Whitby Goth Weekend – The Great Goth Debate


As the war rages on between the Goths, the fancy dress wearers, the day trippers, the photographers and the media, I thought I would share my view of the Whitby Goth Weekend, from a press photographers perspective, and some pictures of course..
The Whitby Goth Weekend began 21 years ago. Organiser Jo Hampshire met with some like-minded individuals at the Elsinore pub and each year the crowd got bigger and bigger. Over time Jo decided to make it into an event for goths who were into the music scene, booking some of the top bands of the genre into the Spa Pavilion for a three day ticketed festival, and booking an array of weird and wonderful stalls for all the gothic accessories and clothes you could ever wish for.
The official event is known as Whitby Gothic Weekend, its brilliant and you can explore it in more depth HERE
Of course over the years others have cashed in on the growing event, with fringe events set up around town,  local business selling gothic merchandise, photographers having a field day, and the world’s media catching on to spectacle.
Over the last few years various arguments have erupted, mainly on social media, though sometimes leaking into the mainstream press, from different sides of the fence.
One argument has sprung up as the sheer volume of photographers has risen dramatically over the last few years. Type in “goth weekend” on flickr and you will get an idea of how many amateur photographers head to Whitby, trundle up the 199 steps –  tripod in hand – to capture the many sights before them. You can read more about this on Whitby photographer Glenn Kilpatrick’s site, with some example photos.
Some goths, who come for the music side of things, started to express their dislike of being photographed without permission, while trying to enjoy their holiday.
There was also a large debate over the suitability of taking photos up at St Mary’s church and eventually a polite notice was put up by the parish asking people not to pose by the gravestones.
As a press photographer, who has photographed the weekend for many years this would be my personal rule of thumb:
– If you want to take a portrait of a goth, ASK. It is basic human manners to approach someone if you wish to take their photo, plus you are likely to get a better shot if you are engaging with your subject. Most of the dress-up goths have put a lot of effort into their outfits, hair and make up and will be very happy to pose. Especially if you are willing to email them a copy of the image.

-This applies implicity to photographs of children, if they are under 16 you must ask their parents permission.
– For “crowd” scenes the above generally does not apply, especially if you are on public property.
– Be respectful of the dead. I will still always visit St Mary’s church yard on goth weekend. It is a beautiful graveyard with stunning views over the town. I will not however photograph a goth draped on a grave or role-playing within the burial site. I think this is disrespectful of the church’s requests and completely unnecessary when there are much better more interesting, creative shots to be had.

– Regarding candid photography, which I love, I think it is ok to take photos without people’s knowledge if you are not in their face, or personal space. Even in these circumstances I will often go up after and chat to the person in the photo. Its good manners, and can often lead to an interesting conversation

I see the real advocates of the official WGW getting so angry that each year at the influx of fancy dress wearers to the event
This really saddens me, that a group who fight for acceptance for all, can be so negative.
The die-heard true fans of the official event do not own the rights to Whitby, nor the weekend
The fact that the weekend falls on Halloween means that the term “goth weekend” has now been coined for all lovers of the wider genre; spooky, elaborate, Victorian, fancy dress, vampires, witches etc etc. Not only this but Whitby itself has many connections to the genre, being the main setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for a reason. There are not many towns, with crashing waves one side, desolate moors the other, while being overlooked by a crumbling gothic graveyard and monastic ruins.
    The debate over whether these people are “true goths”  is ridiculous, and unwelcoming
It is not the place of the “official goths” to decide who is welcome in Whitby -it is the locals.
The goth weekend brings a boost to the economy before the quiet winter season, it boosts sales in local shops, restaurants, bars and B&Bs.
Regarding the media coverage, as a photographer, I love everything about the goth weekend, but I shoot the photos that I find interesting and that, yes, will make me a living by selling.  If these are the most colourful and over the top costumes displayed on the day then so be it. It is still real. It is still news. Photographers have a responsibility to document history, but with their own interpretation. It is not their job to publicise official events, that’s the work of a good PR team.
I was really pleased to see Buzzfeed use my photos in this article, celebrating the goth fashion. What a change from the many newspapers and magazines putting down a celebrity for their outfit in the worst dressed columns.
Perhaps it is a good thing that the media haven’t homed in on the official event? Imagine trying to mosh at the front of the gig with 40 photographers flashes going off in your face?
Enjoy the sacred sanctum that you have, those that want to come love the music and the events and they will still buy a ticket… even if it wasn’t mentioned in the “mail online.”
I feel as though the goths are fighting a battle with themselves, on the one hand fiercely protecting what they believe in, the event and music that they love. They want to keep it going and are passionate about it. They also seem to strive for individuality, but why then be disapointed when their side of the weekend isn’t covered in the mainstream press? It won’t be the first, or the last time an event has been portrayed in the media in a different light to the reality. And I wonder how they would feel about it if it was ever widely exposed? 
The fancy dress day trippers shouldn’t put you off
Be proud of what you’ve created, a place where people feel welcome, free to express themselves, free to walk the streets in an outfit they’ve spent hours creating or collecting, free to have fun, free to meet new people, free to talk, dance, drink, laugh.
People are absolutely fascinated by the genre and the scene and if they want to try out a little bit of the magic for a day, once or twice a year then let them!
I hear too much about how these people are not welcome and should have their own weekend. Why do we waste so much energy on negativity? Perhaps the effort should be put into positive practices. Why not hand out flyers encouraging supporters at the Goth football match? Educate the day trippers about what an amazing charity event it is. Tell them about S.O.P.H.I.E and tell them how they can support the event that started it all off by going to enjoy the music that you all love.
There could even be collection buckets around the town for charities such as S.O.P.H.I.E. When visitors “invade” the town for the Whitby Regatta, the event is funded by donations into buckets by willing volunteers, that have kept it going year after year.

