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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd

SLAINS CASTLE: A GUIDE TO THE RUINS - PART 2: THE OCTAGONAL HALL AND DRACULA.

Updated: Sep 21, 2022



The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle




Entering the front door of Slains Castle, and proceeding alomng the corridor leading straight, you reach the octagonal hall, so-called because it is enclosed by eight walls. The walls still survive inside the ruins.



Top-down view of the ruins of Slains Castle showing the octagonal hall close to the front door at the bottom edge (Photo: copyright James Heasman)



The octagonal hall is famous because, as pointed out by local historian Margaret Aitken in her book Six Buchan Villages, there is an identical room in Castle Dracula. This may not be a coincidence given Bram Stoker's numerous holidays to the area.


Compare and contrast the following:


1. Details from a 1922 sales document for Slains Castle:


‘On the Principle Floor: Entrance Hall (heated with stove) leading to Central Octagonal Interior Hall (heated with stove and lighted from above)...’


2. From Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897). Count Dracula has just beckoned Jonathan Harker through the front door of Castle Dracula:


‘The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort.’


The BBC has obtained permission to show the photo of the octagonal hall as it was in Bram Stoker's time, and it can be seen in this news article here:




The photo of the octagonal hall is a match from Bram Stoker’s description of the octagonal room in Dracula. An inspection of the surviving masonry shows that there were no windows, which is, as described in Dracula, 'seemingly without a window of any sort', and that the room was small, only a few metres wide. The gaps visible in the masonry today are where three corridors intersected with the room (leading from the entrance hall; leading to the drawing room; and leading to the dining room). Curiously enough, the lamp that originally hung from the octagonal hall in Slains Castle survives today.



The lamp that originally hung in the octagonal hall of Slains Castle



Sylvia Tuttle, the architect who wrote a small pamphlet about Slains Castle, described the octagonal room as a typical architectural motif of the Georgian style which predominated in the period just prior to the reconstruction of Slains Castle in 1836.


The octagonal hall in Slains Castle was referred to by its owners as the ‘salon’, which back in the day was a reception room for visitors. Although it is not known if Bram Stoker ever visited Slains Castle, it is quite likely that he did. The resident earl would have been keen to talk to someone as well connected in London Society as the author.


One can imagine an occasion when Bram Stoker was invited to meet the Earl of Erroll at Slains Castle. Arriving at the front door, he is flustered at not finding any door knocker or bell, but knocks on the door anyway. A butler eventually arrives and shows him in, shutting the front door behind him, and then opening the door of the entrance porch. A short walk takes them to the octagonal hall and Bram is asked to sit and wait until the earl is ready to see him. He sits entranced by the lamp hanging in this strangely-shaped room; perhaps the lamp is swaying slightly because of a draught whistling through the castle corridors. Almost hypnotised, Bram Stoker is brought to attention when the butler announces, ‘The earl will see you now.’


If the octagonal hall in Slains Castle is the inspiration for the octagonal room in Castle Dracula, then why did Bram Stoker use it in Dracula? I suspect it was one of Bram Stoker's little in-jokes which he used to pepper his novels. Only a select few people would have recognised that they were jokes and the jest was intended for their amusement. In this instance, the Earl of Erroll on reading Dracula would have recognised the description of the octagonal room from his castle.


Dacre Stoker, the great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, has a different take on this. He told me that his famous ancestor liked to take notes of facts and features that could be inserted piece-meal into his fiction. The octagonal hall was just such a feature.



Dacre Stoker inside the octagonal hall of Slains Castle, and about to be interviewed by Rachel Bell from the BBC.




COPYRIGHT MIKE SHEPHERD 2021

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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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