The Dracula Society
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Past Society Events in 2018
Monday 3rd December 2018
This year our annual pre-Christmas social was held at a venue that was both new and old for us! Sadly we have had to leave the Theatre Bar at the Victoria pub where we had held the event for many years. This year we returned to the Winchester Room at the historic George Inn in Southwark, which had been our Society meeting venue for many years back in the 1980s and 1990s.
This was of course very nostalgic for the members present who remembered back that far!
With our traditional keenly fought genre film caption competition, and our "Santa's Sack" combined raffle and draw, everyone at the event still felt very much at home!
The 44th Annual Bram Stoker Birthday Dinner
Saturday 10th November 2018
Once again at our now usual venue, the Civil Service Club in Central London, an excellent night with great food and company.
We were delighted that our 2017 Children of the Night Award winner, writer Frances Hardinge, was present with us to accept her award for A Skinful of Shadows.
Our Hamilton Deane Award winner, actor Michael Sheen, was unable to be with us in person, but sent a very touching Award acceptance message which was read out on the night.
The Hamilton Deane award made for Michael Sheen.
We were also pleased to welcome two of our Society honorary life members to the Dinner as our guests of honour, actress Janina Faye, Mina from Hammer's 1958 production of Dracula, and our very own Society founder member Monica Wightman.
Monica's late husband Bruce was one of our Society founders, now an amazing 45 years ago, and as Monica had celebrated her 90th birthday earlier in 2018, we thought it was about time that she was finally one of our Dinner guests of honour!
Saturday 6th October 2018
A illustrated talk by Dr. Karl Bell
"Vampires from Folklore to Film"
The history of the vampire, from folklore to literature to film, is the story of a skilled shape-shifter that has continually adapted to the changing anxieties of the cultures and periods in which it has flourished.
Mainly focusing on the European vampire, Dr. Bell explored that process of transformation, one that has seen the vampire evolve from a peasant to an aristocrat to a film star.
In particular, he examined the changing image of the vampire, and considered the ways in which this mercurial creature reflects our cultural fears and desires.
A report from an attendee:
"Our meeting with Dr. Karl Bell was an entertaining and instructive talk on how the vampire over time has shifted from peasant to aristocrat to film star.
Some of the first mentions of vampires as reanimated corpses feeding on the living were during vampire panics in Europe, born of fear and rumour. The vampire was then seen not as a slick aristocratic but rising from the corpses who died of suicide or who were unbaptised or who had killed their relatives, and these monsters needed effective killing methods such as impaling then burning the body.
By contrast, John William Polidori's 1819 fiction The Vampyre sees the vampire as an aristocrat. This created the model of arrogant, outcast, doomed vampires who are tragic and interesting, and very far from reanimated peasants.
Dr. Bell mentioned that Stoker's creation is a bloodsucking monster, but a creature of the late 19th century, surrounded by modern gadgets such as typewriters, the telegraph, the phonograph and Kodak cameras. Dracula, not to be outdone, uses methods such as hypnotism and mesmerism. As Harker remarks: 'It is nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere "modernity" cannot kill.'
We then saw the vampire now portrayed as a film star, starting with Christopher Lee oozing charisma on-screen, leading to the matinee idol vampire as seen in Twilight, Blade and the glamorous Undead such as Lestat, or David the Undead leader in The Lost Boys. Vampires can also now be seen as monsters again, as in 30 Days of Night, or Dusk till Dawn. CGI special effects have created the return of the inhuman vampire, as in Fright Night, and Van Helsing. Vampires are never about one thing, and are the most alluring of monsters. They now appear in comedies and children's films such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hotel Transylvania, adapting as we need them to stay alive to scare or charm us."
Sunday 8th July 2018
A day trip to visit Brookwood Cemetery, with our Summer Meeting speaker John Clarke. On a scorching hot day, an impressively large party of members and their guests met at London's Waterloo station, firstly to visit the remains of the nearby station operated by the Necropolis Railway, which ran funeral trains from here to the cemetery. The impressive façade of what was their second station thankfully still survives intact on Westminster Bridge Road, although the sign above the entrance betraying the building's original function is now covered up!
The impressive façade of the offices and second station of the Necropolis Railway Company near Waterloo. The station itself was destroyed during the Second World War. The board below the four pillars hides the original "London Necropolis" sign.
We then travelled by train to the cemetery itself, to trace the remains of the railway there. The path of the line can still be traced, but sadly there is little remaining of the two stations once within the cemetery apart from being able to still see the platforms. The South Station building actually survived until the early 1970s, but sadly had to be demolished due to vandalism. Its associated chapel still survives, now operated by a group of Greek Orthodox monks. We were invited into the beautifully restored building, and many of us were immediately reminded of the churches in Romania. In fact apparently the majority of the people in the congregations there are now Romanian!