The goths complaining that they can’t find accommodation because the “fake goths” have taken their places should book further in advance.

I really can’t bear to read any more negative comments about the goth weekend. It gives Whitby a bad name. If you don’t like what the goth weekend has become, then don’t come. Go to Bognor Regis for the weekend and listen to some cassettes and mope about the days when you could walk down Church Street dressed in black without tripping over a tripod. It’s all just a bit of fun. Stay true to yourself, but be open minded too, be respectful, and most importantly, love all the people.


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  • Dacre Stoker2nd November 2015 - 10:43 pm

    Well written, Ms Oakes. I agree with your position, after all what is to be gained by negativity? Better to search for compromise, life is too short!ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous2nd November 2015 - 10:47 pm

    "It gives Whitby a bad name."

    You care about your town, your friends and neighbours, your tribe, but can't see how we care about our tribe too?

    Whitby has a population of around 13,000. Imagine if you suddenly had 35,000 eastern Europeans descending on 'your' town. Telling you Lyutenica covered Kyufte are now Yorkshire fare because they'd brought some with them. Wearing comedy flat caps and dressing their dogs as whippets. Putting on fake exaggerated 'Ay up chuck!!!' accents, and taking pictures up gents' trouser legs trying to find the elusive whippets. Then people around the globe thought that since they were always in the press as typical of Whitby, you must be the same?

    You care about people giving your town a bad name. You comment about your opinion on the situation. You suggest what we should do, how we should just accept our event and our subculture being assimilated into a larger fancy dress parade. Yet all the while we shouldn't have any opinions that differ from yours. You profit from the spotlight our event has shone onto your town, yet show no understanding of it.

    Your own council should've stepped in years ago and monopolised the Halloween weekend. Hire the Spa themselves, or refuse to grant a late license for that weekend due to them running their own town-wide Halloween festival. Run a street parade. Have floats. Charitable collections. Sponsorship. People coming to the town for that specifically, rather than fighting for the limited resources with some big Spa event too.

    Then with the WGW moving away from Halloween without the danger of another party moving in trying to steal the reputation they've built up over more than two decades by copying them and hoping people get confused which is the actual Goth weekend, you get the town full for an extra weekend. Sure, a little accommodation may stay empty one or other weekend, and some of the ludicrous price hikes won't work without a shortage of beds, but that money will get spend around town anyway. Save £50 on your room, go out for a meal instead of pizza. Save £100, stay an extra day. Buy some jewellery or clothes or trinkets in the shops you can't usually reach because of the crowds.

