhead and walked down the coast, and when he saw Cruden he telegraphed to his family to come on to the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel [probably 1892]. Mr Stoker has been there every summer since then, and hopes some day to have at Cruden his own pied-a-terre.’

Buchan Observer, 26/10/1897.

 

‘Second visit to Port Erroll. Delighted with everything and everybody & hope to come again to the Kilmarnock Arms.’ Bram Stoker, writing in the hotel guest book, August 1894.


 

‘ “I remember Bram Stoker very well,” Mrs Cruickshank tells me. “I first met him in 1898 when I was working in the post office at Cruden Bay. He was a burly Irishman with a beard – very jovial, not at like the characters in his books. He told us he got his inspiration from the cliffs, rocks, sand and sea around Cruden Bay. I do remember his wife. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”


I asked Mrs Cruickshank if she’d ever read Dracula.


“I did many years ago,” she says. “Och, it was a terrible book.” ‘


From a newspaper cutting source unknown. Probably written by Gordon Casely in The People’s Journal in the 1960s.

 

Annie and James Cruickshank in the garden of the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel.


‘One of the few who remember [Bram Stoker] was Mrs A. E. Cruickshank [Annie Cruickshank, wife of James Cruickshank, owner of the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel]. “He became a familiar figure with his stout walking stick as he strolled along the sands and the cliffs,” said Mrs Cruickshank. “Bram Stoker came regularly for summer holidays, taking the Hilton Cottage, at the top of the brae behind the Kilmarnock hotel. On a fine day he used to sit at a table in the garden writing his books. His wife, Florence, was a lovely girl and they got on very well together. Bram, himself had a fine sense of humour, always joking about something. I met him quite a lot as he was always getting telegrams and letters from the Lyceum Theatre. He had a specially constructed bicycle which he used to ride across the sands.”

Gordon Casely. The People’s Journal 5/1/1963.

 


Dacre Stoker with Bram's copy of Dracula in the garden of Hilton Cottage, Cruden Bay.


I interviewed Gordon Casely for my book When Brave Men Shudder: the Scottish origins of Dracula. As a young reporter he was sent to Cruden Bay to interview those still alive at the time who knew Bram Stoker. He told me that the locals were exceedingly proud that Bram Stoker had chosen their village to write his books. One of them was Sandy Cruickshank, who described Bram’s bicycle as having a hammock for a saddle, and an unusual cantilever-type frame. Gordon, a cycling enthusiast, recognised the description as a ‘Dursley-Pedersen’ make.


Gordon provided more information for a newspaper article written in 2001. He recalls how Annie Cruickshank had shown him Bram’s writing table in Hilton Cottage - now lost. “Sandy Cruickshank [not a relative of Annie] remembered Stoker sitting outside and writing at the table on fine days...


Mrs Cruickshank, and a lady whose name now escapes me, independently related to me how Stoker would spend hours walking along Cruden beach, hands behind his back, apparently deep in thought and would also stand on the cliffs above Whinnyfold staring at the breakers below.”

 

[1895] ‘When he was at work on Dracula, we were all frightened of him. It was up on a lonely part of the east coast of Scotland, and he seemed to get obsessed by the spirit of the thing. There he would sit for hours, like a great bat, perched on the rocks of the shore, or wander alone up and down the sandhills thinking it out.’ Florence Stoker (wife of Bram Stoker), 1927.

 

Harry Ludlam, Bram Stoker’s first biographer, interviewed Bram’s son Noel Stoker for his book. Noel had accompanied his parents to Cruden Bay on at least three holidays. He told Ludlam that his father had started writing Dracula in 1895 in Cruden Bay. Ludlam gave more details in his book My Quest for Bram Stoker (2000). ‘Noel told me his father was “very testy” while working on Dracula, pushing ahead with at full steam. And in the above quote from Florence, Noel did not like the use of the word bat and asked Ludlam to change it to seabird for his biography.


Noel also revealed that Bram ‘proudly claimed to have discovered Port Erroll (the old name for Cruden Bay) to his brother Tom, also a frequent visitor to the village. ‘One of Bram’s particular delights was in yarning to the local fishermen.’ Noel showed Harry Ludlam albums of holiday snaps ‘but there were none that would have reproduced well in my intended book.’ Alas, the whereabouts of the photo albums are unknown today.

 

Reverend Adam Drummond, minister of Port Erroll Congregational Church from 1891 to 1895, told his grandson James Drummond, that although he found Bram convivial enough, he deplored the man’s passion for ‘black superstitions’, in particular his fascination for anything to do with death, funerals, and mourning. Bram Stoker spent ‘altogether too much time alone in graveyards’.

Aberdeen Evening Express, 6/2/1982.

 

Mrs Anne Stewart of Hatton, interviewed in 1993, recalled stories handed down from her father-in-law, Dr James Stewart, who was Bram Stoker’s doctor while he was in Cruden Bay,. ‘Dr Stewart treated Stoker for what was apparently a delirious bout of pneumonia, suffered after one clifftop walk too many [in August 1899]. Mrs Stewart told how her late mother-in-law recalled Stoker and his wife coming to Cruden Bay to Hatton for Sunday dinner. Because no trains ran on the Sabbath, they had to walk along the railway line!’

Buchan Observer, 9/3/93.

 

[1904. Bram Stoker opens the Peterhead Flower Show]. ‘Mr Stoker said it gave him much gratification to be present at the show that day to open it. He had had a great love for that part of Scotland for many years, and he hoped to come to it as long as he lived. When he did come, he would visit the Provost [who had introduced him], and he might also say that he intended to live on herrings all the time – (laughter and applause). He thought the flower show was a beautiful one, and a great credit to Peterhead and that part of Buchan.’

Buchan Observer, 16/8/1904.]

 

Crookit Lum Cottage, Whinnyfold,

‘His last visit to the North-East was in 1910, when he came to recuperate after a winter of illness. ”He took a house at Whinnyfold,” said Mrs Cruickshank. “It was the cottage of Mrs Isabella Main, or Isy Cay as we knew her. I went over to visit him. It was plain to see he was very ill.” Bram Stoker kept on working at what was to be his last story, The Lair of the White Worm. “We were all very sorry to hear of his death in 1912,” said Mrs Cruickshank. “He had such a strong and pleasant personality that I can still remember him clearly though it’s so long ago.’

Gordon Casely. The People’s Journal 5/1/1963.

 

[1910]. ‘Mr George Hay remembered well how Stoker would lie for hours at a time in a hammock, looking to the Skares. At other time he was more active, especially when the wind was high: Then the tall, bearded Irishman, his cloak flying in the wind tamping about the heavy sand, prodding it with the heavy stick, waving his arm and shouting at the great rollers as they thundered up the beach, and altogether behaving in such an outlandish way that George's second cousin, Eliza, who worked at the Kilmarnock Arms, was afraid to walk home across the sands to Whinnyfold, and took the long way round.’

James Drummond, Scots Magazine, April 1976.

 




When Bram Stoker died in 1912, Florence Stoker contributed two recipes to a recipe book compiled by the Cruden Parish Church. One was for The "Dracula" Salad. It was her tribute to her late husband, Cruden Bay, and the famous book he wrote there.



COPYRIGHT MIKE SHEPHERD 2022







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