The Darker Side Of London

29 May 2015
Read Time: 1.6 mins

London boasts numerous historical landmarks. Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square are deeply ingrained in the fabric of the city. However, London also boasts a darker side.

In a city that has borne witness to the plague, Jack the Ripper and royal beheadings, part of London's character is derived from its history as a place of death and destruction. Londoners are nothing if not entrepreneurial, though, and guided tours of some of the English capital's more grisly sites are a novel way to acquaint yourself with the city's dark past.

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Whitechapel Walking Tours

Such was the frenzy caused by a three-year killing spree in the impoverished East End in the late 1880s that more than a hundred years later, we're still talking about it. The so-called Whitechapel murders have long been attributed to an unidentified figure known as Jack the Ripper, though no suspect was conclusively found.

The Ripper is suspected to have lured at least five victims to their deaths, and dozens of walking tours now traverse much-changed Whitechapel for a glimpse into one of the most notorious episodes of London's dark past.

 An 1888 edition of Punch mocks the police's failure to catch the Ripper. Picture: Getty

Highgate's Haunting Beauty

One of the city's so-called Magnificent Seven group of cemeteries, London's vast Highgate Cemetery is an eerie reminder of the Victorians' fascination with death. A rambling, densely wooded tract dotted with Gothic crypts, enormous mausoleums and solemn statues dedicated to those interred within, Highgate Cemetery remains one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

Guided tours can help familiarise you with some of the famous names inside – including Karl Marx, George Eliot and Douglas Adams – but perhaps the best way to explore Highgate is to simply stroll through its leafy surrounds and appreciate its haunting beauty.

 London's eerie Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Getty Images

Tower Of Terror

Officially called Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, the imposing, multi-turreted compound that looms over the River Thames has for years been better known as The Tower of London. A remnant of the Norman Conquest of England, for generations the Tower has inspired awe and revulsion in equal measure.

 The Tower of London inspires awe and revulsion. Picture: Getty Images

It is reputedly haunted by the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn – who, among others, was beheaded there in 1536. The entry to the so-called Traitors' Gate is still visible from the Thames, through which the likes of Boleyn passed on their way to meet a grim fate.

Tours of the Tower of London help unlock the mysteries of this structure, which stands as a symbol of London's feudal history and thirst for blood.

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Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.