    Rather than bitching about the Goths bitching about the dressup promenaders bitching about the Goths, you're in a position where you can push for a town event. Surely it's better to have the external events bringing in their punters at times when the town would otherwise be deserted. When the town would be full on Halloween anyway, why make it overfull by adding to it? No one's going to willingly give up Halloween to a 'competitor', but if no one had it, then it's a win/win/win for the townReplyCancel

  • Ceri Oakes2nd November 2015 - 11:00 pm

    Thank you for your post, I am always interested to hear both sides. We all have our own opinions and obviously mine stem from my job and living in Whitby. I make suggestions of what the goths could do more out of a desire for them to make positive suggestions that negative ones. I wholeheartedly agree that everyone should support the main even lt but I worry that some people wouldn't feel welcome at it after reading certain comments online. That's what I meant about the goths wanting to be exclusive and inclusive at the same time. i hope my post atleast makes both sides think about the situation. I hope the original event survives along with the new influx of visitors – and if they can cohabit peacefully then wouldn't that be brilliant!ReplyCancel

  • chris dickinson2nd November 2015 - 11:02 pm

    I agree totally with you Ceri, it's a fantastic event for our town and its people. Everybody in this town benefits directly or indirectly from the extra trade / revenue and publicity, my family certainly does and this has s knock on effect that reaches far more people than the ones with negative views realise.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous2nd November 2015 - 11:12 pm

    ^ this. Very much this.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 12:11 am

    Maybe if the locals care to remember who was extending their tourist season long before the audience of The Good Old Days pitched up for their promenading, then they may feel inclined to stop complaining about "intolerant Goths scaring of our nylon covered golden geese".

    That's the same goths that were treated by some BnB owners and holiday home letters the same as "No Irish. No Dogs". No Goths.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 12:24 am

    and what is the compromise?
    Its not as if WGW is in a large city like Leeds, where there is accommodation enough for everyone.
    But what can the goths do? We cant stop them, but no one says we have to like it. Like being portrayed as Nazi werewolfs, jolly multicoloured Victorian OAPs, vampires, cartoon characters, and so on? You think thats a compromise? That the media think goth is all about fancy dress?
    We are just to suck it up and walk it off?
    Your glib suggestion is indicative of a complete lack of understanding

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 1:29 am

    Your article link is pretty broken btwReplyCancel

  • Glenn Kilpatrick3rd November 2015 - 2:05 am

    Hi Ceri a great read as always and thank-you for your link to my short blog about the photographers.

    I think this explains what for me has been my biggest Issue with WGW in recent times – "I see the real advocates of the official WGW getting so angry that each year at the influx of fancy dress wearers to the event,This really saddens me, that a group who fight for acceptance for all, can be so negative."

    After various stories of Goth being attacked by intolerant biggots in todays society, it deeply upsets me to see Intolerance come from a group who should understand the problems that can arise out of intolerance more than any most other groups in modern society.

    I have watched arguments arise over who should be allowed in Whitby, and who are real goths, and who arent real Goths. Ive made a big point of taking the proverbial out of the situation, but in reality its very annoying. As a citizen of Whitby Ill welcome anyone, but what I wont welcome is intolerance of any group (except the edl etc). Its not a weekend only for one small set of people. Its far outgrown what it was 20 years ago.

    Really is time for them all to play nicely.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 8:00 am

    Well said , as she said she takes pics of what sells .. also how long have you seen the weekends ? And how much , for the worse they changed . ?ReplyCancel

  • Ceri Oakes3rd November 2015 - 8:04 am

    I'm not claiming to understand it from your side, in fact im very interested to hear opinions from this side. I simply wanted to offer my own opinion from the perspective of a press photographer. As I said, more than happy to take on any points made as long as they aren't offensive to the different groups who attend the weekend.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 11:27 am

    Goths, and by that I mean the hardcore goths who will claim that the Whitby Goth Weekend is being ruined by the "part timers" and "fancy Dressers" have just the same stupid elitist ethos that I knew as a punk in Birmingham in the late 80's. Either your clothes weren't black enough, your make up wasn't goth enough or you didn't dance goth enough. And woe betide if you smiled…. (I kid you not, I know of a few people who were vilified by the Birmingham Goth Society for being just too damned happy). Mind you, Leeds goths were worse.

    With regards to WGW it started small, got bigger and as the snowball rolled it has changed. Just like Glastonbury, just like the Reading Festival. You'll always have groups fighting the change and they'll never win as long as money changes hands. The only way to get WGW back to the way it was would be for each and every hardcore goth to boycott the event for a few years, let it die and then start it up again. But they won't do that,instead they'll just keep on moaning. Sorry Whitby, its something you'll have to get used to….ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 1:49 pm

    This is absolutely what the locals, the Council, the local press and the tourist board should be getting behind.

