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From the ghoulish to the macabre; 10 Places to visit in London on Halloween

Halloween is almost upon us!  From the ghoulish to the macabre if you are looking for things to do in London this Halloween, these are 10 places I can recommend you visit.  London is a city of mystery, of ghosts, ghouls and tales of the damned.  If you are seeker of all things dark and downright fascinating then be sure to visit:

HIGHGATE CEMETERY – WEST SIDE

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The famous Egyptian Avenue at Highgate Cemetery

The Victorian attitude to death and its presentation led to the creation of a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings.  Highgate Cemetery was featured in the popular media from the 1960s to the late 1980s for its so-called occult past, particularly as being the alleged site of the “Highgate Vampire”.    In Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel Dracula, the Count’s young victim, Lucy Westenra, is buried in “Kingstead Cemetery” (a fictionalised Highgate), where she later preys on young children as a vampire.

The cemetery in its original form; the north-western area, opened in 1839.   A brilliant place to visit at any time, I can highly recommend a visit to Highgate Cemetery. There is an entrance fee for both east and west side, and if you wish to tour the West Side you do have to book. – address: Swain’s Lane  London, Highgate N6 6PJ  Do telephone to book: 020 8340 1834

HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station Archway on Northern Line and you can either walk up Swains Lane or you can be sensible :) and take one of the buses (134/210/271) that go up Highgate Hill towards Highgate Village: alight at Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park and walk through the park  to the opposite side and exit for the cemetery.  You can’t miss it.  Or the 214 from Kentish Town on Northern Line, get off at South Grove and walk down Swaines Lane to the cemetery.

WEST BROMPTON CEMETERY

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The catacombs at West Brompton Cemetery

West Brompton Cemetery, consecrated by the Bishop of London in June 1840, is one of the Britain’s oldest and most distinguished garden cemeteries. Some 35,000 monuments, from simple headstones to substantial mausolea, now mark the resting place of more than 205,000 burials.One of the most notable persons to be buried there would be Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader and you can see her memorial on the broad walk through the cemetery.  Besides that there are some intriguing and downright weird headstones. Do explore and be sure to visit the entrance to the catacombs.
Beatrix Potter, who lived in The Boltons nearby, took the names of many of her animal characters from tombstones in the cemetery and it is said that Mr. McGregor’s walled garden was based on the colonnades. Names on headstones included Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, a Tod (with that unusual single ‘d’ spelling), Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock – and even a Peter Rabbett.

Old Brompton Road in West Brompton, SW10, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Main Gate (or North Gate) is near the junction with Kempsford Gardens.  FREE

HOW TO GET THERE:  Nearest tube station: West Brompton or Fulham Broadway

JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM

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the John Soane's Mausoleum at St Pancras Old Church Kings Cross

The architect Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library; an absolutely fascinating and yet macabre place to visit with narrow passageways and rooms filled with relics of his collections, one of which is the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I. There are hundreds of fascinating and weird items to see as well as some beautiful paintings, and I was quite unable to absorb so much…therefore I will ‘have’ to visit again :)  They hold special candlelight openings on the first Tuesday evening of each month, 6-9pm. This event cannot be booked and tickets are issued on a first come first served basis.  No photography allowed in the museum.
Entrance is FREE but you do need to queue, so go early. The Soane’s Museum is at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields London WC2A 3BP 020 7405 2107  They also appreciate donations :)

HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station Holborn – Central & Piccadilly Lines or a short walk from The Royal Courts of Justice on Strand.

HUNTERIAN MUSEUM

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entrance to the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons

A truly macabre museum, the smell of formaldehyde is quite overwhelming as you enter.   If you can bear it…then the museum is fascinating with exhibits that include the skeleton of the 7ft 7in tall ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, a collection of surgical instruments dating from the seventeenth century, carbolic sprays used by Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, the tooth of a megatherium (an extinct giant sloth) donated by Charles Darwin – and Winston Churchill’s dentures and thousands of anatomical specimens.  The Hunterian Museum is situated within the Royal College of Surgeons and open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Closed Sunday, Monday and bank holidays. Tel: 020 7869 6560  Admission is FREE but they do appreciate a donation.  The museum is open to all and there is wheelchair access.

