Plaque for hotel which stoked Bram’s most famous creation

The plaque will soon be unveiled at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in Cruden Bay.
The plaque will soon be unveiled at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in Cruden Bay.

The local hotel that accommodated renowned Irish author Bram Stoker while he created his most famous fictional character will be recognised under Historic Environment Scotland’s 2018 Commemorative Plaque Scheme.

The annual scheme celebrates the lives of significant people by setting commemorative plaques on the buildings where they lived or worked.

Stoker’s plaque is the 57th announced since the scheme began in 2012.

The plaque will soon be unveiled at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in Cruden Bay.

Born near Dublin in 1847, Bram Stoker was a part-time writer for most of his life.

Later in his career, for 11 months out of every year, he worked as the business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London and as personal manager for the famous English stage actor, Henry Irving.

After 1894, he spent the other month on holiday in Cruden Bay – then known as Port Erroll – where he penned his novels.

Stoker first discovered Cruden Bay on a walking holiday to Aberdeenshire in 1893, writing: “When first I saw the place, I fell in love with it.”

He returned in 1894, booking into the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel and writing in the guest book: “Second visit to Port Erroll. Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again to the Kilmarnock Arms.”

He checked in again in 1895 with the aim of writing the early chapters of his definitive work, ‘Dracula’.

The Transylvanian vampire, Count Dracula, rose from the pages in the hotel known locally as ‘the Killie’.

Stoker returned to Aberdeenshire in 1896 to complete the book’s later chapters.

New Slains Castle, with its dramatic clifftop setting nearby, is believed to have provided Soker with the visual palette to prompt the dramatic scenes in the fictional Castle Dracula.

The castle contains a room that has a look-alike in the novel – the octagonal hall used as a reception room for visitors – with the following observation from the novel’s protagonist, Jonathan Harker, containing a clue: “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.”

Caroline Clark, Historic Environment Scotland grants operations manager, said: “Bram Stoker’s plaque is one of several awarded over the past six years to writers, poets and artists who have drawn inspiration from Scotland’s architectural history and natural heritage to create their works.

“The beauty of our Commemorative Plaque Scheme is that it highlights notable historic figures who we might never have known had deep connections to Scotland.”

Mike Shepherd, a member of the Port Erroll Heritage Group, nominated Stoker for a plaque to bring attention to the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel’s role in the early days of the novel’s creation.

Mike, who has recently published a book on the association between Stoker and Cruden Bay, entitled ‘When Brave Men Shudder: The Scottish Origins of Dracula’, said: “When the journalist Gordon Casely visited Cruden Bay in the 1960s to interview those who knew Bram Stoker, they told him they were immensely proud that the famous author had picked their village to write his books.

“Bram’s special place is our special place, they said.

“The plaque is the first ever celebration of the link between Bram Stoker and Cruden Bay.

“As such, it will provide a focus for that pride.”

HES’ Commemorative Plaque Scheme recognises people who have gained local, national and international recognition.

Anyone whose life or achievements have made a significant difference to Scotland and its people can be considered for the scheme. The only criteria HES insists upon is that the person nominated has been deceased for at least 20 years, they must have been born more than 100 years ago and the building where the plaque is to be erected has a close connection to the nominee.

The remaining 13 successful plaque nominations under the 2018 Commemorative Plaque Scheme will be announced over the coming months.

Mike’s book, which looks closely at Bram Stoker’s links to Scotland and Cruden Bay, was published on October 31.

In April 2018, HES awarded New Slains Castle listed status in recognition of its architectural characteristics, from its origins in the 16th century to its remodelling in the 19th. Its clifftop setting also contributed to the decision.