    WGW has moved its 2nd 2016 date away from the Halloween weekend in an attempt to reclaim our music festival for our subculture. Obviously, that is now seeming a little redundant as hoteliers, social media and suchlike are encouraging the people who want to see the illuminated abbey, wear costumes for a weekend or go and look at the people in costume, to move with the music festival.

    Halloween is a huge event in itself now – please, Whitby, celebrate that but please stop calling the crowds in fancy dress Goths. They are not us and we are not them. Please get your act together and have your own town-wide Halloween weekend, promote it as such, and let us Goths step aside and skulk off to a week later then everyone is happy.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 6:07 pm

    The compromise is that the music festival has already moved to the week after Halloween in the hope that all the people wanting to dress up and parade round town enjoying the Halloween atmosphere of Whitby will still attend the weekend before. If they do that instead of following us, everyone will be happy – Whitby makes more money, there's less overcrowding, problem solved!ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 8:22 pm

    As a full-time goth (as in I listen to the music and attend club nights and gigs all year round, not just WGW) who has been attending WGW since 2005, I'd like to give a bit of insight into why many of us are a bit salty about our festival being hijacked by 'togs, dresser uppererers and people who come for a gawp.

    -The first time I went to WGW I had neon pink and black synth-dreads and dressed more outrageously than I do now. The only time I was approached was by a tourist couple up at the abbey who complimented my hair and then moved on. A huge part of the appeal was that you could go about your business without anyone bothering you as they would in everyday life. For the past couple of years I now tone everything down as much as I can during the day time because an unsettling amount of the people who come to gawp seem to think that if you look a bit different then you are public property, that you are there solely for their entertainment and that they have full impunity to invade your personal space. I don't like feeling like an exhibit in a petting zoo when I'm just trying to enjoy some gigs and a holiday at the seaside.

    – The influx of photographers is the thing that I personally most dislike about recent years. Many of the photographers I have met have been nothing but friendly and gracious, but those nice 'togs have been overshadowed by GWCs with massive entitlement complexes. This weekend I got talking to a 'tog who had been told by another 'tog "F**k off, this one's mine!" when he approached a girl to ask for her photo. This weekend I also bore witness to two nervous-looking teenage girls being physically cornered by a group of middle-aged men with cameras. In the past I have been grabbed at, had lenses pushed right up into my face with no warning, and on one unfortunate occasion a few years back, caught one particular cadillac among men trying to take a creepshot down my blouse.

    – It is insulting to have people turn your everyday identity into a costume and a caricature. If you look up the concept of cultural appropriation then you may get an idea of why we get so tetchy about this. Obviously I’m not conflating goth (or any other subculture for that matter) with a racial or religious culture but the same basic principle can be applied – a more apt comparison would be dressing up as an over-the-top caricature of a nerd and going to a sci-fi convention, and then wondering why all of the sci-fi fans are annoyed at you. Of course people are going to get defensive if they feel that something they are passionate about is being belittled and treated like a mere novelty.

    …. will continue below …ReplyCancel

  • Sepiidae3rd November 2015 - 8:24 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 8:25 pm

    – The most important thing, the thing that is getting us most riled up, is that the main music festival needs support or it will fold. If the main event folds then I would be more than willing to bet that the “unofficial” side of things would also fade away as they would have nothing to focus it around. If the whole lot went kaput then a huge blow would be dealt to the Whitby economy, therefore in the end everyone would lose. If the people who want to support the festival can’t attend because there is no accommodation, then, well, you know the rest…

    Really all we're asking is for some attention to be paid to the music festival that takes place at the Spa (and you still can wear your big hooped skirts, masks, and goggles to the gigs – there is no such thing as the goth police and nobody will be mean to you, honest!) and not just the people dressed up on the east side of town. Maybe then the general public will see why we're so passionate about defending it.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous3rd November 2015 - 10:47 pm

    A common complaint is that the (exploitatively priced) accommodation in town is so quickly swallowed up by those only interested in dressing up to be photographed for the weekend that there is very little left for the goths who have come to support the main event. And without us, the WGW main event will crash. Just booking further in advance is not always possible for a lot of goths. And I'm sorry, it is a very irresponsible and dismissive statement in this economic climate, and a situation that's not being helped at all by the aforementioned exploitative pricing. Even in peak season, we generally shouldn't be expecting to fork out London prices in a North Eastern fishing town…

    The majority of those fancy dressers have no interest in attending the main event, their only presence in the Spa seems to be during the daytime when the stalls are open. I can't stress this enough; if we're increasingly being pushed out of the town like that, we will just stop attending.

