Literary Locations: The British Places Which Inspired Our Best Loved Books
There’s no doubting the rich literary history of Great Britain, and amongst the many things which have inspired our most talented writers, the wealth of geographical places of interest is definitely right up there.
Whether it’s the smog-filled streets of London, the ever-expanding terraces of industrial Manchester, the Yorkshire countryside or the enchanting beauty of the Scottish Highlands, there’s no denying their influence on some of the most important pieces of British literary work.
So where are the most influential locations, and what works did their very existence birth? Here’s our top picks.
Probably one of the most iconic locations in literary history, it’s almost impossible to list every author and every successful piece of fiction inspired by this mammoth city.
Over the last few hundred years, the image of an industrial city at the heart of a huge empire was created both beautifully and with dark undertones in the works of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle with his series of Sherlock Holmes stories.
From 221B Baker Street to the Globe Theatre, from the Fitzroy Tavern to the Keats House, the list for literary tourists goes on and on.
In the modern day, it is hard to look past the works of J.K. Rowling, specifically the Harry Potter series of books, which aside from the adventures at Hogwarts spent the majority of their time in the English capital.
From Platform 9 3/4 to Diagon Alley, from the Millennium Bridge to Lambeth Bridge, the amount Potter-based locations is extensive and a must-visit for anyone obsessed with the wizarding world.
Most Loved Book(s): Harry Potter series
Books Sold: Over 450 million copies (USA Today)
If London is the most inspirational location in England, Edinburgh is easily the most inspirational north of the border.
The National Geographic suggest it is the location for more than 500 novels, and there are some very successful ones among them.
From the poetry of Robert Burns in the 1700s to the works of Irvine Welsh, which include the iconic Trainspotting.
Probably the most successful author and series of crime novels (in recent years at least) are those by Ian Rankin. His 20 books which focus on the work of Detective Inspector John Rebus and his crime fighting in the Edinburgh underworld are loved by many. In fact, in 2014, Rankin was named Scotland’s favourite writer of all time.
Most Loved Book(s): John Rebus Series
Books Sold: Over 20 million copies (Daily Record)
While some of the locations on this list are home to a number of famous works from different authors, Stratford-upon-Avon certainly belongs to one individual.
In the very heart of England lies the market town where arguably the most influential writer in history was born and lived, William Shakespeare.
In total, Shakespeare officially wrote 37 plays, many of which were either written in the town or in London, where he tended to split much of his time.
For lovers of his work or lovers of theatre, you can visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where his works are performed all year round in a setting similar to the theatres of the 16th & 17th century.
Most Loved Works: Plays of William Shakespeare
Brand Worth today: Around £500 million. (CNN)
Despite its obvious size, arguably, Birmingham is not as well known for its literary connections as it maybe should be. However, if you delve a little closer, you’ll find that there are plenty.
When it comes to children’s books, there are few more popular than the Railway series, most notable for their central character Thomas the Tank Engine.
Written by Reverend Wilbert Awdry and later his son Christopher Awdry, it’s likely they were inspired by the industrial centre of Birmingham, home to a number of important rail links.
The most notable by far though, is the work of JRR Tolkien. Spending his youth growing up on the outskirts of Birmingham during the late 19th and early 20th century, Tolkien took inspiration from the beautiful countryside to create the idyllic lands of the Shire, inhabited by a number of hobbit characters in his books.
However, the biggest inspiration was both Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks Tower, two industrial towers in use at the time. Tolkien’s childhood home sat between the two, and these large, smoke emitting structures are said to have inspired the “Two Towers”, both the title of the second Lord of the Rings book and an important location in the series.
Most Loved Book(s): The Lord of the Rings series
Books Sold: Over 150 million copies (Publishing Perspectives).
The tiny coastal town in Cornwall has inspired a number of very successful thriller novels, potentially better known by their film adaptations.
Dame Daphne du Maurier was a very successful novelist who wrote such tales as The Scapegoat, The Birds and eventual Oscar-winning adaptation Rebecca. All of these were inspired by the isolated beauty of the Cornish coast, particularly The Birds.
This iconic and truly British setting is perfectly captured in the film adaptations of her most famous works by legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. The novel Jamaica Inn was even inspired by a hotel of the same name in the town of Fowey which she often frequented.
Most Loved Book: Rebecca
Books Sold: At least 5-10 million. (Wikipedia)
Another coastal location, this time in Devon, which was the inspiration for the UK’s “Queen of Crime” Agatha Christie, the creator of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
Although she spent much of the year travelling the world with her archaeologist husband, she spent her summers completing her books at Greenway, their summer home just on the outskirts of Torquay.
This beautifully rural location inspired many of the characters and locations for her novels. For example, Christie found the characters for her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, on a tram in Torquay.
Throughout her work, she often made references to landmarks in Devon, which all still exist today.
Most Loved Book: And Then There Were None
Books Sold: 100 million (How Stuff Works)
Haworth is a village found in the Pennines of East Yorkshire. This beautiful and lonesome landscape was the main inspiration behind the work of the Brontë sisters who created a number of classic novels during the early 1800s.
This delightfully remote area in Yorkshire inspired the unique, gothic and poetic feel to Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.
For any big Brontë fans, Haworth is a fantastic visit, including a museum for the family.
Most Loved Books: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights
Fun Fact: Wuthering Heights named no.13 and Jane Eyre named no.12 in the Guardian’s 100 Best Novels.
The Lake District, England
One of the most naturally stunning areas of Great Britain is undoubtedly the Lake District. Because of this, it’s no surprise that over the years it has inspired a number of literary works.
For starters there’s the romantic poets of the 1700s which included John Ruskin, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth, whose home you can still visit in Cockermouth.
Then there’s the Swallows and Amazons series of books by Arthur Ransome set in the Lake District, and of course, the iconic Beatrix Potter children works, most famously Peter Rabbit.
Most Loved Books: The Peter Rabbit Series
Copies Sold: Over 150 million (Wikipedia)
An area in the north-west of Wales, named after the old kingdom of Gwynedd. A largely rural area, it is the home to the mountainous Snowdonia national park.
This beautiful landscape inspired the works of Sharon Kay Penman, who wrote the historical novel Here Be Dragons.
The tale follows the stories of the princes of Gwynedd and the monarchs of England. At the heart of this novel is the harsh but beautiful countryside of Gwynedd which is a key theme in this medieval story set in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Most Loved Book: Here Be Dragons
This pretty seaside town on the coast of North Yorkshire has been the inspiration to one of the famous gothic novels ever written.
Upon visiting Whitby to decide whether it would be a good holiday destination, writer Bram Stoker took a shining to the atmosphere the town offered. He also found a history book in Whitby library during his stay in which he found the only reference to the name Dracula.
It was from here he gained inspiration both for the character and his connection with the Abbey, found in the classic 1897 novel Dracula.
Most Loved Book: Dracula
Fun Fact: No.31 in The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels.