Gothic Tourism / Haunted Heritage

Revenants and Remains:Final Project Report (6 September 2023)

In this report, we share figures pertaining to, and feedback received from, the various components of the ‘Revenants and Remains’ project. As the accompanying analysis shows, the project’s use of the supernatural as a means of engaging a diverse range of audiences in the experience and appreciation of heritage has been extremely effective (see, in particular, the survey responses included in sections 1 and 5 below).

1. Guided Tours

Between early October and late November 2022, the project team led guided tours at 5 ruined abbeys in the north of England, namely Roche Abbey; Furness Abbey, Byland Abbey; Lanercost Priory; and Rievaulx Abbey.

These tours recruited the following numbers, comprising a mixture of English Heritage members and non-members:

Roche Abbey (Saturday 1 October): 23
(Sunday 2nd October): 47

Furness Abbey (Saturday 8 October): 37
(Sunday 9 October): 32

Byland Abbey (Saturday 5 November): 41
(Sunday 6 November): 42

Lanercost Priory (Saturday 19 November): 31

Rievaulx Abbey (Saturday 26 November): 30
(Sunday 27 November): 46

Total Number of Participants: 329

At the end of each tour, we distributed a paper survey, a copy of which can be found here

We received back 95 completed responses, i.e. a 28.8 % of those who attended. Results indicate the following:

  • 100 % agreed that they enjoyed the tours: a resounding success
  • 95.7 % agreed that the project’s use of the supernatural had made them more interested in the particular site’s history
  • 92.6 % agreed that the use of the supernatural is an effective means of engaging and interesting people in history
  • 92.6 % agreed that participating in this project had inspired them to find out more about Britain’s ruined architectural heritage (no disagrees; remainder unsure) 
  • 91.6 % agreed that learning more about medieval religion, the supernatural and historical beliefs concerning the afterlife had opened up new perspectives about history for them (no disagrees; remainder unsure)
  • 93.6 % agreed that participating in this project had helped them to understand more clearly the connections between Gothic literature – the writing of horror and terror – and medieval or ‘Gothic’ architecture 
  • 50.5 % agreed that the supernatural themes employed by this project engaged their interest more than another theme would have done (the remainder ‘disagree’)
  • 64.2 % agreed that their participation in this project had changed the way that they think about British history (the remainder ‘unsure’) 
  • 97.8 % agreed that an awareness of medieval rituals around death, burial and remembrance had enriched their responses to architectural heritage 
  • 94.7 % disagreed that the Gothic should be reserved for horror films and other forms of popular entertainment, and should not be used for the interpretation of heritage (1.05 % agreed; remainder unsure)
  • 92.9 % agreed that they would like to receive more information about the supernatural, where relevant, at other heritage sites around the country (remainder ‘disagree’) 

2. Creative Writing Workshops 

Over the same period of time, performer and award-winning poet and novelist Rosie Garland led creative writing workshops at each of the five sites. These events recruited as follows:

Conisburgh Castle (for Roche Abbey, Saturday 1 October): 11

Furness Abbey (Saturday 8 October): 12

Byland Abbey (Saturday 5 November): 9

Lanercost Priory (Saturday 19 November): 12

Rievaulx Abbey (Saturday 26 November): 9

Total Number of Participants: 53

Several of the mostly adult participants indicated that they had not done any creative writing since leaving school. As Rosie Garland commented, ‘I love being a creative writing workshop facilitator. At the start of a session, participants have blank notebooks perched on their laps. Then, with gentle prompting and encouragement, the magic happens. By the end of the session, those empty pages are teeming with words that weren’t there before.

This alchemy happened in every one of the five writing workshops for the Revenants and Remains project. Organisers wondered if only people who already identified as writers would attend. Anything but. Sure, poets and fictioneers came along. We also welcomed folk who admitted they’d not written creatively since their schooldays (a long while back for some participants). We talked about what ruins meant to them and read some famous poems, such as ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. And then they wrote! Nervous to begin with, it was wonderful to see them growing in confidence. By the close of each session, folk fed back how much fun they’d had, and were eager to share their writing. And what wonderful stories they told.’

All participants in the workshops were invited to submit their poems, short stories and fragments via the project email address. The material received has been published in the Revenants and Remains ebook that can be downloaded from the creative writing section of the ‘Outputs’ tab on this website. 


3. Ghost-Story Performances

Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Productions performed ghost stories by the Cambridge antiquary M. R. James at four of the selected sites. 

Numbers of those in attendance are as follows:

Roche Abbey (Saturday 1 October): 10

Furness Abbey (Saturday 8 October): 20

Byland Abbey (Saturday 5 November): 11

Rievaulx Abbey (Saturday 26 November): 18

Total Number of Participants: 59

A small proportion of those who attended also participated in the guided tours and creative writing workshops. For the most part, however, this constituted a discrete audience.  


4. Podcasts: Revenants and Remains:

The project team recorded and produced 7 hour-long podcasts, with topics and speakers drawn from participants to Writing Britain’s Ruins (British Library, 2017). These were uploaded to the platform, and distributed through this to all major podcast providers worldwide. To date ( 6 September 2023), this series of podcasts has received 489 total listeners / downloads, the majority of these drawn from the UK; Japan; United States; and India. 


5. Youth Engagement Photographic Workshops:

In November 2022 and January 2023, Photoworks ran two ghost-photography workshops at Lanercost Priory and Furness Abbey, which were led by artist and curator Sarah Sparkes. Sarah works with magical or mythical narratives, vernacular belief systems and the visualisation of anomalous phenomena. Her work is often research-led, and explores the borderlands where science and magic intersect. She runs the visual arts and creative research project GHost, hosting seminars and exhibitions to manifest and interrogate the idea of the ghost: 

The workshops (five in total) were attended by approximately 30 further education students studying Photography at Furness College and Newcastle College. The events were supported by site manager Lucy Ronald (Furness Abbey); Property Manager (Cumbria), Juliet Fellows-Smith (Lanercost Priory); and Lorna Batty of English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud national youth engagement programme. Aiming to inspire creative acts of interpretation and to engage young people in the appreciation of ruined architectural heritage via the supernatural lore and legend that has become associated with each ruin, Sarah guided participants in the production of a portfolio of photographic work, her selection of which we publish here. Commenting on her experience of running these workshops, Sarah claimed that ‘as an artist fascinated by ghosts, it’s been incredibly rewarding to lead workshops for Revenants and Remains. Learning about the haunted medieval and Gothic history of each site from Dale and Michael while among the atmospheric ruins was an inspiring experience for both the students and myself and this is clear in the photographs they have produced.’

The photographs that the participants produced have been published in two formats: first, as illustrations to accompany the creative writing in the Revenants and Remains ebook that can be downloaded from the creative writing section of the ‘Outputs’ tab on this website, and second, in two online galleries hosted on English Heritage’s Shout Out Loud website.

Revenants and Remains at Furness Abbey: click here for revenants and remains at Furness Abbey

Revenants and Remains at Lanercost Priory: click here for Reverence and Remains at Lanercost Priory

Participants’ commentaries on their own photographic interpretations of the sites attest to how much they benefitted from the experience. This was confirmed by the surveys that Photoworks administered before and after the workshops, copies of which can be found here for and here

For a comprehensive analysis of the results received from these surveys, please click here for Photoworks workshops with artist Sarah Sparkes