We’re used to watching TV and seeing the hotspots of this world portrayed in their finest light. If your only experience of it were on TV, New York would seem to be a pristine, opulent dreamworld. Dubai would be an architectural miracle with luxury around every corner. London would be some time capsule where every home was a palace, apart from the ones that are cramped and full of unhappy people.
The truth is, every city has its luxury hotels and gleaming lights. Even Pyongyang, which was in the grip of famine less than a quarter-century ago, has showcase hotels. But not everyone wants to see the glitter and the sanitised side of a city. Many people come to London to see the Palaces and the shopping areas – but some want to see the grittier side. The good news is, there’s plenty of both to see.
Macabre London: Meet Jeremy Bentham
If you’re looking for something a little bit bizarre in London, go and visit Jeremy Bentham. For those who don’t know who he is, don’t worry. He’s not one of those people who sits a bit too close or makes unwelcome eye contact when talking to you.
No, he’s dead. Has been for 184 years. But the legendary philosopher asked that, when he died, his body be preserved and sat in the position he preferred for thinking. It’s now on show in a glass case at University College London, with a waxwork head. The real one was initially poorly preserved – and in 1975 was stolen by a rival college. Because of course it was. It was returned and has been under lock and key since.
Macabre London: Jack The Ripper
From charmingly eccentric philosophers to out-and-out evil murderers? A trip around weird London may give you mood whiplash. But if you’re not ready for that, you’re not ready for Dark London. If you are, take a Jack The Ripper Tour and see the areas in which the city’s best-known serial killer operated.
The tours are full of fascinating minutiae of the Ripper story. To this day, the killer remains unidentified and seems sure to remain so. By visiting Whitechapel and the surrounding area, you can get inside the case and maybe make up your own mind.
Macabre London: Sweeney Todd
Fleet Street was for many years the home of the British tabloid press. Speaking of stories backed up by scant fact but sure to whip up hysteria, it is also the home of Sweeney Todd. A fictional character and star of several “Penny Dreadful” novels, the Demon Barber still holds people in awe to this day. He murdered several customers, so legend goes, then took their bodies to his accomplice who baked them in pies.
Competing theories exist to whether Todd was based on a real person. Most likely, he was a composite made up of some fact and a lot of fiction. His contribution to London tourism, however, is very real. You can indeed go for a shave in a Fleet Street barber shop. You will not end up in a pie.
These are far from the only things to see and do if you’re in London and want your spine chilled. After all, more than a thousand years of monarchy don’t tend to come and go without plot and bloodshed aplenty. The above options are just some of what you can check out while in London – but they’re great places to start.