St Mary's Church, Whitby: 'Severely corroded' clock removed from famous Yorkshire church featured in novel Dracula - and may not return
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The 12th-century St Mary’s and its graveyard on the cliff beside Whitby Abbey are the setting for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, and the clock tower has been described as a ‘local landmark’ visible to seafarers entering the mouth of the River Esk below. The famous 199 Steps lead to the church.
Whitby resident Paul Kilpatrick noticed that the clock’s faces had been removed by contractors and posted in a local Facebook group: “St Mary’s Church clock, which overlooks the harbour, has been taken out for repair to its surrounding foundation and apparently due to lack of funds will not be put back. I find this so sad; the clock is truly a Whitby landmark. First the weather vane (was removed) then the clock.”
The clock tower was built from around 1170, though reduced in height in the 17th century as it was thought to be unsafe. Grade I-listed St Mary’s is still open for regular worship and is owned by the Church of England.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of York said: “The clock faces at St Mary's, Whitby, have been lowered to the ground with permission from the Chancellor of the Diocese for safety reasons, since they have become severely corroded due to the sea air.
“The faces are to be stored within St Mary's Church pending assessment as part of long-term plans for the restoration of the clock.”
The church’s clifftop setting has left it vulnerable to the elements; in 2012, there was a landslip beneath it. Salt corrosion is a known hazard along the coast; it even played a factor in the closure of the railway line between Scarborough and Whitby in the 1960s, as trains struggled to climb high gradients on rails which were often slippy from sea frets, and the issue still affects the cliff lifts in both towns today.
The church is mentioned by name in the horror novel Dracula, and the site has since become a place of pilgrimage for goths. In 2021, a notice was put up by staff inside the church requesting visitors not to ask them where Dracula’s grave was – he is a fictional character.
After the 2012 landslide, the church made global headlines when bones from the cemetery, which has not accepted burials since the 1860s, were disturbed by the shifting ground. They were collected and had to be reinterred.