London’s grisly museums and eccentric exhibits are fuelling the global boom in ‘dark tourism’. Here’s the capital’s favourite dark tourism hotspots…
Wellcome Collection & Library
Wealthy pharmacist and collector Henry Wellcome is considered the godfather of dark tourism. In the late 18th century, he travelled the world acquiring and exhibiting bizarre curios, from Sweeney Todd-style medical instruments to torture devices used on the criminally insane. His fascinating – if rather ghoulish – collection is still open to the public today, and entry is free. Fans of this freakish attraction are particularly fond of the mummified creatures, while those with a penchant for ancient Japanese sex toys are in for a real treat…
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
London Necropolis Railway (LNR)
By the end of the 18th century, London’s body count was piling up faster than the capital’s army of grave diggers could excavate coffin-shaped holes. The solution? A railway catering exclusively to the dead. Bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘dark tourism’, The London Necropolis Railway ran from Waterloo to Brookwood cemetery in Surrey, funnelling corpses (and mourners) away from London’s overcrowded burial sites. It carried over 200,000 bodies before being demolished after heavy German bombardment in 1941. Shame, but you can still visit the LNR’s magnificent – if rather creepy – façade at the address below.
121 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HR
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History
Heard of the Last Tuesday Society? Us neither. Turns out it’s a new bar that combines kooky taxidermy with some truly savage absinthe cocktails. The bar’s in-house museum, inspired by the oddities contained in 17th century ‘wonder cabinets’, is a mecca for dark tourism and stacked with weird and wonderful examples of taxidermy (mashed together with erotic art and curios). Assuming you can stop hallucinating long enough, you’ll see everything from high-end quartz sex toys and vintage speculums to taxidermy mermaids. Oh, and if Aleister Crowley walks in, you probably need to ease off on the booze…
11 Mare St, London E8 4RP
The Star Tavern
Many of London’s spit ‘n’ sawdust boozers boast macabre pasts. The Ten Bells, for example, is said to have been frequented by Jack the Ripper, while the The Cockpit was the cock-fighting equivalent of Wembley Stadium in its day. But for sheer notoriety, you can’t beat Belgravia’s Star Tavern – best known as the place where The Great Train Robbery was planned. In the 1960s, regulars included gambler John Aspinall, safe-blower Eddie Chapman and underworld boss George Chatham, all of whom hung out in the pub’s infamous second-floor lair. You’ll find a nod to their dastardly exploits in the shape of a suitcase filled with fake money.
6 Belgrave Mews W, Belgravia, London SW1X 8HT
Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon
It’s not unusual for people to leave specific instructions for their funeral. But Jeremy Bentham’s takes the cake. When the eccentric philosopher died in 1832 he demanded that his body be stuffed. Or, to be precise, smoked and embalmed – using the traditional Maori method. Bentham even carried two glass eyes in his pocket, incase he died suddenly (at the paws of his pet bear). His instructions also called for him to be put on display – dressed in his favourite suit – under a placard hailing the world’s first ‘Auto-Icon’. Sadly, in 1975 some university students stole Bentham’s original head and kicked it about like a football, disfiguring it, so the display model is now a wax replica. But the body? Yeah. That’s very much real. Don’t have nightmares.
South Cloisters, Wilkins Building, UCL, Gower Street WC1E 6BT