HOW TO GET THERE: The Royal College of Surgeons of London’s building is on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PE   Nearest tube station: Holborn on Central and Piccadilly Lines

ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE in the City of London

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the interior of the Roman Amphitheatre (photo from the Guildhall website)

For a quite surreal experience; venture into the amphitheatre, 20 feet below ground level, and if you walk across the courtyard of Guildhall, except for a black oblong of stone you would never guess it was there.  I myself discovered it quite by accident when I visited the Guildhall Art Gallery.  There is a fascinating display near the cloakrooms of artefacts they have found whilst excavating.  What you can see now: The eastern entranceway that led into the arena. These stone walls once supported the timber framework for the tiers of seating above. The wooden drainage system – a central drain ran beneath the main axis of the arena and under the length of the entranceway. It included a timber-lined silt trap, a tank where silt and rubbish would collect.  They are a rare survival as wood can only survive burial in wet conditions. Two antechambers, small rooms built on either side of the entranceway with doorways both from the passage and from the arena. They may have served as waiting rooms for those about to take part in events in the arena.

The amphitheatre entrance is via the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  I can’t believe how many Londoners have no idea that this even exists.  It is a must visit for an awesome experience.

Admission to the Gallery’s permanent collection and the Roman Amphitheatre is FREE Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman London’s Amphitheatre, Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE

HOW TO GET THERE: Nearest tube station: Bank on Central, Northern Lines and the DLR

TOWER OF LONDON

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Tower Green...the glass sculpture names the various people who were executed on this spot

For a ghoulish experience visit the Torture Chamber – the medieval torture chamber, often built underground was windowless and lit by a few candles, specifically designed to induce “horror, dread and despair” to anyone but those possessing a strong mind and “nerves of steel”.   In the early 1080s, William the Conqueror began to build a massive stone tower at the centre of his London fortress.  Through the centuries that followed, successive monarchs added to the fortifications as fortress, palace and prison.   Legend has it that many years ago a huge ghostly bear appeared by the Martin Tower, scaring a guard so badly that he dropped dead of shock!    James I’s cousin, Arbella Stuart, was imprisoned and possibly murdered at the Tower and of course the mystery of the two young Prince’s who disappeared never to be found remains unsolved .

The Tower of London is an experience not to be missed; from Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters), to 9 Towers, a torture chamber, the Crown Jewels and thousands of years of history this is such an amazing place to visit that I seriously recommend you put aside at least 3 hours to explore everything there is to see.  Be sure to stop at Tower Green where many people were beheaded: The Execution Site – Scaffolds were erected in front of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula for private executions, amongst them three English Queens; Anne Boleyn (1536), Catherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554).

The Tower of London is situated in Tower Hamlets on the edge of the old City of London near Tower Bridge.  Summer opening times till 31 October: Tuesday – Saturday: 09:00 – 18:00 Sunday – Monday: 10:00 – 18:00 Last Admission:  17:00 Admission £(ref website)

HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station TOWER HILL – District & Circle lines and Tower Gateway on the DLR

TEN BELLS PUB, SPITALFIELDS

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The 10 Bells Pub next to the church

The Ten Bells pub has existed in one guise or another since at least the middle of the 18th century.   In 1755 it was known as the “Eight Bells Alehouse”.    The name is likely to have changed in 1788 when the church installed a new set of chimes, this time with ten bells.
The Ten Bells is often referred to as a “Jack the Ripper pub”. There has been a great deal written about Jack the Ripper (some of it tenuous, much of it fiction) and the Spitalfields area.   I went on a Jack the Ripper tour some years ago, and we visited the pub along the way.  The interior is rough and ready with some interesting features, and impressively decorated with original Victorian tiling.    If the tales of Jack the Ripper are to be believed, then surely this pub has to be visited….after nightfall and definitely at Halloween.

Jamie Oliver’s Great Great Grandfather was a landlord of the Ten Bells during the 1880s.

84 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, E1 6LY Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11am-11pm FREE to enter but do stop for a drink.
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube  Liverpool Street tube – Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City & Metropolitan lines & National Rail

THE CLINK PRISON MUSEUM located in Southwark

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the Clink Prison Museum - a suitably ghoulish place to visit for Halloween

Built upon the original site of the Clink Prison (1144-1780), with links to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the prison dates back to 1144 making it one of England’s oldest, if not the oldest Prison.   This is a smashing place to visit for tales of murder & mayhem. They have an interactive tour and you get to rattle some chains!   We had a most enjoyable time, however…. this is one place I would not want to be after dark!    Previous investigators have found the site to be very active with a variety of things happening from glasses smashing, lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing and many other strange unexplained events.

