With Halloween and the colder months just around the corner, thoughts may naturally turn to the darker side of London’s attractions and where it is possible to explore the grim and grisly past of this vibrant and diverse city. With thousands of years of history behind it, London has plenty of dark secrets underneath the modern skyscrapers and polished attractions. Whether you just want to lightly touch on these more macabre attractions such as the executions which took place at the Tower of London or you want to delve right in with a visit to London’s Dungeons, you’ll find a good variety in the city.
Jack the Ripper
Possibly one of London’s most infamous characters, there are plenty of Jack the Ripper tours which take place across the city although they are mostly centred around Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper is thought to have mainly been based. This has to be one of the city’s best known mysteries; it is still unsolved to this day although in 2006 the name of a prime suspect was released and many tours now also include a visit to the home of the supposed ‘real’ Jack the Ripper. Take a tour back in time to Victorian London, and follow the footsteps Jack the Ripper is believed to have taken; to the locations where his victims were discovered, and the places it is believed he liked to spend his time. Many of these tours will also hand over the reins of detective to its participants to see whether they can throw any light on this unsolved series of murders.
The Final Resting Place for Victims of the Plague
The plague is a well known feature of London’s history; it arrived in 1665 and eventually killed around 100,000 people which at the time was around 20% of the city’s population. St Olave’s Churchyard which is located in the City of London was the final resting plae for some of the people who lost their lives at this time and is, incidentally, also the burial place of Samuel Pepys. If you have older children who are maybe interested in a little bit of a morbid experience then this can be a soft way to introduce them; many will have learned not just about the plague at school but also the Great Fire of London so it’s possible to blend the two (to go alongside your stay at one of the luxury hotels for families in the city of course!). There’s a pretty grim skull adornment on the entrance to the churchyard too, just for extra chills.
The Tower of London
No list of grisly and gruesome locations in London could be complete without one of the most well known of all; the Tower of London. Throughout this landmark’s 1,000 years of history it has been many different things from a stronghold to a palace, a jewel house to a zoo but the thing which sticks in many people’s minds about the Tower of London is the fact that it was a place of execution for a number of well known figures in British history despite the fact that only 22 executions actually took place here. That said, the Tower doesn’t get off lightly as it was also a place of torture, particularly during the Tudor period when prisoners would be both physically and mentally tortured, as well as being a prison for anyone thought to be plotting to overthrow or kill the monarch. Elizabeth I herself was held in the Tower of London for a number of years. The Tower of London is very easy to get to, particularly if you staying somewhere central such as The Montcalm London City At The Brewery Hotel and is well worth a visit.
The Human Brain
Perhaps not one for people who are squeamish, but fairly fascinating nonetheless, is the collection of human brains at the Hunterian Museum housed in the Royal College of Surgeons. The museum is free to enter and open to the public and alongside the display of human brains you can also find an unrivalled collection of human and non-human anatomical specimens, as well as models and instruments which have been used in surgery throughout the ages right up to the present day. Visitors can discover more about the science of surgery and key developments which have been made from the 17th century onwards.
Skeletons and Moles
Another unusual museum which can be found in London is the Grant Museum of Zoology, home to around 68,000 specimens from the animal kingdom including (rather bizarrely) a jar of moles, a pregnant cat, a number of endangered animals and more skeletons than you could shake a tibia at. The Grant Museum is the only remaining museum of Zoology in London and certainly offers a unique perspective for anyone with an interest in the world of animals. Admission to the museum is free and it is situated in the Rockefeller Building at the University College London.
A Dead Body
Have you ever wanted to see a dead body up close? Well thanks to the last request of 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, you can certainly be given the opportunity. The last request of the philosopher was to be seated in his favourite chair, wearing his favourite clothes and ensconced in a glass case for all eternity. His wish was granted and although his head had to be removed after it was stolen and replaced by a wax version, the rest of his body remains and can be seen in the corridor of the University College London which is open to the public throughout the week. A rather unusual last request but one which has fascinated audiences for many, many years.