London is riddled with darkness. Partly because it’s been around a good while, and partly because it’s the UK’s capital, meaning it’s highly populated and the people who have committed some of the worst crimes in the history of the Isles have been sent to their deaths in the city.
There are thousands of grisly sites to be seen, but here are…
Travel Darkly’s top 10 dark tourism destinations in London:
1. The Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the largest, most impressive buildings tying the city to its history. It has been a prison for the likes of Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn and Richard III’s ill-fated nephews, as well as a menagerie for a whole host of exotic animals including lions and tigers, monkeys and elephants, at a time when the English were off conquering and pilfering things from around the world.
The nearest London Underground station is Tower Hill.
2. Jack the Ripper Tours
Anyone who lives in Whitechapel and the surrounds can tell you of the nine or ten plus Jack the Ripper tours, one after the other every night, that journey to the area to see the sites where Jack the Ripper infamously murdered prostitutes. We can’t be sure what it is exactly that fascinates so many people about a man who slaughtered so many young women, but it is what it is.
London Underground stations include Aldgate East and Whitechapel.
3. Bart’s Pathology Museum
There are a few fantastic museums filled with skeletons, bodies and body parts in London, two for humans – Bart’s and the Hunterian Museum, and one filled with animals, Grant Museum of Zoology. Bart’s Pathology Museum has just one member of staff, Carla Valentine, who has breathed life into it with a series of events including Death Salon UK. There are numerous intriguing specimens at Bart’s including the skeleton(s) of conjoined twins and the skull of the assassin who killed British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval – John Bellingham – who even has his own Twitter account.
On the exterior wall of the hospital gate you need to pass through to get to the museum is a plaque that commemorates the death of William Wallace, aka Braveheart, adorned with a Scottish flag and tributes. He was hanged and beheaded near to where the plaque is placed, and many others met a similar fate in the opposite green next to Smithfield Market – a popular spot to burn heretics.
The Hunterian Museum is a little more clinical and visitors must wear badges when they go, but it also has some interesting specimens including the skeletons of a giant and a miniature lady. There are also an unusually large amount of foetal specimens, which can be distressing and unsuitable for small children or the squeamish. The Grant Museum of Zoology’s most famous specimen is probably its jar of moles. It also has a jar of lizards and a micrarium filled with illuminated micro-members of the animal kingdom.
London Underground stations for Bart’s include Barbican, Farrington and St Paul’s.
4. Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon
Jeremy Bentham, the father of Utilitarianism and mascot of University College London, asked to be stuffed once he’d snuffed it and placed in a cabinet and put on display so that nobody would forget him. It worked. Although the head is a wax replacement for the original, that was stolen and kicked about by King’s College students before being returned, the body is real.
Best London Underground station is Warren Street.
5. Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark
Cross Bones is the result of one man’s crusade to honour the memory of the thousands of ladies of the night and homeless buried beneath the unhallowed ground without individual graves to note their passing. Here you will find gates to the site adorned with coloured bows, small trinkets and compassionate notes. Monthly vigils that anyone is free to attend take place at the site too.
London Underground stations include Southwark, Borough and London Bridge.
6. Highgate Cemetery
Dead famous people. We love them. Paris has Pere Lachaise, final resting place of Oscar Wilde (lipstick-covered Egyptian-style monument), Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison (continuous stream of weeping fans). London Highgate Cemetery is the final resting place of such notable people as Karl Marx (very big bust of himself), George Eliot and Douglas Adams (a pot filled with pens in front of his grave). Not to mention Jeremy Beadle, the famous You’ve Been Framed presenter who some people still don’t realise is no longer with us.
If it’s famous dead Londoners you’re after, why not also pay a visit to Bonhill Cemetery, where Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake are buried. The closest London Underground station to Bonhill Fields is Old Street Tube, but Shoreditch High Street and Liverpool Street station are also nearby.
Best London Underground station for Highgate Cemetery is Archway – or (we found) the C11 bus that stops at Archway.
7. St. Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt Café
Firstly, it’s just lovely to have a really decent café to add light to our dark post. Also, if doing a tour of all these sites, it’s always good to have somewhere that serves tea and cake on the list. The floor of the spacious crypt café is a mixture of paving stones and tombstones, and a Roman vaulted ceiling is lit up above customers. To one side of the café is a passage where there are, amongst others, a plaque for John Hunter, founder of the Hunterian Museum, who was for a time buried here, and the brilliant white statue of the original Pearly King. There is a shop down here too, where you can pay to do rubbings of the stones.
Best London Underground stations are Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Charing Cross.
8. London Hospital Museum
While visitors to London Hospital Museum cannot view the original skeleton of famous ‘freak’ John Merrick – there is an excellent display dedicated to him and the doctor who ‘rescued him’ from the shop just down the road from Whitechapel station nearby. There is also a life-sized replica of the skeleton which is just as good, as well as his hat and clothes. Also here is a knife possibly used by Jack the Ripper in the killings he committed not far from the museum.
Best London Underground station is Whitechapel. It’s useful to take a map with you, as the streets behind the hospital are something of a maze and you’re looking for a church – as the museum is in the crypt.
9. The site of the Tyburn Tree
By the Odeon at the foot of the Edgware Road and near to Joe Strummer passage, is a small traffic island with a metal disk which marks the spot where the Tyburn Tree – where potentially more people were executed than any other spot in the UK, and where Oliver Cromwell’s body was taken to be ‘posthumously executed’ – once was. Across the way in Hyde Park you will find Speaker’s Corner, so-called because it was the last place the doomed could go to air their grievances before being strung up and choked from the Tyburn Tree.
Best London Underground station is Marble Arch.
10. The Monument to the Great Fire of London
The Monument marks the spot near where the Great Fire of London started in 1666; at a bakery in Pudding Lane just around the corner. It is the final destination of a tour of sites of the Great Fire of London Travel Darkly’s Katherine put together.
This is an easy one, best London Underground station is Monument.