The story of how Whitby became the goth capital of Britain

With the atmospheric ruins of its clifftop abbey and its links to Bram Stoker's Dracula, Whitby has always had an association with the dark and the eerie.

Since 1994, goths have gathered in the town every October to mark Halloween by dressing in evocative costumes and listening to their favourite bands play live sets.

From its informal and organic beginnings as a meet-up in a pub for a group of founder Jo Hampshire's friends, the Whitby Goth Weekend was born - and the biannual festival (an April event was added to the calendar in 1997) has now come to define Whitby's modern identity.

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A goth woman on Whitby's historic streets

In recent years, concerns about overcrowding, expensive accommodation, disputes with venues and the arrival of a rival event, Tomorrow's Ghosts Festival, have threatened to derail the original and much-loved Whitby Goth Weekend - yet ahead of this month's Halloween edition, the concept remains more popular than ever before.

Goths now come from all over the world, the appeal has widened to include other subcultures such as steampunk and Victoriana, and visitor numbers are bolstered by thousands of tourists who come to photograph and appreciate the weird and wonderful outfits on display.

Whitby Goth Weekend has well and truly gone mainstream, and a goth-centred economy has developed among the town's tourism businesses. Whitby may have been chosen for its Dracula connections and tolerance of alternative culture, but its residents have gone on to embrace the goths.

The growth of goth tourism

Steampunk and Victorian influences can also be seen in goths' costumes

Jon Stokoe is a lifelong Whitby resident who has witnessed the town become more dependent on its goth scene.

"Whitby Goth Weekend has played a big part in the town's tourism boost in recent years. Twenty years or so ago, the main tourist season ran from about April to September. But now it really is an all-year-round destination for tourists.

"It is fair to say that with the first goth weekend, there was a bit of 'what's going on here?' from local people. But as is the way with Whitby folk, a warm welcome ensued as they embraced the goth visitors and the regular weekends which bring thousands of people to the town.

"The only drawback being it can get so busy that the town centre can become a no-go zone for local people. But it is a small price to pay for the economic benefits the events bring to the town and surrounding area."

Goths explore the Whitby Abbey churchyard

No vacancies

Incredibly, Whitby Goth Weekend devotees often have to book their accommodation two years in advance.

Most hotels, guesthouses and holiday lets have eagerly welcomed black-clad customers, and there is even a goth-themed B&B called Bats and Broomsticks.

A goth family explore Whitby

The town is fully booked for every April and October goth weekend, with many visitors struggling to find a room.

Many of them stay at the White Horse & Griffin, a 17th-century coaching inn that evokes Whitby's seafaring past. Captain Cook and Charles Dickens are among its illustrious patrons.

General manager Andrew Smith has seen a steady increase in the goth trade in recent years, with guests attracted to the pub's historic features and candlelit interiors reminiscent of the period in which Dracula is set.

"The goths love staying here - it is fully booked for every goth weekend, and we are even booked for next year's too. That's the same for most places in Whitby now."

Sue Duck, who owns French bistro Mademoiselle's, also runs a holiday let in the apartment above her restaurant.

It has a French theme, and is light and airy with a predominantly white decor - not the obvious choice for the gothically inclined.

Goths in the street in an image that could be straight out of a period drama

Yet the flat has proved so popular that Sue is renovating further rooms for holiday rentals - this time with a dark colour scheme.

"Next month we are creating another room due to popular demand. The goths love our rooms! The new one is going to be opulent and dark, so it has that high-end, luxury appeal."

The goth shop owner

Elaine Horton owns Pandemonium, a shop selling goth clothing, footwear and gifts. She has run the business for 12 years, and had a presence on Flowergate until 2017. She had a two-year hiatus to look for new premises, and the brand has now moved to Golden Lion Bank, where it has taken over the former Bramble Boutique shop. The building also includes Mr Chip's Steampunk Emporium, owned by a couple who share the unit with Elaine.

Elaine's tenure has coincided with the rise in numbers of visiting goths, and she is a now an established and popular name on the scene.

"I always wanted a little goth shop. I love buying and selling gothic clothing and accessories and passing on my passion for purple! The original shop was always known as 'the little purple shop'.

"Our new shop is doing well and we have more customers than ever with Mr Chip's Steampunk Emporium upstairs along with my pre-loved clothing, accessories, shoes and ornaments."

Tensions and rivalries

In June 2018, a fracture was confirmed among the main parties involved in staging the Whitby Goth Weekend.

Jo Hampshire's company, Top Mum Productions, had a longstanding partnership with the Whitby Spa Pavilion, where music nights were held during the festival.

Yet last summer it was revealed that the two had parted ways due to an ongoing dispute.

A statement released by WGW at the time read:-

""Events of the last few days are the end result of an 18-month battle to provide a safe environment for our attendees. Our inability to secure ongoing contracted dates made it impossible to secure a premium line up and provide attendees with confirmed event dates."

It then emerged that the Pavilion had teamed up with the promoters of a rival festival called Tomorrow's Ghosts, who had secured big-name goth acts and were launching two new, ticketed events in 2019, both of which would take place just a week after the original Whitby Goth Weekends in spring and autumn.

The WGW found alternative venues for their entertainment, and the April 2019 edition - the first in a year which would see Whitby host four major goth gatherings - was still well-attended and successful, despite some fans predicting that the dispute would precipitate the decline of the traditional weekends.

Many long-term attendees seem to have remained loyal to the original format.

Jon Stokoe also believes tensions among various stakeholders have had a negative impact on the event in the past.

"There seems to be a regular theme of people 'in the scene' falling out with each other. I have met so many people who visit Whitby twice a year through my work and many have become friends. But I have also seen so many of these friends fall out. It runs the risk of destroying the whole goth phenomenon which would be a terrible shame."

Whitby Goth Weekend takes place from October 25-27. See the Yorkshire Post website for full photographic coverage.