Opening times: Winter: October –  June 7 days a week 10:00 – 21:00 Mon-Fri 10:00 – 18.00 Weekend 10:00 – 19:30 Closed Xmas day

The Clink Prison Museum is in Clink Street, Bankside, Southwark…a few minutes walk from Borough Market Entramce £(ref website)

HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube London Bridge Station Jubilee & Northern Lines and National Rail

ST BARTHOLOMEW THE GREAT, Smithfields

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interior of St Bartholomew the Great Church in Smithfields

Saint Bartholomew the Great, founded in 1123 as an Augustinian Priory is one of London’s oldest churches and has been in continuous use as a place of worship since at least 1143.   The church possesses the most significant Norman interior in London, although the Priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the Church was demolished, the monastic buildings were largely intact and the Canons’ choir and sanctuary were preserved for parish use.   Under Queen Mary, there was briefly a house of Dominican friars here, before it reverted to being a Parish Church under Queen Elizabeth I.

St Bart’s has not only survived the Great Fire of 1666 but also the bombs dropped in Zeppelin raids in World War I and during the Blitz in World War II.   The entrance I would recommend you use to get into the church is from Smithfield as it goes into the churchyard through a tiny surviving fragment of the west front, now surmounted by a half-timbered Tudor building.  The oriel window was installed inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the 16th c. by William Bolton, allegedly so that he could spy on the monks. The ghost of a monk is said to haunt the church looking for a stolen sandal from his tomb.

St Bartholomew is a wonderfully dark and spooky kind of church, not at all light and airy like most of the churches in London that have been substantially renovated by the Victorians or restored subsequent to WW2, and you can tell the Sir Christopher Wren never got his hands onto it!!  :)   As you step across the threshold you can feel the weight of the centuries and the light falls through windows that are meters high giving the church an ethereal atmosphere.

St Bartholomew the Great is a truly amazing church to visit and I can highly recommend that you do.  Address: West Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS telephone: 020 7606 5171

HOW TO GET THERE:  By Bus – the 17, 45, 46, 63, 8, 25, 56, 4, 153, 242, 521, 100, 243 and 341 buses are all within walking distance of the church.       Nearest Tube: Barbican – Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan Lines & St Paul’s – Central Line & Farringdon – Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan Lines.

Crypt ST BRIDE’S CHURCH located off Fleet Street

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remains of a lead coffin in the crypt of St Bride's Church

Step into St. Bride’s and you step back in time through the centuries….St Bride’s may be one of the most ancient churches in London, with worship perhaps dating back to the conversion of the Middle Saxons in the 7th century.
Visit the crypt and step into 2,000 years of history, which began with the Romans some six centuries before the name of St Bride, daughter of  an Irish prince, even emerged from legend to become associated forever with the site. Catch a glimpse of an original Roman roadway right at the back of the crypt, the remains of a metal coffin and a macabre selection of relics uncovered during excavation.  St Bride’s has had a number of notable parishioners, including John Milton, John Dryden, and the diarist Samuel Pepys, who was born nearby and baptized in the church. Pepys buried his brother Tom in the church in 1664, but by this stage the vaults were so overcrowded that Pepys had to bribe the gravedigger to “justle together” the corpses in order to make room. Visitors to the area included individuals such as William Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, Sir Francis Drake, Geoffrey Chaucer and many more.  The current incarnation of the church is of course by none other than Sir Christopher Wren.

The spire of St Bride’s is said to have inspired (no pun intended) a nearby baker to create what today is the tiered wedding cake.

the church is just off Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 8AU  opening times Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm Sat Closed Sun 10am-6:30pm

HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station: Blackfriar’s on the Circle or District Lines, National Rail a short walk to the church. Or any number of buses that run along Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street and Strand between Trafalgar Square and St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are of course any number of experiences and things to with 3 days in London at Halloween, but I have listed above places you can visit many of which are free.  One or two do require an entrance fee, but they are well worth the visit.  I wish you a great time and if you have just 3 Days in London this time…. be sure to come back soon. :)

I hope you enjoyed this blog, please do leave a comment as I would love to hear from you.

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Information for this post has been gleaned from various sources:

pamphlets, wikipedia, the various websites and my visits to the places listed above.