    Just like any other tourist, we're unlikely to make a return visit if our last experience was a bad one.

    As for the photographers themselves, well I can definitely say that they were a lot more polite a good few years ago. Many goths were happy to be photographed because manners were used, For me, the cracks started to show when one day, walking down the abbey steps, a crowd of photographers were gathered at the bottom, firing off shots continuously at everyone coming down, pausing only to tell people to just stop for a moment so they can get a good angle as though they had paid for their time like models.

    Ultimately, do I care if the town is chock full of fancy dressers? No, not really. It's not them that bother me. But the effects of their presence does. Much is being made of how goths should learn to deal with and accept those who roll into Whitby, book up all the accommodation, don't support the main event that started it all in the first place and attract unsavoury types with DSLRs. It's just a theory, but how about teaching them how to respect OUR presence and OUR right to be there? They wouldn't be if it wasn't for us. A little respect works both ways…ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous4th November 2015 - 1:40 am

    The advocates of the official WGW getting angry about the influx of "dress up Goths", Steampunkers, Victoriana Goths, etc, etc shows how intolerant, prejudiced and petty minded they have become. As WGW raises money for S.O.P.H.I.E., they can also be accused of being hypocrites as the charity states "Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere" but official WGW attendees seem to be endorsing the things the charity is against. 🙁ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous4th November 2015 - 4:05 pm

    There is absolutely no way WGW is endorsing kicking anyone to death for the way they look.ReplyCancel

  • Raven Dane5th November 2015 - 12:16 am

    I visited WGW back in 2007 for a book launch. I have been a Goth since the early seventies long before the culture was born, my first visit was long overdue! Then, the vast majority of visitors were there for the music and gathering of like minded souls, the atmosphere was extraordinary…relaxed, celebratory and friendly. I loved how the whole town entered into the spirit of the festival. Then I saw my first fancy dress visitors, a coach load of pensioners in hired 'horror' costumes….my feeling were mixed, confused. In the end , the obvious fun they were having won me over…and they would be long gone before the music started in the venues. Those young lads dressed as vampires in one of the photos were clearly in fancy dress but again, what harm were they doing? Having fun and being exposed to Goth culture and sub cultures can only open their mind…make them welcome and who knows, they may be future Goths to keep the festival going …The problem of full hotels and BBs caused by tourist visitors is vexing…not sure how this can be addressed to be fair to allReplyCancel

  • Anonymous5th November 2015 - 10:40 am

    Nice straw man argument. Endorsing "Intolerance" (which they are doing) ≠ endorsing kicking anyone to death.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous5th November 2015 - 11:57 am

    Is nobody prepared to make mention of the fact that Jo Hampshire seems incapable of booking any worthwhile acts to support major attendance at WGW anymore?

    All this posturing about "togs", fancy dress tourists and accommodation prices is all well and good but why would anyone pay the current asking price to go and see yet another dried up 80s glam band heave their beer guts across a sub-standard stage and then dance the night away in a half empty sports hall to the last decade's floor-bore-filler playlist?

    The weekend itself is dead. The Bram Stoker event already bagged top acts like FotN this year whilst WGW? …Tygers of Pan Tang or some similarly completely irrelevant comedy nostalgia act that would sooner suit Butlins.ReplyCancel

  • Sadie B7th November 2015 - 1:51 am

    BSIFF had a wealthy benefactor (though it appears not any more) as well as lottery funding via the BFI (for being a Film Festival). They have more cash spare for band bookings. I do wonder what the film goers think of the films being sidelined for Goth Bands in an attempt to take over WGW

    Yes, WGW lineups can be lacklustre but poor ticket sales are not going to help them afford better bands, I'm not sure how they can solve that. They could take the risk on a big act but if punters are struggling with accommodation it might cause much bigger losses.ReplyCancel

  • […] and has been open to much debate, I chipped in myself last year with this blog post you can read here. This year, I was shooting for the local paper, and knew I needed to get colourful, eye-catching […]ReplyCancel