Steampunk Cosplayers Are Keeping British Heritage Towns Alive
Steampunk, the sci-fi subgenre with an endless love of all things steamworks and magick obscura, may have started in America, but it owes everything to the old British empire. And due to the UK's continuing decline from monocles and colonialism into austerity and plague, Steampunk aficionados can finally repay that debt to the Victorian era by keeping its time-frozen hamlets afloat.
Not exactly prized for its weather or food (what kind of island nation isn't renowned for a single fish dish?), the most powerful tourist arrow in Britain's quiver is its history. But pensioners who will spend money on a historical walking tour of every privy Thomas Cromwell took a dump in are quite literally becoming a dying breed. Luckily, small towns that haven't updated their infrastructure since the days of drive-by musketting have now found more fresh-faced tourists in the kind of geeks with a penchant for European historical revisionism.
Recently, catering to Steampunk events has become a cottage industry in British cottage towns. Particularly covetous are the towns that can count 19th-century celebs as their local heroes. Science-minded goggle-wearers will scurry to the Shrewsbury Steampunk Spectacular to breathe the same Shropshire air as Charles Darwin. The Steampunk Weekend in Haworth, home of the Bronte Sisters, is another major draw for those in the corset crowd who lost their virginity to the sound of the Wuthering Heights audiobook (which is most of them). And traveling to the coast for the Bournemouth Alternative Christmas Fayre offers Steampunks the chance to imitate their favorite sci-fi goth, Mary Shelley, by having sex on Mary Wollstonecraft's grave.
Even British burghs with no Victorian claim to fame can still reignite their gas lanterns, chase the heroin addicts out of their defunct locomotive station, and have their decrepit pubs serve gin slings instead of vodka Redbulls to catch some of that Steampunk tourism. Industry towns like Burnley and Hereford can launch sizeable Steampunk events by enticing aetherheads with the gleaming copper of their antique steam engines and water pumps. Meanwhile, the county town of Lincoln is home to the biggest Steampunk gathering in the world solely because of the allure of its haunted Victorian insane asylum.
UK Steampunk tourism has even gotten so big that even sub-factions of the sub-genre have their own events. Scotiacon, the premier destination for Steampunk Furries, recently moved to quaint Livingstone in Scotland for its frolic friendly Victorian gardens, wildflower meadows, and easy accessibility by car (Why even be a British Steampunk Furry if you can't go dogging in your clockwork carriage). On the other side of the isle, Steampunk Goths drag their capes across Whitby's cobblestones during its Goth Weekend, retracing the steps of Bram Stoker as he came up with his decrepit undead leech, Dracula, while visiting the people of Whitby.
While not every English townie loves the idea of having hundreds of clockwork cosplayers crowd its narrow streets with Tesla coils and tea dunking duels, one has no choice but to tip one's magnetic top hat to these Steampunks. Through their support of small-town tourism, Britain's Victorian past is kept alive -- even if their version of that past includes laser guns and zeppelin goblins.
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Top Image: Claudio Marinangeli/Flickr