 

 

 

a Roman Amphitheatre in London

The courtyard in front of Guildhall has its own tale to tell and to the east of the hall is the Guildhall Art Gallery.

guildhall courtyard
Guildhall courtyard......what lies beneath

The Guildhall Art Gallery (the orginal art gallery burned down during an air-raid in May 1941), is a ‘must visit’…… housing a fabulous collection of paintings one of which is one of Britain’s largest paintings: Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 By John Singleton Copley Oil on canvas 1783-1791 214 inches by 297 inches

guildhall art gallery london
Guildhall Art Gallery London

Book yourself on one of the frequent tours given by a very knowledgeable guide who provides a fascinating insight into the paintings on display.  Some of them are so beautifully executed they look like photographs. The piece de resistance of course is the little known about Roman Amphitheatre below ground.  Remains of a long-lost Roman amphitheatre discovered in 1987 underneath what is now Guildhall Yard indicate that the site of Guildhall was significant as far back as Roman times. An important building in Roman times, London’s amphitheatre in its heyday, would’ve accommodated approximately 6,000 people at a time when the population of Londinium was only 20,000-30,000. 

Recently excavated and now open for general viewing the area has been set up to incorporate the ruins of the amphitheatre as well as a recreation of what the amphitheatre would have looked like 2,000 years ago.  During the excavations they discovered an original drainage ditch that contained a ladies leather thong, a gold triangular shaped earring with a pearl designed – for a pierced ear, as well as bones and tufts of fur.  A reminder of the Gladitorial fights that took place in these amphitheatres where men and women were pitted not only against each other, but also against animals eg lions.  The ruins show areas demarcated for fighters waiting to enter the arena, original walls and original sand and gravel used at the time to build the arena.  This area, well below ground….20 feet below ground level offers an absolutely fascinating glimpse into Roman London.
An oval slate in the courtyard marks the spot where if you went straight down you would find the amphitheatre.

roman amphitheatre london
...what lies beneath?.....a Roman Amphitheatre!

 Also on the perimeter of the courtyard can be found St Lawrence Jewry,

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St Lawrence Jewry, Guildhall London

so called because the original 12th century church stood on the eastern side of the city, then occupied by the Jewish community.  That church, built in 1136 was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. The building that replaced it was designed by Christopher Wren in 1680.

christopher wren
Sir Christopher Wren

That church was almost completely destroyed by fire during 1940. It was restored in 1957 in the tradition of Wren’s building and is now the church of the Corporation of London. The interior of the church is just beautiful and well worth a visit to see the fabulous stained glass windows,

st lawrence jewry, guildhall london
St George depicted in one of the stained-glass windows

 the chapel

st lawrence jewry, guildhall london
St Lawrence Jewry, Guildhall London

 and the towering organ

st lawrence jewry church london
the organ in the church of St Lawrence Jewry

Not too far from Guildhall I discovered hidden away behind some other buildings and through a huge wrought-iron gateway; the Grocer’s Company. I am quite simply unable to resist an open gate, or narrow passageway and have to investigate…..this usually leads to hidden treasures.  In this instance I discovered the ‘Worshipful Company of Grocers’ still a very active and busy organisation.

the worshipful company of grocers
The Worshipful Company of Grocers

The Guilds of London, now usually called the City Livery Companies are of great antiquity, their name itself being derived from the Anglo-Saxon Gildan “to pay”.  These were voluntary associations formed originally for mutual protection, with religious, benevolent and social elements.  Each guild was centered round a trade or craft and this arrangement was facilitated by the fact that the members of particular trades and crafts in London dwelt in the same locality.

the worshipful company of grocers
The Worshipful Company of Grocers, London

 With their growth in wealth and power the trade element became even more important than the religious one and their fraternties came to exercise a dominating influence in the regulation of trade, and in the government of the City.  They have been described as “the rock upon which the life of the City was built, largely responsible for shaping the destiny of British commerce and enlarging the prestige of the City”.
One of the most important of the early City Guilds was that of the ‘Pepperers'; we hear of them first in 1180, when the Gilda Pipariorum is mentioned with others in the Pipe Rolls as being fined sixteen marks, as an illegal association – this is, for not having paid the King’s licence.  In the early part of the reign of Edward III, the Guild of Pepperers disappears.  It seems likely that some of its prominent members were ruined by the exaction of forced loans to enable the King to carry on his war with France. The earliest of records, written in Norman and French, in the archives of the Company, records the foundation of a Fraternity, which in due course grew into the Grocer’s Company.
The current Company of Grocers ‘Hall’, the 5th on its site since it was acquired in 1427 allowed the company to practise the ideals expressed in its early Ordinance, that it should be a “nursery of charities and a seminary of good citizens”.  As it is still an active organisation, they do not have tours of the building.