The site of the South Station in Brookwood Cemetery, showing the original platform.
The monks' house in the foreground is built on the site of the station building. The surviving station chapel building in the background is now a Greek Orthodox church.
One other item of interest to us in the cemetery, which sadly does not have many Gothic connections, was seeing the ashes interment marker of horror author Dennis Wheatley!
Cruden Bay Trip
Friday 8th - Monday 11th June 2018
After a gap of eighteen years, seventeen members and guests finally re-visited Cruden Bay, the resort on the East Coast of Scotland which Bram Stoker visited numerous times to holiday and to work.
We were delighted to finally be able to stay at the Kilmarnock Arms, the hotel where Bram stayed with his family in 1894, and his signature can still be seen in the guest book of the period, which survives! When we visited in 2000, the hotel was in a poor condition and we stayed elsewhere, so it was good to finally be able to stay where Stoker stayed, although on most of his many visits to the resort he actually hired private cottages, both in the village and in the vicinity, several of which we visited.
Bram Stoker's entry in the guest book at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel, where he stayed with his family in August 1894. The identity of "G. Vaughan Hart" is uncertain.
We also visited (and in some cases re-visited) several of the castles in the area, and of course a distillery!
The Cruden Bay part of our visit was conducted by local Mike Shepherd, who has made an extensive study of Bram Stoker's visits to the area. This included the spectacular local cliff-top ruin of Slains Castle, which some have (rather fancifully perhaps) suggested as an inspiration for Castle Dracula!
The group with Mike Shepherd in the remains of the "octagonal room" in Slains Castle. Stoker was undoubtedly a guest here, and referenced the room in Dracula.
Many of the group actually started the trip a day earlier with a night in Inverness, from which they visited Cawdor Castle, famous from Shakespeare's "Scottish Play", and Loch Ness, although sadly its most famous "resident" did not put in an appearance!
Saturday 2nd June 2018
As a taster for our future Society summer outing in July, author John Clarke gave a fascinating illustrated talk about the history of the "Necropolis Railway", which transported the dead and their attendant mourners from a private station near London's Waterloo station to two stations on a branch line which ran into the massive Victorian "garden cemetery" at Brookwood, which is near Woking in Surrey. The service started in 1854, and at its peak from 1894 to 1903, the trains carried more than 2000 corpses every year.
Brookwood Cemetery, the "London Necropolis", was intended to be hopefully the final answer to London's critical burial space problem. It was promoted as the "permanent solution" to finding space for the capital's dead, and when opened it was the largest cemetery in the world. It is still the largest in the United Kingdom, and one of the largest in Europe.
Sadly the cemetery and the line never fulfilled the dreams of their promoters, and the Necropolis Railway ceased operating after its station near Waterloo was bombed and destroyed during the Second World War.
Spring Meeting and AGM
Saturday 21st April 2018
After the Society's AGM business, including the delivery of the membership secretary's and treasurer's reports, Society member Dr. Fiona Subotsky gave an illustrated talk about the medical men in the Stoker family, and the other doctors of whom Bram Stoker would have been aware through them.
Many of the medical procedures described in Dracula were based on the knowledge he gleaned from them about the cutting edge procedures of the time in surgery and psychiatry.
It was certainly very interesting indeed for us to discover that there was a real-life Doctor Seward!
We were also delighted at this meeting to be able to take the opportunity to bestow in person Society Honorary Life Membership on Bram's great-grand nephew, writer and researcher Dacre Stoker, who was over here from America and present as a guest. Dacre's great-grandfather was Bram's youngest brother George Stoker, an army surgeon, who was one of the "medical Stokers" mentioned in Fiona's talk!
March Literary Meeting
Saturday 10th March 2018
Lloyd Shepherd, author of The English Monster, first in the Charles Horton series of historical detective novels, gave us a fascinating insight into his work, being interviewed by Julia Kruk.
The series was continued with The Poisoned Island, Savage Magic, and The Detective and the Devil.
The Ratcliff Highway murders of 1811, terrible crimes which were later eclipsed in the public consciousness by the Jack the Ripper murders, and largely forgotten, were one of Lloyd's sources of inspiration. The case was influential in the start of properly organised policing and criminal investigation in London.
Charles Horton was a real constable in the Thames River Police, and Lloyd, a former journalist, uses many real historical figures and institutions in his fiction, and weaves a strong thread of unsettling horror and the supernatural into his tales, making them much more than just conventional period crime stories.
New Year Meeting
Saturday 20th January 2018
A screening of The Tomb of Ligeia
At our traditional New Year film evening we screened this classic 1964 Roger Corman production, one of his series of films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe starring the incomparable Vincent Price.
Presented on the anniversary of its US release in 1965!