Carfax is the name of the building that Count Dracula purchases with the help of Mr. Hawkins and Jonathan Harker, the lawyer's assistant. In the 1931 Universal Pictures movie with Bela Lugosi, it is featured as "Carfax Abbey"—but this name was freely invented by the film makers. In his diary, Jonathan Harker describes the property as follows:
"The estate is called Carfax, no doubt a corruption of the old Quatre Face, as the house is four-sided, agreeing with the cardinal points of the compass. [...] The house is very large and of all periods back, I should say, to mediæval times, for one part is of stone immensely thick, with only a few windows high up and heavily barred with iron. It looks like part of a keep, and is close to an old chapel or church. I could not enter it, as I had not the key of the door leading to it from the house, but I have taken with my kodak views of it from various points."
Various Dracula sleuths have tried to find a building in Purfleet, Essex, that would match this description. None of their proposals have been approved of by Professor Elizabeth Miller, sometimes nicknamed "the Dracula Police." For me this came as no surprise, as Stoker originally planned both the Count's house and Dr. Seward's asylum to be located in Plaistow, in the east part of London itself, not in a village 20 miles farther down the Thames. According to my colleague Leslie Klinger, who inspected the original typesecript for Dracula (that surprisingly resurfaced in a barn in Pennsylvania in the 1980s), Purfleet was introduced only in this typed version.
There are three towns in England that feature a struccture named "Carfax": Exeter (the hometown of Mr. Hawkins, Jonathan and Mina), Oxford, and Horsham in West-Sussex. The Horsham Carfax is indirectly mentioned in Dracula when Van Helsing sends Dr. Seward his telegram of 17 September:
Telegram, Van Helsing, Antwerp, to Seward, Carfax.
(Sent to Carfax, Sussex, as no county given; delivered late by twenty-two hours.)
The Oxford one, though, is the best known. Stoker liked to borrow names and geographical details from existing situations, but dislocate them or garble their name in such a way that they could not clearly be identified. In the case of the Count's mansion, the first option seems to have been used. In Oxford, the Carfax building at the town's central crossroad still functions as the city's landmark, and like in Jonathan's description, it includes an old fortified tower with windows only high up, the Saxon tower, built around 1032, originally used for defence purposes, later as a prison; the complex also included a church.
There is a peculiar story attached to this church: although it had been rebuilt only in 1822, it was demolished in 1896, when two parishes were merged; it had to make room for the increased traffic. As you can imagine, the demolition of the as-good-as-new church triggered vehement discussions in the local press. I assume that Bram Stoker was familiar with the uproar, as his son Noel (born 1880) went to Summer Fields School, a boarding school in Oxford, and later attended Winchester College, also in Oxford. Although I did not find any evidence that Papa Stoker brought his son to school after the holidays or picked him up again for Easter or Christmas, he certainly had not selected this institution without having the necessary background information and local connections. We know that on 7 March 1886, together with Irving he had met with Professor Max Müller (1823-1900), William Leonard Courtney (1850-1928) and several high-ranking Oxford university officials. In his novel The Man (1905), he included a chapter titled "A Visit to Oxford," mentionining the city's famous university.
For all these reasons, it seems likely that the historical Carfax building in Oxford's centre was the model for Count Dracula's Purfleet refugium—the vampire's most important hide-out on British ground. The article in the Guardian of 13 May 1896 reproduced below may have been one of the sources used by Stoker. It would have agreed with his peculiar sense of humour and his strategy of cover-up to let Harker come up with a false explanation of the building's name.